FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In a matter of minutes, the Patriots went from being the team of the last decade to looking old, overmatched and, oddly, inept.
Fans sat in frozen silence. Barely into their seats, they saw the shocking truth on the scoreboard.
Five minutes into the game, New England trailed the Baltimore Ravens 14-0. Just one minute later the crowd came to life, booing Tom Brady and his teammates who hadn’t lost a playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
Until Baltimore’s 33-14 win Sunday in the AFC playoffs.
“I’d have been booing us, too, the way we played,” Brady said. “Playing the way we played today, we weren’t going to beat anybody.”
From the very first play, Ray Rice and the running Ravens made the Patriots look bad. Rice ran 83 yards for a touchdown, Brady had three of his four turnovers in the first quarter and Baltimore had knocked off the team that had changed into an inconsistent, mistake-prone group this season.
“Their era is not over, they know how to win,” Rice said, “but for the Ravens, to beat the New England Patriots set a precedent. We’ll always remember this win.”
The Ravens (10-7) were only slight underdogs to the team that won three Super Bowls from 2002 through 2005. That myth faded as quickly as Baltimore charged into their early lead in a game that began with a wind chill that made it feel like 8 degrees.
Rice and his running mates heated up early.
“One thing we said as an offense is we want to start games fast,” Rice said. “I wanted to be the guy today to start fast, whether it was a 5-yard run or an 83-yard run. I wanted to be the guy to say this will be a fast-tempo game. We want the other team to play catch-up to us.”
Now, if they beat Indianapolis and Peyton Manning next Saturday night, they’ll reach the AFC championship game for the second straight year as a wild-card team.
“We’ll enjoy it,” safety Ed Reed said, “and I know what’s next. No. 18 is coming. I know it, and he knows we are coming.”
Not even Brady, the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, could overcome his mistakes and the absence of the league’s leading receiver, Wes Welker. Brady was 23 of 42 for 154 yards, two touchdowns passing and three interceptions.
But it was hardly a one-man collapse.
Randy Moss, covered tightly by Domonique Foxworth, caught only five passes for 48 yards. The Patriots (10-7) defense was so porous, allowing 234 yards rushing, that Joe Flacco had to throw only 10 passes, completing four for 34 yards. Rice rushed 159 yards.
“All of us that participated in the game are accountable for our performance,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “and I don’t think anybody felt very good about it, players, coaches, anybody.”
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