Ravens' upset bid falls short against Pats

BALTIMORE -- Despite running back Willis McGahee delivering signature stiff-arms and spinning defenders into the cold ground as the Baltimore Ravens pushed the undefeated New England Patriots to the brink of defeat, they were unable to engineer what could have been one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.

Although the Ravens tried to spoil the Patriots' bid for a perfect season Monday night before a record crowd of 71,382 at M&T Bank Stadium, they ultimately fell short in a heartbreaking 27-24 loss that extends a franchise-record six-game losing streak.

In a game played in blustery winds with a few snow flurries, quarterback Kyle Boller heaved a Hail Mary pass to Mark Clayton on a final play that came up three yards shy of a potential game-winning touchdown as the wide receiver was tackled by a gang of Patriots.

That ended the game, but it was New England quarterback Tom Brady's eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney in the corner of the end zone behind safety Dawan Landry with 44 seconds remaining that sealed the game and spawned controversy with the Ravens discussing conspiracy theories afterward in the locker room.

Following an instant-replay challenge, the touchdown was upheld as it was ruled that Gaffney got both feet in bounds.

"It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "They put the crown on top, and they want them to win. From the replay, he didn't even have the ball in his possession.

"Obviously, the refs, they're horrible. They made a lot of bad calls. They'll send in their little report to say that we made a mistake on this one and this should have been that, but it's too late. They need to get it right out there on the field or don't call it all."

Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott compounded the bad situation by committing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one where he tossed a referee's yellow flag into the stands.

Thirty yards of penalties assessed on Scott hurt the Ravens' cause immensely on their subsequent, last-ditch scoring drive.

"No, I didn't act the right way," Scott said. "You've got to be smarter than that," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You can't be a dumb football player."

An earlier defensive holding penalty called on defensive back Jamaine Winborne on 4th-and-5 on an incomplete Brady pass to tight end Ben Watson in the end zone set up the score.

"I don't think it was a pass-interference," Winborne said. "I told the ref on that play that I jammed him for five yards, I was very surprised," Winborne said. "If he's going to call it, he should have called it sooner.

"They get a lot of calls, I'll say that. The Patriots are supposed to be one of the best teams in the history of football and they won on a questionable call. It wasn't a clearly-won game in our eyes."

The winning drive covered 73 yards, featuring two fourth-down conversions and the penalty on Winborne.

"In a game of this magnitude, you don't make that call," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "Let the players decide the outcome of the game. You can crown them champions now. I'm not taking anything away from them.

"They are a great team. They're not asking the refs to help them, but it's just an empty feeling. It's a travesty when you go out there and play that hard and the refs decide the outcome."

The disagreements with the referees allegedly crossed beyond simply disputing the calls. Rolle alleged that head linesman Phil McKinnely was calling him names, which apparently set Scott off in a rage.

"The refs called me a boy," Rolle said. "I will be calling my agent in the morning and sending my complaint. I have a wife and three kids, don't call me a boy.

"Don't call me a boy during a game because I said, 'You've never played football before.' He said, 'Shut up, boy, play boy.' He just kept saying that."

Earlier on the decisive drive, Baltimore inexplicably called timeout prior to a 4th-and-1 New England play with 1:48 remaining where they thought they had stuffed Brady on a sneak.

However, the play was nullified because of the timeout.

They also shut down Heath Evans on a fourth-down play, but New England was called for a false start.

The timeout wound up allowing Brady a second chance and he scrambled a dozen yards for the first down. A few plays later, the Patriots were in the end zone.

"We didn't feel like we were in the right configuration," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We kind of knew what they were going to do and felt like we needed a better call, I guess."

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was displayed on television calling the timeout.

When asked who specifically called the timeout, Billick replied: "We called the timeout. If he'd have gotten the first, it would've been you screaming, 'Why didn't you call the timeout?' Let's make sure we don't have a revisionist history."

In a losing campaign marred by disappointment and a mass outbreak of injuries, the Ravens (4-8) nearly handed New England (12-0) its first defeat of the season.

Installed as a heavy underdog by Las Vegas oddsmakers, the Ravens nearly became the first NFL team to win after being predicted to lose by 20 points or more since the San Diego Chargers upended the Cincinnati Bengals 20-17 in 1974.

After building a 24-17 lead on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Boller to tight end Daniel Wilcox with 14:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Ravens held on for dear life.

Their lead was eventually extinguished behind Brady's precision and the Ravens' defensive breakdowns.

It was an inspired McGahee that made Baltimore competitive, churning out 138 yards on 30 carries by overpowering and eluding tacklers in his best game since joining the Ravens in an offseason trade from the Buffalo Bills.

In one exchange, McGahee turned perennial All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau into a human top. On another sequence, McGahee rumbled over former Baltimore All-Pro outside linebacker Adalius Thomas for extra yardage.

Perhaps his best work came on a 17-yard touchdown run to open the scoring after halftime. McGahee accelerated into the end zone with shifty motions, running behind left guard Jason Brown and left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

The score marked his seventh game in a row with a rushing touchdown as he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the run.

"The loss takes away everything," McGahee said. "We played our hearts out. We had some bogus calls, but it is what it is."

McGahee touched the football on all but two plays on the eight-play, 73-yard drive, rushing for 52 yards on six carries.

With the Ravens leading 17-10, New England immediately answered.

Running the no-huddle offense to perfection, Brady completed all four of his passes for 54 yards as he capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide-open wide receiver Randy Moss. Moss completely lost cornerback McAlister with a quick inside pattern to the back of the end zone.

Moss rubbed it in, too.

"There was just so much trash-talking, man, from guys who really hadn't done anything in the league," Moss said. "Me being a 10-year vet and seeing those other guys out there talking smack, they haven't done anything yet. We shut them up and that was a good thing. I'm not a trash-talker. I talk with my play, not with my mouth."

It was Brady's league-best 40th touchdown of the season to become the fourth quarterback to ever hit that mark.

This was the largest point spread against an NFL home team since 1987 in the midst of the players' strike as the San Francisco 49ers' replacement team was favored over the Atlanta Falcons by 23 points.

New England struck first, aided significantly by a 42-yard Brady pass up the left sideline to Donte Stallworth behind Rolle. Rolle compounded his coverage error by committing a 15-yard penalty when he tackled Stallworth by his facemask.

Seven plays later, the Patriots scored on a 21-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal after a valiant goal-line stand after New England achieved a first-goal at the Ravens' 1-yard line.

It would take Baltimore a few drives to surpass that initial advantage.

Boller transformed a broken play into the Ravens' longest gain of the season.

Evading the pass rush of Thomas and defensive end Jarvis Green, Boller escaped the pressure and launched a 53-yard sideline pass to Devard Darling down to the Patriots' 18-yard line.

Before he was pushed out of bounds, Darling roughly deposited safety James Sanders on the ground with a muscular stiff-arm.

Then, McGahee took over again.

The running back gained 11 yards on four consecutive runs, including a 1-yard surge off left guard Jason Brown's block for a key first down on 3rd-and-1 at the Patriots' 9-yard line.

Two plays later, Boller dropped back and fired a spiral between the outstretched hands of Thomas and safety Rodney Harrison. The football eluded the New England defenders to find wide receiver Derrick Mason for a 4-yard touchdown pass and a 7-3 lead with 1:23 remaining in the first quarter.

Baltimore would pad its lead after New England went three-and-out. This was another methodical drive, lasting a dozen plays and going 55 yards to take 5:57 off the clock.

Mainly, the Ravens grinded out yards with McGahee rushing five times for 22 yards prior to Matt Stover's 29-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead. New England would answer, though, tying the score on fullback Heath Evans' 1-yard touchdown plunge.

Utilizing the no-huddle and the shotgun formation on that drive, Brady began to warm up his arm. Plus, the Patriots benefited from a pass-interference penalty on McAlister on a long pass intended for Moss to give New England possession at the Ravens' 1-yard line.

The Ravens should have at least held a 13-10 lead at halftime if not for a fumbling gaffe by safety Ed Reed.

Reed intercepted a deflected pass intended for Wes Welker, returning it 34 yards while handling the football loosely with one hand.

Running back Kevin Faulk expertly stripped the ball out of his left hand with tight end Ben Watson recovering to preserve the tie heading into the half.

Although the Ravens gamely battled New England, the 1972 Miami Dolphins can forget about uncorking the champagne just yet. Their unmatched perfect season remains in serious jeopardy.

Now, the Ravens will try to stop this losing slide Sunday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, who expelled them from the postseason following last year's 13-3 campaign.

"We have to use this as a stepping stone to get to where we want to be, because we know we can do it," said Boller, who completed 15 of 23 passes for 205 yards, two touchdow passes and one interception. "We just played against one of the best teams in the NFL."

NOTES: Rookie offensive guard Ben Grubbs sprained his medial collateral ligament. ... The Ravens wore No. 21 stickers on the back of their helmets to honor slain Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, and middle linebacker Ray Lewis had No. 21 stenciled on his eye-black stickers. Lewis, Reed and McGahee, who all played at the University of Miami like Taylor, wanted to attend Taylor's Monday funeral, but were unable to do so because of concerns that the weather might keep them from making it to the game on time. "I really wanted to go to the funeral," McGahee said. "I would have been drained, just from the flight alone. I was just playing for him, basically dedicating the rest of the season to him."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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