By Andrew Barbuzzi
Most New Englanders were stunned while watching the Jan. 20 AFC championship game when the Patriots were smoked by the Baltimore Ravens. The final score of the game was 28-13. When reflecting back on the game many fans wonder: “Where did we go wrong?” or “What did we do to deserve this?” These are the top five reasons why the Patriots lost that painful game:
1. Weak run game
The highly improved Patriots run offense of last season was flat, plain and simple. No pop, just Steven Ridley breaking off a few miraculous four yard runs here and there. He is the definition of a safety back, except for one thing: he fumbles. Granted, he did take an absolute shot from, whom else, but Patriot killer Bernard Pollard. He is not explosive enough to pull off a hit like that. Ridley did manage to gain 70 yards on 18 carries (3.8 average) before leaving the game with concussion like symptoms. If Ridley doesn’t figure it out next year, it could be Shane “Wolverine” Vareen who we see carrying the ball down the stretch next season.
2. No deep threat
All season long, the Patriots have been criticized because they don’t have the deep threat that other teams have; the player who is being watched by members of the team who are on and off the field. Sure, we have players who are great after the catch; Welker probably does it best. A 10 yard pass after a 10 yard pass, makes it difficult to spread the field. The opposition can then put more men in the box, and wait for either a run, or a short pass. This makes it easier for a defense to cover the area because there are more players in a smaller proximity. Maybe it’s time for the Patriots to start throwing the ball further down the field. That would work except for one thing, Brady throws a horrible deep ball. In that case, maybe it’s not the receivers we have to worry about, it’s the quarterback, but since Brady is the god of gods, we’ll have to label this one as his Achilles heel, and find other ways to win.
3. No Gronkowski
One thing that I believe many people overlooked was the fact that Rob Gronkowski was not going to play. The logic of most people was, “We have Hernandez, one of the best tight ends in the league.” Wrong! Although Hernandez is one of the best he can’t simply replace Gronkowski, they work together. Gronkowski is such a threat in all aspects: he catching, running, breaking tackles, blocking, requiring a double team. If the defense shuts him down Hernandez torches you for a pair of touchdowns. I’m not criticizing Hernandez, he had a fantastic game, but you cannot replace a guy like Gronkowski. Having the best player in a certain position would automatically be reason for the outcome to be different.
4. Weak secondary/Talib injury
A cause for concern all season long was the Patriots secondary always getting torched deep and letting up a ton of yards; however, somehow he always in the middle of the pack in points per game. Patriots fans exhaled collectively when they acquired Corner Back Aqib Talib from Tampa Bay back in early November in place of a couple of draft picks. Talib brought a tough factor to the secondary, and the trade also allowed troubled CB Devin McCourty to be moved to safety. When Talib got injured in the first quarter with a thigh injury, and did not return, the Patriots defense went back to its old ways. Failing to make big plays and stop the Ravens down the stretch, and not forcing any turnovers was a recipe for disaster.
5. Flacco outplayed Brady
If Brady plays even a decent game, the Patriots win. He threw only one touchdown, and two interceptions. His QBR was an abysmal 45.1 and he failed to make the big plays down the stretch. Although Brady threw for 320 yards it took him 54 throws to get there. Flacco on the other hand was spectacular; he threw three touchdowns, and continued his playoff streak with zero interceptions. His quarterback rating was 106.2 and he managed to throw 240 yards off only 36 attempts. Poor quarterback play was something the Patriots could not afford in this game.