For the second time in as many weeks, the Patriots invulnerability has been called into question. This time it was Baltimore who threatened to put a stop to New England’s twelve game winning streak by beating up on an aging Patriots linebacking corps and by defensively controlling both the line of scrimmage and the secondary. Quarterback Tom Brady and the Pats did finally pull off the win but not before a series of bizarre plays in the last two minutes of the game that sent the emotions of a frustrated Ravens defense completely over the edge and may ultimately have been the cause of Baltimore’s defeat.
New England’s final possession began on their own 27 yard line with 3:30 remaining in the game and the score 24-20 in favor of Baltimore. Now it was up to the Ravens defense to continue their solid 4th quarter stand and stop Brady from getting the touchdown he needed for the Patriots to take the lead. The allegedly high powered New England offense stepped onto the field and proceeded to move the football 43 yards, much of it covered by a single pass over the middle from Brady to wide receiver Ben Watson on the second play of the drive. But after a nine yard run by Kevin Faulk on 3rd and 10, the Patriots were at the Ravens 30 yard line looking at a 4th and 1 which, if not converted was almost guaranteed to kill the drive, the game and their undefeated season. What happened next was gut wrenching.
Brady took the snap under center and carried the ball himself on a quarterback sneak, trying to run off tackle on the left side of the line. He ran into a wall of his own linemen being pushed into the backfield and then bounced outside to look for some room. Before he could reach the line of scrimmage he was plastered for a loss by Ravens linebacker Bart Scott. No flags. Game over.
Except that…Rex Ryan, the Ravens defensive coordinator had called a time-out from the sideline just milliseconds before the snap. The Baltimore coaching staff had driven a stake through the heart of their own team, negating what should have been the final sentence of an inspired screenplay by all pro linebacker Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense.
So after the 30 second time-out Brady takes his team to the line again. Again under center he takes the snap, but this time he hands off to the fullback Heath Evans. Pats center Dan Koppen had opened a hole the middle of the line and Evans aimed to follow him through it to the marker. But before Evans could even reach the pile, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata who had gotten amazing penetration through a seam in the right side of the offense shot through the gap and wrapped Evans up for a 2 yard loss. Game over.
Except that…Patriots guard Russ Hochstein had moved before the snap and was given a penalty for a false start. The penalty is a dead ball foul and thus cannot be declined by the defense. So the Ravens rise to the occasion, stuff the Patriots again, and again are denied the fruits of their labor because of a penalty on the Patriots.
On the next play with 4th and 6, Brady scrambles 12 yards for a first down at the Ravens 18 yard line. But three plays later, the Patriots found themselves with fourth down once again, this time at the 13 yard line but five yards short of the sticks. Brady tosses one over the short middle to Ben Watson at the goal line and it bounces incomplete off his hands and out the back of the end zone. Game over.
Except that…the officials called a holding penalty on Ravens cornerback Jamaine Winborne who had coverage of Watson on the play. Replay films showed clearly that it was a blown call by the officials since Winborne had barely made contact with Watson let alone held him.
Thus after stopping the Patriots on three separate 4th down attempts the Ravens defense is denied justice. Following the holding penalty the Pats are handed first and goal at the 8 yard line. Even the winless Dolphins could have scored a touchdown in that situation. Brady’s pass to WR Jabar Gaffney was called a touchdown after review even though the replay showed that Gaffney did not have control of the ball before he stepped out of bounds. But hey â€“ why should that matter. After all, New England must continue it’s undefeated season so that the NFL can ratchet up the hype and sell more Tom Brady jerseys. Who cares whether or not Gaffney actually made the catch.
Just to make the ending a bit more entertaining, the back judge Phil McKinnely started throwing racial slurs at Baltimore cornerback Samari Rolle and then called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Bart Scott when he came to his teammate’s defense. Scott threw McKinnely’s penalty flag into the stands but in my opinion he should have thrown McKinnely into the stands instead. Of course Scott was given another penalty for throwing the flag, and the combined penalties gave the Patriots a kickoff from the Ravens 35 yard line. The result looked more like a field goal attempt than a kickoff and of course it was a touchback.
With only 43 seconds left to play, Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller picked up a couple of first downs and then heaved a Hail Mary pass 50 yards to the goal line. Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton actually caught the pass but it was underthrown just a tad and Clayton had to wait for it on the 2 yard line. He was dragged down before he could get into the end zone, and time had run out by then. The Patriots took a tainted 27-24 victory into the locker room.
The only mistake the Ravens made on that last drive is that they should probably have put Bart Scott in as quarterback to replace Boller. After seeing the way he winged that penalty flag into the stands I think he could have hit Clayton in the end zone without any problem.