Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens left New England this time last year with a sour taste in their mouth. Lee Evans dropped the game winning touchdwn. Billy Cundiff yanked a field goal wide left. Instead of Baltimore, it would be the New England Patriots who would be going to the SuperBowl.
This year, however, things would be different. Joe Flacco threw for three touchdowns, two that went to Anquan Boldin, and the Ravens ended the Patriots season where heartbreak ended their season last year.
Flacco went 21 of 36 for 240 yards, which translated into a 106.2 quarterback rating, out-dueling his Patriot counterpart, Tom Brady.
When the game was on the line, it was Flacco leading his team to victory. For the first time in quite a long while, Brady looked surprisingly human. Brady threw two interceptions late in the game that stalled Patriot drives.
So what changed between this year and last year?
Two things: The Ravens defense shut down the Patriots offense once they got inside their 25, and Joe Flacco made the throws this year instead of having a costly pick late in the game.
The Patriots advanced the ball five times inside the Ravens 25, but it only resulted in one touchdown, two field goals, and two interceptions. They say defense wins championships, and the Ravens proved that today.
This time around, Flacco made the throws when it counted. An 11 yard pass to Boldin was right on the money to give the visitors a 21-13 lead. Then a beautiful three yard pass that Flacco put where only Boldin could get it sealed the deal.
The Patriots defense dared Jim Caldwell’s offense to run the ball, leaving safeties deep to avoid a Denver Broncos-esque deep pass. The Ravens ran the ball with moderate success, but as the game wore on, it was time for Flacco to show up.
The Ravens had only 136 yards in the first half as the offense predictably ran the ball almost every first down. Thus, they played right into the Patriots hands and had second and third and long. It says not until they put the ball in Flacco’s hands did their offense start moving the ball.
Surprisingly enough, Brady seemed to get worse as the game went on. It was a complete role reversal from last year when Brady was dishing. Tonight, Brady was finding Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and Wes Welker at will.
However, the sure handed receivers let Brady down when it was needed. And so was Brady’s touch.
Brady under-threw a pass into the end zone that would have made it a one score game with a minute remaining, but instead it was picked off by Cary Williams.
This could only be a microcosm of a bigger problem the Patriots are quickly going to be facing. Tom Brady will be 36 before the season starts next year, and his retirement is going to go much more gracious than another quarterback who recently retired, Brett Favre.
Tom Brady is not getting any younger. Welker cannot take many more punishing hits over the middle.
At the end of the day, the Ravens won the game, and we may have seen the last of this great Patriots dynasty.