Politics and football are two things that get America’s blood boiling. For the voting public, political anger will come to a boiling point on Election Day, November 6th. For the New England Patriots, their anger may have boiled over on Sunday night. This game was so full of nastiness, that it made Thursday’s Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren Senate debate look like a pillow fight between four year olds. There were skirmishes seemingly after every play. Bill Belichick and Ravens coach Jon Harbaugh looked like they were both going to have aneurysms yelling at the replacement officials, and there were plenty of post-play skirmishes.
New England fans held their heads like saddened members of the party faithful as they watched Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s booted ball barely cross the very top of the right upright as time expired. No reviews were made and the Patriots lost for the second week in a row, 31-30.
This wasn’t an ugly loss for the Patriots, like it was against the Cardinals. It wasn’t a trap game. It was a shoot-out defined by a few key plays at the finish. And unfortunately, those plays were not laser passes from Tom Brady to Wes Welker or sideline snatches by Brandon Lloyd, which had been happening all evening. They were careless mistakes by the Patriots defense that allowed Baltimore to get back in the game and eventually win.
Leading 30-21 with less than seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had a chance to stop the Ravens’ momentum. The Ravens were at their own 16 yard line facing a second and 14. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco tossed the ball deep to receiver Torrey Smith – who had already caught 4 passes for 106 yards at that point – in hopes that the deep-threat receiver could continue their drive.
The ball sailed out of bounce and the Ravens were looking at a third and long. They Patriots did not allow the Ravens to get a first down until the second quarter, so they were hoping to stuff to stuff the offense one more time.
The defense wouldn’t get that chance. The play came back on a defensive holding call on cornerback Devin McCourty. The Ravens only moved five yards, but they also gained a first down and new momentum. Flacco proceeded to complete his next four passes to four different receivers for 69 yards. This eventually led to Torrey Smith’s second touchdown of the day. This drive put the score at 30-28 and in reach for the Ravens.
On the ensuing drive, it looked like Tom Brady’s cool-head might prevail over the wildly emotional Baltimore defense. A flag on John Harbaugh – one of 24 thrown on the day – gave the Patriots a first down on the Ravens’ 45 yard line. Fans thought Brady would look to Wes Welker or Brandon Lloyd – both of whom had caught at least 75% of balls thrown their way on the day – would make another catch. Brady sputtered through the next three plays: 1 yard run, 7 yard sack, and incompletion. The Patriots were forced to punt.
The much maligned Flacco put another feather in his cap by leading a 70 yard game winning drive. McCourty helped the Ravens out once again by getting called for pass interference on 3-and-12 with :53 seconds remaining. That mistake effectively sealed a safe field goal range for Justin Tucker.
It may as well have been a political rally at M&T bank stadium on Sunday night. Emotions were already high among Baltimore fans who hadn’t forgotten last January’s playoff loss. There was also a moment of silence for Torrey Smith’s younger brother who was killed early Sunday morning in a motorcycle accident. The public address announcer also mentioned NFL Films creator, Steve Sabol who passed away last Tuesday.
All of that plus a crew of bumbling replacement referees who had a hard time getting a handle on the game made for one roller coaster of a football match up.
Many Americans will be happy to relax once when the political mud-slinging stops on Wednesday, November 7th.
Even though they have one of the easiest schedules in the league, with two losses in a row, no one in Foxboro is going to be relaxing any time soon.