The Patriots' 2009 season came to surprisingly early and shockingly definitive end Sunday thanks to a 33-14 blowout playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore ran the ball right down New England's throat from the first snap, an 83-yard Ray Rice touchdown run that was the second-longest postseason run from scrimmage in NFL history.
After a lackluster 10-6 regular season, the Patriots are heading home earlier than anyone predicted after their first home playoff loss under coach Bill Belichick.
In fact, the Patriots closed out the season with an effort that didn't look anything like the previous teams from the last decade and left plenty in New England wondering what the future might hold for a team that entered the season as the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl.
"I've never seen the ballclub play like this, not this ballclub. Never. Six years I've been here, I've never seen us play like this," dejected nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "It's pretty tough. That's pretty tough to swallow. The New England Patriots playing the way we did, that's tough to swallow."
Where do the Patriots go from here? Belichick was asked.
"Our season is over," the stone-faced coach said simply.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Three men were counted on greatly to carry the Patriots this season: Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. For the most part the trio did just that. Brady shook off the rust from missing last season to earn Pro Bowl nods by throwing for well more than 4,000 yards. Moss had an impressive total for anyone but him of 13 touchdown catches and more than 1,000 yards. And Welker led the NFL with 123 receptions in just over 13 games before going down with a serious knee injury in the regular-season finale.
The stars of the passing game did their part, though at a somewhat lesser level than their record-breaking numbers in 2007, and were a big reason New England was able to win 10 games, earn the No. 3 seed in the AFC and overcome other deficiencies.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Personnel moves, or a lack thereof, hindered the Patriots from the get-go in 2009. Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis were brought in to battle for the No. 3 receiver slot behind Moss and Welker. Lewis was cut before the regular season, Galloway shortly thereafter and the team never found a reliable option behind its ultra-productive dynamic duo.
Defensively, New England seemed set on getting a proven pass rusher last spring -- most likely Jason Taylor. When he re-signed with Miami, New England tried to fill the void by trading for Derrick Burgess. As the season played out, a lack of pass rush killed the Patriots, despite Tully Banta-Cain's misleading career-high total of 10 sacks. The defense never got enough pressure, or consistent play on pass defense in general, to close out games. It gave up too many leads, especially on the road.
Throw a proven third receiving option and a high-level pass rusher into the mix for the 2009 Patriots and the team could very well have won more than 10 games, lasted longer in the postseason and may have even lived up to the hype. But those things never happened and the team came up well short of its ultimate goal.
--NT Vince Wilfork returned to action for the wild-card game after missing the final three weeks of the regular season with a foot injury.
--DE/DT Ty Warren also returned to the field, having missed the season finale and two of the final three weeks of the regular season with an ankle injury.
--WR Julian Edelman started in place of Wes Welker (knee, IR), earning his fifth straight start to close out his rookie season. The seventh-round pick and converted college quarterback's playoff debut saw him become the first Patriot to score two touchdowns, on receptions of 6 yards and 1 yard.
--OL Dan Connolly (ankle) was the only injured player among New England's inactives against the Ravens. The rest of the list included emergency QB Isaiah Stanback, CB Terrence Wheatley, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, LB Thomas Williams, OL Rich Ohrnberger, T Mark LeVoir and DL Ron Brace.
--CB Shawn Springs left the game with a head injury and did not return.
--WR Sam Aiken also left in the second half with a head injury and did not return.
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