Ravens squander opportunity, lose to Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Scraps of discarded tape littered the locker room floor. Players shook their heads in frustration and commiserated while stuffing their belongings into their traveling bags before trudging slowly toward the team bus.

Exasperated by a squandered opportunity, the Baltimore Ravens were left to lament how New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady engineered another vintage comeback victory. Regret was the overriding feeling for the Ravens following a 23-20 overtime defeat decided by a 35-yard game-winning Stephen Gostkowski field goal at Gillette Stadium, a place they've never won during the regular season in six attempts. "I think you can kind of feel it in the locker room," tight end Todd Heap said. "You can feel the emotion and how quiet it is. It's disappointing. We feel like it's a game we had an opportunity to win and we didn't get the job done."

The Patriots scored 13 unanswered points to win the game, overcoming a 20-10 deficit in the fourth quarter and avenging their embarrassing 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens from last January.

Despite piling up 377 yards of total offense and 21 first downs, the simply didn't make enough plays at key junctures to win the game after outplaying New England for the majority of the contest between two AFC powerhouses. "Very frustrating," wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "It's a feeling of we had the game and we are in here with a loss. It's very frustrating losing a game that I think most of the guys here in the locker room felt we should have won."

The Ravens (4-2) had an opportunity to make a statement as the elite team in the AFC after previous road wins over the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, the Patriots have a right to make their claim.

"Hats off to them, they won the football game, but they better hope they don't see us again," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We're definitely not happy about being 4-2, because we could have easily been 5-1. It's a long season, and we're going to get better at closing teams out. .. "We already know that story. Do you really need me to answer that? We're a dangerous playoff team. We look forward to the rematch." The Ravens are now in second place in the AFC North, a half-game behind the 4-1 Steelers. "We're disappointed with the loss, but we're certainly not discouraged in any way," coach John Harbaugh said. "We've lost games before and we'll bounce back. Our guys are a pretty resilient bunch."

Brady renewed his connection with former Super Bowl hero Deion Branch, the wide receiver the Patriots reacquired after they unloaded disgruntled wide receiver Randy Moss. He caught nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. And Branch's 23-yard and 10-yard receptions were the key plays in the Patriots' game-deciding drive that set up Gostkowski's game-winner. "It's friggin' Tom Brady," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He's a superstar. He's friggin' good, man. We let them back into the game. "They made the plays. We didn't. They made really good adjustments in the game. We couldn't get them stopped."

And the Ravens hurt their own cause when fullback Le'Ron McClain lost his temper in overtime before the Patriots' game-winning drive. McClain got shoved by Patriots rookie outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who appeared to be taunting him. Then, McClain responded with a shove that the referees saw as they flagged him for a personal foul.

"He got a little cheap shot on me," McClain said. "I was killing dude, all day. I guess he got frustrated and took a little shove, and they saw my shove on him. He was talking all game. "That was a selfish play by me. I put us in a predicament. I ain't going to put that game on that one call. Stuff happens." The penalty downgraded a 3rd-and-9 situation into a 3rd-and-19 that Flacco was unable to convert into a first down.

Sam Koch punted, and the Ravens never touched the ball again as Brady got the Patriots in position for Gostkowski's field goal. "Retaliation always gets called," Harbaugh said. "There's something else happening there. Retaliation always gets called, and he's got to understand that."

After building a lead behind one of quarterback Joe Flacco's stronger games, the Ravens went conservative offensively in the fourth quarter and in overtime as there were few passes thrown downfield.

Flacco completed 27 of 35 passes for 285 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a glittery 119.3 quarterback rating, but did most of his damage before the Ravens were in clutch situations.

The offense skidded to a halt in overtime with only two first downs. For whatever reason, the Ravens hit a lull offensively late in the game as they only combined for 81 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime.

"Oh yeah, everybody felt it," Houshmandzadeh said. "We've all played the game long enough to know we had it. It felt like we had the game and needed a timely play or a timely score. You saw what happened when you let a team stay in the game."

In the fourth quarter after Billy Cundiff's 25-yard field goal staked the Ravens to a 20-10 advantage, the Ravens only produced one more first down.

On several occasions, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called basic running plays up the middle or short passes.

"I'm not sure," Flacco said. "I'm not really the guy to ask there. We had opportunities to do what we needed to do and be physical with them and go down and win the game. We didn't do it. "Came close a couple of times, scoring a touchdown maybe would have helped us on that last scoring drive rather than having to kick the field goal. You never know. They did a good job and hung in there and kind of outlasted us." Conversely, the Patriots marched on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 6 minutes and 50 seconds where Brady operated out of the shotgun and had plenty of time to locate his targets. That set up Gostkowski's 24-yard field goal to tie the game with 1:51 remaining in regulation. Flacco was stuffed on a fourth-quarter sneak on third-and-one. Then, the Ravens opted to punt on fourth down rather than go for it.

Were the Ravens not aggressive enough offensively? "I don't know, it was a different game in the second half," Houshmandzadeh said. "You can say we didn't do as much or you can say they played great, if you look at it from their side of the ball. It's always a cause and effect for everything.

"As far as aggressiveness, you probably have to take that up with the coaches. Certain calls that you feel weren't aggressive, they might feel they were."

Although Brady completed 27 of 44 passes for 292 yards and one touchdown, the Ravens intercepted him twice and sacked him three times. The Ravens began the game strongly with Flacco finding Heap and Anquan Boldin for touchdown passes from 16 and 25 yards. The Ravens manufactured a 15-play drive that lasted 8 minutes and 32 seconds before Cundiff hit a 26-yard field goal.

Derrick Mason was two yards shy of the first down on a 3rd-and-9 situation as the Ravens had to settle for the three points. The Patriots reacted, taking a 7-3 lead as a 31-yard pass to rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez and a 22-yard reverse by wide receiver Brandon Tate led to Benjarvus Green-Ellis' two-yard touchdown run.

A pair of penalties on the ensuing drive, an 18-yard pass interference call and a 10-yard tripping infraction followed by a 13-yard Mason catch given to Baltimore after an instant replay challenge, led to Flacco's first touchdown pass. He found Heap cutting inside for the touchdown to beat safety Patrick Chung.

It was Heap's first score in six games. Later in the second quarter, Heap absorbed a vicious helmet-to-helmet shot by safety Brandon Meriweather where he launched himself into the tight end.

Heap was on the ground for a few minutes before returning to the game. In the third quarter, cornerback Chris Carr picked off Brady for the first interception from the Ravens' secondary since last season. That set up Flacco's perfect pass to Boldin to stake the Ravens to a 17-7 advantage. New England answered on a 38-yard Gostkowski field goal.

And Cundiff's kickoff out of bounds in the fourth quarter gave the Patriots the ball at their own 40-yard line.

"I think it was the inability of us to play consistently," Carr said. "In the second half, we couldn't stop them consistently. We couldn't stop the run, and offensively, we couldn't get anything going. We couldn't finish them.

Brady capitalized on Cundiff's miscue with a four-yard touchdown pass to Branch as he had plenty of time to find his open receiver after he shook loose from cornerback Lardarius Webb. "I don't think it's about Brady at all," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We made some penalties that really hurt us. Anytime you come into a hostile environment like this in the fourth quarter and you make those kind of mistakes, it's going to cost you." Last season, the Ravens absorbed a narrow loss in the regular season here as wide receiver Mark Clayton dropped a fourth quarter pass. Then, the Ravens steamrolled the Patriots in the playoffs.

"We've been here before, and the same thing happened last year: losing in the last second," Lewis said. "We play each other tough. You learn from your mistakes. If we see them in the playoffs, we'll be ready again. "Everyone was pissed off last year. You ask yourself, ‘Where would you rather be?' We're 4-2. You win 80 percent of the games playing like this."

Heading into next weekend's game at M&T Bank Stadium against the winless Bills, the Ravens have won half of their road games and are undefeated in two home games.

"We lost, it's not the end of the world," Suggs said. "We're 4-2. We're not glorifying ourselves over that. We're not down on ourselves over that. If you told me we would have been 6-0, I would have believed you, but 4-2 is not the end of the world. I'll take it."

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