BALTIMORE — There weren’t enough fans left in the stands to muster anything resembling a sustained jeer as Tom Brady jogged off the M&T Bank Stadium field toward the tunnel Sunday evening. There wasn’t enough fight left in the battered Baltimore Ravens to talk any smack to their favorite foil as he disappeared. There probably wasn’t enough pride left in the city of Baltimore to remind Brady, as he left town, what he could do with his 41-7 victory and his latest division title.
They were girded for an epic battle here Sunday in this late December clash of bitter rivals — the past two AFC Super Bowl representatives, both with tangible playoff motivation — but what they got was a stunning blowout, with Brady’s New England Patriots handing the Ravens the worst defeat of the John Harbaugh era and cementing their own playoff fate while muddling their rivals’.
“Where’s my hat and T-shirt?” Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount yelled as he entered the victorious visitors’ locker room. Within moments he was outfitted with the requisite articles of clothing, both the hat and the T-shirt sporting “AFC East Champions” across the front.
The division title — which was actually clinched minutes before kickoff when the Miami Dolphins lost at Buffalo — was the Patriots’ fifth straight and 10th in 11 seasons. After three straight underwhelming performances — narrow wins over also-rans Houston and Cleveland, then a maddening loss to Miami — they appear to have righted themselves Sunday afternoon. Next week’s home game against Buffalo also holds import; a Patriots win would clinch a first-round bye.
“The experts, I know they always have all the answers,” Patriots left guard Logan Mankins said. “They really had them when they picked the winner of this game. When they don’t mention us as [being] physical, I always say, ‘Just go ask the guy who lines up across from me.’ ”
The Ravens, meanwhile, went from controlling their own playoff fate at the start of the day, with a shot at wresting the AFC North title from the Bengals, to being in the uncomfortable position of needing to win next Sunday at Cincinnati, plus get some help — in the form of a loss by the Dolphins and/or Chargers — to secure the second wild card.
“It’s disappointing,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We’re used to going out there and playing well when we need to when the playoffs are on the line. We came out today hungry and ready to go get ourselves into the playoffs, and we just didn’t do it.”
The Patriots were up two touchdowns barely 10 minutes into the game and led 20-0 entering the fourth quarter, when the proceedings briefly got interesting — then descended into madness. The Ravens finally scored on a Flacco sneak with 9 minutes 21 seconds left in the game and were driving again a few minutes later, down just two scores, when Flacco threw four straight incompletions near midfield, giving the ball back to New England.
The Patriots then scored three times in the final 2:05, the final two coming courtesy of their defense, which returned a fumble and an interception by Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor for touchdowns. With each Patriots score, the swarms of fans clogging the aisles on their way to the exits swelled.
For a Ravens team that had earned a reputation for hitting its stride in the winter months — and that had climbed out of a 4-6 hole with four straight wins entering Sunday’s game — such a gruesome loss in such a momentous game had it searching for answers.
“I don’t know — gotta look at the tape,” defensive end Terrell Suggs said when asked to explain what had happened. And then he reconsidered. “Actually,” he said, “just burn the tape.”