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No good! Ravens lose AFC title game to Patriots on Cundiff miss

Lee Evans buried his face in both hands, sitting alone at his locker in abject sadness as the Baltimore Ravens' dreams of a Super Bowl were extinguished by a nightmarish ending.

Team owner Steve Bisciotti headed down the hallway wearing a grim expression with a saddened Cal Ripken following closely behind him.

And veteran free safety Ed Reed struck a musical chord that captured the emotional aftermath of the Baltimore Ravens' heartbreaking AFC Championship game loss to the New England Patriots, singing a Teddy Pendergrass classic called "Love TKO."

The lyrics: "Think I'd better let it go, looks like another love KO. Takin' the bumps and the bruises ... Of all the things of a two-time loser, tryin' to hold on, faith is gone. It's just another sad song. I think I'd better let it go."

It was that kind of bitter, reflective moment for the Ravens as they were wounded deeply by a devastating 23-20 loss to the top-seeded Patriots on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium despite quarterback Joe Flacco silencing his critics by outdueling Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady. The Ravens will relive the final minutes for a long time, especially kicker Billy Cundiff. In the aftermath of kicker Cundiff's crushing missed field goal, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was seen delivering this message of shock on the sideline: "Oh, my God." Cundiff flubbed a normally routine 32-yard field goal try with 15 seconds remaining while trailing by three points, hooking it wide left and costing the Ravens a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime.

"It's a kick I've kicked a thousand times in my career, there's really no excuse for it," a solemn Cundiff said. "I get paid to make field goals. I don't get paid to miss field goals. You know that Ray Lewis has poured his heart out, and you don't know how many years he has left. To let him down is pretty tough."

The snap from Morgan Cox and the hold from punter Sam Koch were textbook perfect. Cundiff simply missed a kick the Ravens absolutely had to have. "I feel for Billy, he put his heart and soul out there to win it for us," Koch said. "It's just really unfortunate. Everything felt fine. It was just one of those things that happened to go off to the left."

Cundiff wasn't alone in feeling pain, and accepting blame for the final outcome. Two plays before Cundiff missed the big kick, Evans was unable to secure the ball on a potential game-winning touchdown pass from Flacco. While Evans was attempting to haul in the pass, Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore snatched it away from him.

"It was an opportunity for us to the go to the Super Bowl, and I let it go," said Evans, a veteran receiver who hadn't even been to the playoffs before until this month and caught three passes for 39 yards Sunday. "The most disappointing part of all of this is that I feel personally that I let everybody down," Evans said. "This is the greatest team I've been on, and I feel like I let everybody down. It's hard to sit here and accept how or why things happened. It was a great pass by Joe, and it was just a pass that was not completed by me. Nobody else can take the fall for that. It's as tough as it gets."

NFL replay officials in the press box quickly concluded there was no clear visual evidence to overturn the call since Evans didn't control the ball with both feet down.

"They didn't feel like it was close enough to be reviewed," Evans said. "That's how it goes." "I thought it was a touchdown," offensive tackle Michael Oher said. "I don't know what else you got to do to score. It looked like a touchdown to me."

So, the Patriots advanced to their seventh Super Bowl to play the New York Giants in Indianapolis despite Brady being intercepted twice with no touchdowns and Flacco throwing two touchdown passes with one interception.

This marks the second time in the past four years that the Ravens' season was halted one game away from the Super Bowl, losing four years ago in the AFC championship game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "This feeling, we'll take it," said Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who was limited to 67 yards on 21 carries. "We'll taste it. We'll use it as fuel in the offseason. We only live once. "These moments in the locker room we'll embrace as a team. I'm not a guy who points any fingers. They made more plays than we made."

"It's two great football teams, two gladiators, just kind of going at each other at the end, and I'm proud of our guys," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You know, we've got 53 guys, mighty men, as we like to call them. And they fought, and we came up a little bit short, as 53. You know, 53 win and 53 lose."

The game-winning touchdown was scored by Brady when he jumped over the top of the Ravens' defense for a one-yard score with 11:29 in the fourth quarter to retake the lead. "It was the biggest game of my career, so it's the biggest loss of my career," strong safety Bernard Pollard said. "It hurts, it sucks. We got to bounce back some way, somehow. To do what we did, that's hard. For us, we got to find a way to get back there." Brady said the Ravens looked vulnerable on fourth-and-goal at their one-yard line.

"I thought it looked soft in there, so I tried to take advantage of us getting an easy touchdown," Brady said. "I don't do that very often. I'm glad we had a chance to score there. That was important."

After that score, the Ravens squandered prime opportunities to either retake the lead with a touchdown or tie it with a field goal. After Flacco was intercepted by linebacker Brandon Spikes on an ill-advised throw over the middle intended for tight end Ed Dickson, the Ravens got the ball right back when rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith intercepted Brady in the end zone off a pass deflection from strong safety Bernard Pollard.

Rather than have Cundiff attempt a potentially game-tying 50-yard field goal, the Ravens had Flacco attempt a pass on 4th-and-6. The pass to tight end Dennis Pitta fell incomplete. "We just felt like from a percentage standpoint," Harbaugh said, "we probably had a better chance of getting the first down."

After the missed field goal by Cundiff, Brady was able to kneel down once to run out the clock. It was his 16th postseason win, tying Joe Montana for the most in NFL history.

Despite losing an AFC title game for the second time and not being granted his wish for the referees to review Evans' dropped pass, Harbaugh is convinced the Ravens have a bright future. "Obviously a disappointing, stunning loss at the end there," Harbaugh said. "I thought our guys played their hearts out. We made plays and came up a play or two short at the end, but it doesn't lessen what they accomplished this year, and it doesn't lessen what they accomplished in this game. I like our football team and I like where we are going."

The loss overshadows one of Flacco's best games as he connected on 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards and hit Pitta and rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith with scoring tosses from six and 29 yards, respectively.

The Ravens led 20-16 after Flacco's touchdown pass to Smith and a 39-yard Cundiff field goal preceded by Patriots running back Danny Woodhead's lost fumble on a kickoff. Flacco was criticized heavily in the week before kickoff. That included Reed accusing Flacco of being rattled and not having a hold on the offense during a 20-13 AFC divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans. "I don't know if I ever will prove anything," Flacco said. "I just play the same way. We lost, someone has to, but we laid it all out on the field."

His teammates were a bit more blunt and outspoken when it came to sticking up for him. "He played his butt off. He played his tail off," Pollard said. "For the people that keep dogging him, if you ain't never played this game, shut up, shut up. Flacco played his tail off. He's a winner." Added Rice: "It wasn't me today, it was Joe Flacco. I would appreciate if some of the people that criticize him lay off him now. That's my quarterback." Meanwhile, veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis insisted that this won't be his last game. And Suggs is already plotting plans for going a step further next season. "It sucks," Suggs said. "It was a special year from start to finish. Even with 22 seconds left, we thought we had it. But hey, congrats to them, can't take anything from them. "Rest assured, we are going back to work. We're going to take the necessary time off, but when we train, we know what our destiny is." Ray Lewis not retiring By Aaron Wilson FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis has no intentions of ending his career following an emotional AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots. And the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year wasted no time shutting down any speculation about whether he intends to retire. "Is this my last time as a Raven? Absolutely not," the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year said Sunday before being asked about his plans. "Let me answer that question before somebody asks me. Absolutely not. It's just too much, man. "Life offers too much. Every time you step on this field, it's a true blessing. We didn't do it, and that's it. No what about this, what about that. Not one play won or lost this game." During his 16th season, Lewis missed four games with a toe injury and lost some range in pass coverage. However, the 13-time Pro Bowl selection still led the NFL's third-ranked defense in tackles and recorded a dozen tackles against the Patriots. "Somebody is going to feel like this tomorrow, and somebody is going to feel like this in two weeks in the Super Bowl," Lewis said. "And whomever wins it, that's their year. That's a fact, and there ain't nothing nobody else can do about it. That's the irony of sports. "There is a winner, there's a loser, and when you lose, you've got to suck it up like a man and say 'You know what Father? If it's your will, so be it. As a man you got to keep moving, and a team keep building, remembering this taste." Lewis, 36, registered 95 tackles, one interception and two sacks.

And Lewis said he feels like there's still unfinished business for his football team. "For us to be here now, I'm hungry again and I'm thirsty again," Lewis said. "Every time you go through something like this, it has to drive you. I truly believe that's the only thing that makes people great. It's not the ones who always winning that people remember. It's the ones who go through tough times."

Was this the worst loss he's ever experienced? "I've been in this business too long for it to be the toughest loss ever," Lewis said. "Is it a tough loss? Absolutely. We fought. Somebody's going to feel like this tomorrow, somebody's going to feel like this in two weeks when the Super Bowl is over. As a team, we've just got to keep moving and remember this taste no matter how many times you go through it. Because when you finally get it, you appreciate it that much more." Lewis was convinced that wide receiver Lee Evans had scored a touchdown in the final minute, but it was ruled an incompletion after Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore ripped it out of his hands.

"If you wasn't celebrating, you aren't no Ravens fan," Lewis said. "Once again, that's the irony of sports. It's a game of inches. I've been a part of a lot of those same games where the inches didn't go somebody else's way.

"You can take last week, the Houston Texans: inches away from beating us. Guess what? It didn't happen. And now it's the next game, San Francisco and the Giants. Somebody's going to go through that same thing."

Free safety Ed Reed, 33, didn't take questions afterward about the game or his future, spending his time after the game singing a Teddy Pendergrass song: "Love TKO"

Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, 35, reaffirmed that he hasn't decided whether he'll retire or come back for another season. Birk contemplated retiring before this season. "I'll take some time," Birk said, "and see what happens."



Ravens notebook: Secondary neutralizes Brady, contains passing game

Tom Brady launched four passes that were stolen away by the Baltimore Ravens' secondary.

Although two interceptions were nullified by penalties, the New England Patriots' star quarterback was stymied at nearly every turn by the Ravens' defense.

Under normal circumstances, a pair of interceptions and no touchdown passes by Brady translates into a winning performance for his opponent. That wasn't the case, though, for the Ravens during a losing cause Sunday as they fell, 23-20, in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.

"It wasn't good enough," said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who intercepted Brady once and had another taken away due to his illegal contact penalty. "Brady did what it took for them to win that game. I'll take my hat off to him. We had to finish the game. We didn't."

Brady completed 22 of 36 passes for 239 yards and was sacked once. He finished with an uncharacteristic 57.5 quarterback rating after passing for over 5,000 yards during the regular season with 39 touchdown passes. "It was the biggest game of my career, so it's the biggest loss of my career," said strong safety Bernard Pollard, who deflected an end-zone pass by Brady to rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith for an interception in the fourth quarter. "It hurts. Losing sucks." Brady scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter on a one-yard dive over the top of the Ravens' defense.

Brady usually connects on several big plays per contest, but his long completion Sunday was a 23-yarder to Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski. "Well, I sucked pretty bad, but our defense saved us," Brady said. "I'm going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I'm proud of this team and my teammates."

Gronkowski caught 17 touchdowns during the regular season, but was limited to five receptions for 87 yards and kept out of the end zone. Likewise for tight end Aaron Hernandez, who caught seven passes for 66 yards.

Wide receiver Wes Welker led the NFL with 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season, but was limited to six catches for 53 yards.

"I thought we played good, but I think a couple of times we could've been a little more disciplined with the underneath routes and the receivers," Pollard said. "For the most part, it was dink and dunk. We held them to three a lot of drives. It was just a lot of mistakes. "With the mistakes we were still in the game When you're playing a team like this, it's one of those things where you've got to be on your P's and Q's because they can fire back quick. They showed that."

Webb intercepted five passes during the regular season to lead the team and three during the playoffs.

When asked about his performance, Webb replied: "It wasn't good enough."

WILFORK DOMINATES: The Ravens had a lot of trouble blocking Pro Bowl nose guard Vince Wilfork.

Wilfork was constantly in the Ravens' backfield, recording six tackles with one sack and three tackles for losses. "He's a great player," Birk said. "He's a strong, explosive guy. He's been a good player for a long time."

INJURY UPDATES: Offensive tackle Michael Oher briefly left the game with a right ankle injury. He was replaced by rookie Jah Reid, but came back in and toughed it out to finish the game.

"Yeah, I messed my ankle up," said Oher, who suffered a minor knee injury against the Houston Texans the previous week. "AFC championship, you don't want to miss. You had to pull through." Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe sprained his right foot and was in a walking boot after the game.

Although it wasn't listed on the injury report, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata acknowledged that he played through a painful thigh injury that slowed him down. "Yeah, but you play through it," Ngata said. "You don't think of it. No excuses, I try to do whatever I can."

STONEWALLED: Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice didn't replicate his playoff performance from two years ago when he rumbled for 159 yards and two touchdowns, including an 83-yard jaunt on the first play from scrimmage.

He was held to 67 yards on 21 carries and no scores. He caught one pass for 11 yards while being targeted three times. "They did a great job," Rice said. "We didn't execute."

QUICK HITS: Retired Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken was the Ravens' honorary game captain.

The Ravens had several game captains, including quarterback Joe Flacco, linebackers Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jarret Johnson and Ray Lewis, punter Sam Koch and Rice.

The Ravens deactivated rookie wide receiver Tandon Doss, rookie cornerback Chykie Brown, rookie running back Anthony Allen, rookie linebacker Josh Bynes, rookie center-guard Justin Boren, outside linebacker Sergio Kindle and nose guard Brandon McKinney.

The Patriots scratched rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett, running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, linebacker Gary Guyton, offensive guard Donald Thomas, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.

Ochocinco returned to New England shortly after attending his father's funeral. ... Center Matt Birk was named as one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. A former finalist when he was with the Minnesota Vikings, Birk is vying against San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman. Baltimore Ravens' Report Card By Aaron Wilson



FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Grading the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium:

Quarterback: A-minus Joe Flacco may have silenced his critics for the moment with a strong performance, outplaying Tom Brady. He connected on 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 95.4 quarterback rating. It was arguably his top performance in a significant game of his career. He also rushed for 27 yards on four carries and maintained his composure when the Ravens got off to a poor start offensively.

Running back: C Ray Rice traditionally dominates the Patriots. This time, he was contained to 67 yards on 21 carries for an average of 3.2 yards per rush and a long run of 12 yards. The versatile Pro Bowl runner only caught one pass for 11 yards despite being targeted three times. Ricky Williams found the Patriots' defense to be tough sledding as he gained only 22 yards on six carries.

Receiver: B Anquan Boldin caught six passes for 101 yards, and rookie Torrey Smith hauled in three passes for 82 yards with one going for a 42-yard touchdown catch. Dennis Pitta caught five passes for 41 yards and one touchdown. However, Lee Evans failed to secure a potential game-winning touchdown pass that was knocked out of his hands by Sterling Moore. Although Evans blamed himself for the loss, it looked like it was a good defensive play. That said, he should have secured possession and won the football game.

Offensive line: C Joe Flacco was sacked three times. There wasn't much in the way of holes for Ray Rice to run through, and they had no answers for bullish Patriots nose guard Vince Wilfork. Wilfork had six tackles, one sack and three tackles for losses as he dominated center Matt Birk and offensive guard Marshal Yanda. They eventually settled down after a rough start.

Defensive line: D-plus Tom Brady was only sacked once. The Patriots rushed for 96 yards on 31 carries, but that included two touchdown runs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, known as "The Law Firm" because of his hyphen-filled name, rushed for 68 yards and a score on 15 carries. There wasn't enough penetration at the line of scrimmage. Paul Kruger had the only sack for the Ravens. It was a quiet game for Haloti Ngata, who was bothered by a thigh injury most of the season, as well as Cory Redding and Terrence Cody.

Linebacker: C Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had a quiet game at the worst possible time. An NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate who recorded 14 sacks during the regular season, Suggs was stonewalled Sunday. He posted five tackles, but had no sacks and one quarterback hit. Ray Lewis had a dozen tackles.

Secondary: B-plus They intercepted Tom Brady four times with two nullified due to penalties. Brady threw no touchdown passes. Strong safety Bernard Pollard had a dozen tackles and a pass deflection that he tipped to rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith for an interception. Lardarius Webb intercepted Brady once on an athletic, leaping play. He intercepted three passes in two playoff games. Although tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski combined for 12 receptions for 153 yards, they didn't score a touchdown after combining for 24 scores during the regular season. Wes Welker was held to six catches for 53 yards.

Special teams: D Former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff flubbed what should have been a routine 32-yard field goal try with 15 seconds remaining that would have tied the game and likely sent it into overtime. His miss cost the Ravens an opportunity to compete in overtime for a Super Bowl berth. The snap and the hold were fine, but Cundiff hooked it wide left. LaQuan Williams forced a fumble on a kickoff. Punter Sam Koch averaged 43.8 yards per kick.



Ravens dealt crushing loss in AFC title game

The Baltimore Ravens trudged out of their locker room Sunday night to return home, overcome with emotions after a crushing AFC championship game loss to the top-seeded New England Patriots. Why so sad?

It was a game that was nearly within their grasp, pushing legendary Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to the brink of defeat at Gillette Stadium. They didn't make the crucial plays at the end of the game, though, triggering a 23-20 loss to the Patriots that ends their season one game shy of the Super Bowl.

Here's how the Ravens lost the football game:

1. Former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff managed to miss a normally routine 32-yard chip shot of a field goal attempt, hooking it wide left with 15 seconds remaining in the game. A successful kick would have likely sent the game into overtime. Two plays prior to the usually reliable Cundiff flubbing the huge kick, wide receiver Lee Evans was unable to secure an accurate Joe Flacco pass in the end zone that would have been the game-winning touchdown pass. Instead, Evans got the football knocked out of his hands by cornerback Sterling Moore. NFL officials decided not to conduct an instant-replay review likely because of the rule that a receiver has to secure the football definitively for the play to be declared a touchdown.

2. Flacco clearly outdueled Brady, completing 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It was a strong game by Flacco that should earn him a lot of respect. However, it was Brady who managed to salvage the game despite having an off night where he passed for 239 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Brady jumped over the top of the Ravens' defense for a one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game-winner. Despite how well the Ravens defended Brady and, for the most part, contained tight ends Rob Gronkowski (five catches, 87 yards), Aaron Hernandez (seven catches, 66 yards) by preventing from making their trademark huge plays, the defense was never quite able to finish the Patriots off.

3. It was a far quieter game than what Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice usually does against New England. After rushing for 159 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown, during the Ravens' 33-14 AFC wild-card victory over the Patriots two seasons ago, Rice was limited to 67 yards on 21 carries. He caught only one pass for 11 yards.

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