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Patriots vs. Ravens: Fan Notes from the AFC Divisional Playoffs

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 35-31 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

That's it. I quit. I've had enough. I can't take this anymore.

What a game. What a win. What a team. What a night. What a feeling. In a game that you just knew was going to be an absolute bloodbath, it basically all came down to a goal line stand to hold the Ravens to a field goal, allowing the Patriots to drive down the field for the go-ahead TD. Their first lead of the night turned out to be the only lead they would need, as a Duron Harmon interception on a deep sideline route to Torrey Smith sealed the game for New England. But even then, Baltimore still had a chance to pull out a Hail Mary victory, and absolutely nothing was certain at any point until the clock showed 0:00. It's the kind of game that leaves you completely exhausted and stays with you for a long time, and I can't even comprehend what I would be feeling right now if I was posting this article after a Patriots loss. Luckily for me - and for all of us - that isn't an issue, because the Pats got it done and are getting ready for their fourth straight AFC Championship game and the chance for Tommy B to start in a record 6th Super Bowl.

But a lot can happen between then and now. So let's just take it one day at a time.

  • I'd love to find a way to apply the speed with which the weekend passes when you're waiting for a Patriots playoff game to start to a weekend in the summer when you're floating on an inner tube ogling bikini clad beauties lounging on the dock half a mile away through your binoculars. Saturday was one of the longest days of my life leading up to that game, and that the AFCC is the late game on Sunday makes it that much worse. That's a whole extra 24 hours I have to endure.
  • I was also as nervous for this game as I have ever been - which was oddly calming for some reason. I feel like if I wasn't pulling my hair out all week for this one, that would have been a whole lot worse. One of those paradoxes - kind of like all you can eat pancakes.
  • You really need to give credit where credit is due when it comes to Joe Flacco. The guy is absolutely lights out in the postseason. I mean the Ravens scored on their first possession and they didn't even need a third down to do it. Hell, they only needed one second down. That's crazy.
  • Chris Collinsworth comparing Joe Flacco to Eli Manning was made only more sickening by how accurate a comparison that is.
  • You know what else is crazy? That first Ravens possession was pretty much the equivalent of every opposing offensive possession against the New England D for like three straight years. How did we ever get through that?
  • And nothing quite like a ridiculous Ravens drive/scoring review/commercial/extra point/commercial/ kickoff return fumble to calm all those jangled nerves.
  • And then of course we get an inaccurate Tommy B lofting one up for Edelman and then forcing me to sit through a challenge on a Danny Amendola first down that gets reversed despite what I thought was a lack of conclusive evidence. Note to the President: if you REALLY want to get the terrorists to talk, give them maniacal fan allegiance and then make them sit through an NFL playoff game with this current pacing. They'll all be singing in no time.
  • Seriously, it's getting ridiculous. The game no longer has any flow. Roger Goodell, in his quest to make money at all costs, integrity and enjoyment of the game be damned, is trying to launch an NFL franchise in London to increase the international appeal of the sport and increase the worldwide fanbase. But talk to anyone who doesn't like/watch/understand football, and one of the reasons you'll hear for that lack of interest is that the game is incredibly slow with too much stopping and starting, and it's very hard to try to figure out what's happening at any given moment unless you understand the game well. That was a perfectly valid argument even before all of these new rules, and now it has even more validity. When the most popular sport in the world is one in which players kick a ball around nonstop for 90 minutes with little to no stoppages, forcing a game that is getting herkier and jerkier by the minute down the world's throat isn't going to end well for anybody.
  • Speaking of Goodell - anybody else see him in the stands yesterday with a baseball cap on? Trying to be a man of the people in the normal seats with the riffraff, his toughness on full display? Every time I think I can't dislike that many any more than I do, he finds some way to out-jackass himself. What a tool. 1,000% chance his nickname in high school was Slappy.
  • I don't care who you are or what prescription your rose-colored Patriots glasses are, when the Ravens scored that first TD and then Amendola fumbled the opening kickoff every single Pats fan on the planet had a giant, blinking 2 0 0 9 flash through their heads as some random robotic voice shouted "Danger! Danger! Alert! Alert!"
  • I was pretty surprised to see Brandon Browner on Torrey Smith; I really thought he'd be a better matchup against Owen Daniels with Kyle Arrington on Smith with Devin McCourty over the top for help. For the most part, though, Browner did a pretty good job, especially after the Patriots woke up and decided not to play zone.
  • Speaking of not waking up, man did New England stink coming out of the gate on Saturday. You can try and make the case that they were rusty from all the time off, but the truth is that slow starts have been an issue for the Patriots for some time now. As much as I'd like to think that they'll somehow fix it over the next few days, I'm not really sure I see that happening. Tough to start any worse than the Patriots did in this one. A dominant Ravens first drive, a fumbled kickoff, a punt on a BS overturn, another dominant Ravens drive, a three and out. Ugh.
  • I think the reason behind the zone looks to start was that New England used that formation against Baltimore in the past with some success. That's a classic example of another maddening thing the Pats have been doing at times all season in out-thinking themselves and trying to get cute when they don't need to.
  • As the first quarter dragged on, I stopped rooting for stops and starting rooting for third downs. The first didn't come until 5 minutes to play, and it resulted in a touchdown. Crazy.
  • Holy jeez did the Patriots need that first TD. That it was a Tommy B run made it a lot better. If New England hadn't gotten that 1st down conversion to Gronk on 3rd and 8, I'm absolutely convinced that this article would have a very different tone this morning.
  • When tackling Rob Gronkowski, you assume a number of risks. You might get blown up. You might get humiliated. You might get bowled over. It's now time to add to that list, courtesy of Rashaan Melvin and this tackle, another risk of tackling Gronk: getting too close to yet another one of Gronk's most potent weapons and contracting an STD.
  • Justin Forsett had himself a day, primarily because the Ravens offensive line flat out dominated. I had him on my fantasy team early in the year, but I dropped him thinking Lorenzo Taliaferro would turn into the better option. So his performance on Saturday was more or less my fault.
  • When Bryan Stork went down and New England had to shift Ryan Wendell to center with Josh Kilne at guard, one thing went through my mind: Yuck. And for the most part, yuck was right. Kline got pushed back like he was on ice skates for most of the game and forced the Patriots to use a lot of quick out routes to get the ball out of Tommy B's hands.
  • The O-line as a whole, though, didn't do as horribly as everyone seems to think they did. Yes, Brady took 2 sacks, which is 2 more than we all would like to see. And he was getting knocked around back there like a poor unsuspecting female who makes eye contact with the Butabi brothers. But when the Patriots adjusted, the bottom line is that he had the time he needed and was able to get the job done. No denying that.
  • Also no denying the big fat zeroes all across the board the represents Elvis Dumervill's day. Kick his ass, Sea Bass!
  • Twice the Patriots put the ball on the ground surrounded by Ravens, and twice they managed to recover it. I have absolutely no idea how Julian Edelman recovered his own fumble, but thank Tebow he did. That could have been the ballgame.
  • They really need to make illegal contact a non-first down penalty. If you're going to drastically increase the frequency of it, then it shouldn't have such huge implications.  A 3rd a 35 shouldn't turn into a 1st and 10 because a cornerback brushed the facemask of a juking receiver down the field.
  • That seems like a good enough time to transition into talking about the refs. I said a few Fan Notes ago that I was done talking about refereeing, and I'm going to stand by that. I have conceded and acknowledged that it's just going to be crappy reffing from here on out, that bitching about it here isn't going to do a damn thing to change it, and for the first time in my life I can envision a future in which I no longer watch football. Nothing about that is going to change. But here's where the league actually can make some changes: consistency. Refs, you can be terrible. I've accepted that. Flags are just the way of the world now. But at least remain consistent in your own buffoonery. I don't think that's an odd request.
  • It isn't even game-to-game inconsistency; it's play to play. A great example came when the refs missed a Pernell McPhee knee to Brady's face (which I was OK with them not calling, yeah it was kind of a dirty play but whatever, it's an emotional game) which led to players getting in each others' faces and talking some smack. No flags. About six seconds later Akeem Ayers draws a taunting flag on a punt for doing significantly less than McPhee did. Again, I don't care if you call it or don't call it - whatever, you're already awful, we all hate you. But just stay consistent.
  • Danny Amendola once again coming up huge. What a game from number 80. The obvious highlight was the Edelman pass for the TD, which I'll talk about in a minute, but to me the biggest play he made was on 3rd and 6 with just over seven minutes to play in the game.
  • Let the record show that I had to get up from my computer and take a minute to compose myself right after I typed that last sentence, because I legit started shaking and sweating again. I already knew the outcome of the game, but recalling it just now still has me terrified. What a contest. OK, back to it.
  • Brady in shotgun with Amendola in the slot to his left, Brandon LaFell out wide next to him. Edelman motions over to the right side. Quick snap, Baltimore brings pressure, Brady has to release it a bit early as Amendola runs a four yard hook route. He makes the catch short of the first, gets bumrushed by Rashaan Melvin. He shakes the tackle, runs forward, and gets met by Anthony Levine, still short of the sticks. The stronger Levine starts pushing Amendola out of bounds to set up a 4th and 1, but Danny is able to make one push forward, switches the ball from his left hand to his right, and extends it out just past the marker as he gets shoved out. Three plays later, Brady hit LaFell for the go-ahead score. Most important soon-too-be-forgotten play that this team has seen in a very long time.
  • Taking it a step further, if you look back on this season, you can point to maybe 7 or 8 plays that completely changed the complexion of the Patriots' 2014 campaign and set them up to be where they are right now. And Danny Amendola has been in on maybe four of those plays. Say what you want about him and his contract, he has come up absolutely Alec-Shane's-gut HUGE when his number was called. That makes him worth every penny in my book.
  • Abandoning the run completely never seems like a good strategy at any point during the first half of any game, ever. Never thought I'd see the day when the Patriots attempted zero runs in the second half and still came away with the win.
  • Along those lines, no team has ever been down 14 points twice in one game and come back to win it. NFL record.
  • Speaking of records, 46 postseason TDs leaves Tommy B alone in the top spot for most all-time, passing his childhood idol Joe Montana. That's pretty cool. Congrats, Tom.
  • Belichick also tied for most career postseason wins. Really wish our QB wasn't washed up and our coach wasn't so stubborn and arrogant.
  • What the hell were those women in the Model T with all the Pepsi doing driving out into a field in the middle of nowhere? I mean no wonder the car broke down; they didn't exactly make off-road cars back then. What were they thinking? I mean thank goodness there just happened to be a football game going on at the exact place they broke down, right? How lost can you get? Women drivers, I'll tell ya...
  • In case anyone cares, here are my official DirecTV Rob Lowe Power Rankings. I wouldn't be surprised if there was one more Rob Lowe that DirecTV is waiting until the Super Bowl to bust out, so these rankings are subject to change, but here is where things stand at the moment:
  • 7. Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe. Tough luck opening that jar, big guy. 
  • 6. Overly Paranoid Rob Lowe. Maybe they really do hide listening devices in our cheese.
  • 5. Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe. You can always wax, Rob. Nobody's fault but yours.
  • 4. Meathead Rob Lowe. Whoever does your eyebrows deserves both a raise and a stern talking to.
  • 3. Less Attractive Rob Lowe. This one hits a little too close to home, to be honest.
  • 2. Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe. This man deserves his own TV show. Barely missed the top spot.
  • 1. Super Creepy Rob Lowe. If you ever need someone to head to the pool with, you just let me know. I am THERE.
  • Remember when the Patriots were incredibly dangerous just before halftime? What happened there?
  • What a horrible throw by Tommy B to set up that pick. Gronk was actually open, but there was no air under the ball. The end zone cam on that replay shows what a bad throw it really was.
  • What a way to end the first half and start the second; pick, Ravens TD, three and out, Ravens TD. For the second time that day, death and despair set in in a way that only the Ravens can produce.
  • You also knew that the Ravens were going to score on their opening drive as soon as they mentioned that the D hadn't allowed a 2nd half touchdown in 6 games, didn't you? It was just in the cards.
  • True or false: when a defender has position on the ball, he can't be flagged for pass interference. That's true, isn't it? Head around, in position, jostling for the ball? I'm confused. People are saying that the Revis PI call was a good one because he had his arm wrapped up with Steve Smith's, so OK...but I thought that was damn near perfect coverage. All the more reason to do something about that call. It shouldn't be such a huge penalty. Make it a 10 yard foul, with reservations for a spot foul when it's blatant. I have yet to hear a single person, NFL employee or otherwise, that can tell with anything even remotely resembling certainty was constitutes Pass Interference. That's a big problem.
  • To keep riding the DPI train... the Browner PI on the 4th down was much more obvious, and so I can't really knock it. However, it was also the NFL equivalent of a 45 year-old Florida lawyer named Gene McSalomon driving his brand new Mercedes, vanity plate LUV2SUE, down the freeway at 95 miles an hour in the left lane only to cut right in front of your car at the last minute and immediately slam on the breaks so you rear end him. Technically your fault, and you have no choice but to pay the price, but what can you do about it? An underthrown pass that the receiver tries to come back to get and runs right into you as you try to keep pace with him.
  • Here is a note I wrote before I realized what exactly the Patriots were doing coming out with only four linemen:
  • What a huge decision making Fleming inactive was. At one point I saw the Patriots out there with only 4 offensive linemen. That's nuts.
  • My thinking was that, since Kline was so ineffective, that they just decided to go with only four guys and add an extra weapon to make the Ravens rush less or something along those lines. But then I realized that they were adding a wrinkle to to offense and trying to confuse the Ravens regarding who was eligible and who wasn't. Needless to say, it's a success.
  • And I love - LOVE - that Harbaugh and the Ravens fans are all butthurt over how it shook out. Completely legal, the league already made a statement saying that the Patriots were 100% within the rules, did absolutely nothing wrong, Chip Kelly and Nick Saban have run similar plays in the past, but it's the Patriots, so of course they're classless and they cheated and they have no respect for anybody and the league will probably make doing what New England did on Saturday against the rules next year. I love it. The amount of real estate the Patriots occupy in so many people's heads has enough acreage to open up a maximum security prison to house the number of Ravens players who deserve to be locked up forever. An adamant refusal to just give credit where credit is due and acknowledge Belichick's abilities as a coach and I can't get enough of it.
  • Perhaps what makes this game even that much more special is how many times New England had the chance to take control of the game but couldn't take advantage. The Brady pick before halftime. The three and out after the McCourty pick. The Collins fumble called back due to defensive holding. The list goes on. So incredibly frustrating.
  • I will say that the Patriots need to go and find themselves a deep threat. Maybe it will turn out to be Aaron Dobson, but at this point who knows. With nobody occupying that space defensively, it becomes significantly easier to scheme.
  • Every time New England got pressure, Flacco made an inaccurate throw off his back foot. Every time.
  • I wonder what Dez Bryant thinks about that flag Harbaugh took when he ran onto the field to yell at the refs.
  • For years - YEARS - I have been wondering when the hell Julian Edelman was going to throw his first NFL pass. My whining about it on this blog is well documented. Well he picked one hell of a time to do it. Play of the game in my opinion and it isn't even close.
  • Let's break it down: New England at their own 49 in a 4WR set, Vereen in the backfield, Edelman motioning to the left side well behind the line of scrimmage as he has so often done when the Pats run that quickout screen to him that they love so much. Baltimore thinks the same thing, so they press up closer to the line. Brady takes the snap, makes the throw immediately. Both of Baltimore's corners and safety on that side of the ball immediately rush at Edelman to try and make the stop, not realizing that he was going to throw until it was well too late. Amendola rushed straight at Melvin (third time I'm calling your name, bud. Not the best look) as if to block him for the screen run, but made a quick juke outside at the last second to get wide open. Edelman throws a perfect spiral, hits Amendola in stride, and 51 yards later he's in the end zone for the second time. Tie game again, two score lead erased again. Chris Collinsworth emits an extremely creepy laugh as he watches the replay, and comments on the kind of game we're witnessing. What a play.
  • That also gives Edelman a career perfect passer rating of 158.3. It also allows me to say that the New England Patriots have the honor of having the best three QBs in the AFC East on their team.
  • Edeleman also now has as many playoff TD passes as Andy Dalton.
  • You figure that we would all be used to a huge Patriots play getting negated by a flag - we've been seeing it all season - but that Revis penalty to call back the Collins fumble was the gut punchingest gut punch that has punched my gut in a very, very long time.
  • On the plus side, Collins continues to make plays. Odds are we're going to see that again on Sunday against Peyton Manning Andrew Luck.
  • Stephen Gostkowski had a tough day overall in terms of kickoffs. At first I was wondering what was wrong with him, but then I realized it was a strategy to put more air under it and keep Jacoby at bay. And it completely worked. Situational football.
  • According to ancient scholars, there was once a time when football referees were able to get a fumble call right the first time. I'm a bit skeptical, but I learned to respect my elders.
  • Holy crap was that a sweet throw to LaFell on that TD pass. Just dumped it right into LaFell's bread basket. He had to make a one-handed grab because he was being held a bit, but that just makes it that much sweeter.
  • That play was also set up by the thousands of short routes the Patriots ran all game. Baltimore was giving a cushion, so the Patriots exploited it. When they decided to press the line a bit more, Tommy B flipped the script and went deeper.
  • The negative, of course, is that the play came about five minutes too soon. I was really, really hoping that drive would take the rest of the game and end in a TD. I don't know about any of you, but I was 100% convinced that Flacco was going to drive down the field and score a TD with less than a minute left.
  • I was also convinced that a big chunk of Baltimore's yards would come on a DPI call as Flacco tried to go deep to Smith again.
  • So when he threw that pass - that wonderful, wonderful pass - my entire stomach dropped right to the floor. That was it. Deep to Smith, DPI on the way. But instead...well, instead Duron Harmon happened.
  • I can't really fault Flacco for that throw; Smith did have separation on Logan Ryan, and the chance was there. But Baltimore wasn't having much trouble moving the ball in chunks, and there was still plenty of time on the clock. What it ultimately comes down to is that Flacco just loves that throw too much to not go for it. He loves it. Loves it loves it LOVES IT. Can't get enough. If he had his way Baltimore's offensive playbook would be one sheet of paper with a straight arrow on top of the number 82 and he would spend all day just hucking it up there. When Flacco dies and goes to heaven, he's going to spend eternity just throwing deep sideline passes to Torrey Smith, and every single one will either be a TD or a Pass Interference fir a first down. But Flacco ain't dead yet, and Gillette Stadium is only heaven for a select few of us, and so that probably wasn't the time to toss that one up there. But on behalf of Pats fans everywhere, thanks.
  • After that Harmon pick (with Logan Ryan in coverage; another Belichick draft class coming up big), I finally thought I could breathe. I thought that exhaling was finally an option after almost four hours of nail-biting, nerve-wracking, stress-sweating misery. Baltimore only had one time out, there was less than two minutes on the clock, and it was just a matter of running the game out. But no. Of course not. There had to be 14 seconds left and punt from our own 1 yard line to Jacoby Jones. And then the punt had to be short enough to allow for a Hail Mary pass.
  • And of course the pass was into the end zone, and of course it got batted high into the air with a white shirt right in the immediate area. I didn't even know that the human body was capable of producing the sound that came out of my mouth as that ball floated slowly down to earth.
  • It would appear that a big part of rooting for the Patriots from here on out is hoping that neither Baltimore or the Giants make the postseason. I never want to see the Ravens in the playoffs again for as long as I live - which, based on that game, is only going to be another few weeks.

I think that Saturday's game was the best non-Super Bowl Patriots playoff game I have seen since the Tuck Rule Game. Not only was it an amazing win, but it was one of the best games I have ever seen. Nine touchdowns, one field goal, and the team that got held to three ended up losing. Momentum shift after momentum shift. Crazy play after crazy play. Big moment after big moment. That was a hard fought matchup between two championship caliber teams that really could have gone either way, and the Patriots were able to step it up and do what they had to do when it mattered. Indy is going to have to completely empty their garage if they want to beat New England now. This team has proven to themselves and the world that they will not back down at any point for any reason, and you are going to have to earn every single point you get.

We're on to The AFC Championship. Bring it.