There are two simple reasons we lost last night.
If you had told me before the season started that we'd be playing the Ravens in the AFC Championship but we would have our best receiver/blocker/red zone threat on IR, our number 3 WR on IR, our starting RB would cough up the ball after a concussion, our best CB would be out, our starting DT would be out, and our starting possible rookie of the year defensive end would not play, I wouldn't have been surprised if you then told me that we lost the game.
That's a pretty deep set of injuries. Could the Patriots have won this game if all these players were healthy? Possibly. No team can completely overcome the loss of four major pieces. But ultimately, we weren't fated to win this one. See below...
The Ravens had it. From the start, every break was going the Ravens way. The defense held up, but Talib and Love got injured. The offense played okay, but couldn't convert some crucial third downs. Brady mismanaged the clock to end the half. When the Ravens finally took the lead and then turned it into an 8-point advantage, the Patriots started to put together a good response drive - until Ridley got hit by Patriot-nemesis Bernard Pollard, causing him to have a gut-wrenching concussion and to cough up the ball. The defense couldn't hold Flacco in the end zone. In both of Boldin's jump-balls, it was clear that Cole and Arrington were outmatched. With Talib? We might have had a chance. Throughout, the defense struggled to create pressure. Would that have changed with Jones? The offense struggled in the red zone. Would that have changed with Gronkowski? Ultimately, the fluke INT and the Ridley fumble proved to me that this just wasn't our day.
So...what's next. Allow me to break down the roster...
QB: Brady's still playing great and Mallett is a hot commodity that we might trade for a high pick.
OL: Thankfully, we still have a good O-line. Mankins, Wendell, Connolly, Solder, and Vollmer struggled with various injuries but are all solid players. I fully expect the Patriots to resign Vollmer. We still have talented backups like McDonald, Thomas, and Cannon.
TE: Not only will we have Gronkowski back, but we will have Jake Ballard, who actually poses a threat on the pass-catching side of things. In the AFC CG, it was clear the Ravens didn't even bother with Hoomanawanui because he never catches passes. Daniel Fells may return although he was a disapointment.
WR: This is clearly a position of need. While I would like to sign Welker, the dude drops too many balls. I'm not saying that because he's been unlucky in big games - the stats prove that he drops too many. Signing someone younger like Danny Amendola might be a good option. I say we keep Lloyd - as the 4th option in our attack (Welker, Herndo, Gronk). He's a very solid 4th option. Edelman will also return. I do think it would be absolutely fantastic to pick up or draft a 6-3 fast WR, along the lines of maybe Keenan Allen or Cordarelle Patterson in the draft or to pick up a free agent WR like Dwayne Bowe. Admittedly, Bowe is a pipe dream but I think Brady needs a Torrey Smith, Calvin Johnson type of player to break the defense open.
RB: People forget that not only will all four of our RBs come back (Ridley, Vereen, Woodhead, Bolden) but we also will have the supersonic Jeff Demps to return kicks and actually add some spice to our ST. KR problem solved.
So as we can see, the offense has three priorities: Vollmer, Welker, receiver depth.
The defense now...
DL: We desperately need a good DT as evidenced by our lack of depth once Love went down. This could definitely be filled in the draft.
LB: People forget that our best pass-coverage LB, Dane Fletcher was IR'ed. He'll be back and he'll automatically help with our coverage of TEs and RBs.
DB: This is where I'm most concerned. Chung is almost certain to leave and I say good riddance. Ras-I Dowling may be a bust but he'll get another shot to prove that it's been just injuries holding him back - not lack of talent. We need to resign Talib, as long as he doesn't ask for too much. This will definitely be a priority.
Overall though, the additions of Gronkowski, Edelman, Demps, Ballard, Fletcher, Dowling should automatically improve the squad. When you factor in possible free agent signings and the draft picks we're bound to get, this team will be ready for another Super Bowl run.