The Baltimore Ravens wasted numerous opportunities today, but the biggest one was the possibility for their first winning season.
Baltimore (8-8) squandered a chance to carry momentum into the offseason by losing to the New England Patriots, 20-3, before 50,263 at Foxboro Stadium. The loss snapped the Ravens' four-game winning streak and left them with their first nonlosing season in franchise history.
"A lot of things showed up today that cost us earlier in the season and it cost us again here," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said. "We reverted back a little bit today. . . . We played hard, [but] the focus and the execution wasn't what you'd like it to be."
Statistically, Baltimore was the more dominant team. The Ravens more than doubled the Patriots' offensive production, outgaining New England 313 yards to 151 in total offense. But the Ravens fell short on the scoreboard because they were unable to come up with the plays they needed at crucial moments.
The Ravens' only score was a 19-yard field goal by Matt Stover 1 minute 27 seconds into the second quarter. But that field goal represented one of the many missed opportunities.
The Ravens started that scoring drive on their 21-yard line and drove to the Patriots 1, where they had second and goal. Running back Priest Holmes, who had carried the ball seven times for 42 yards in the first quarter and had played a key role in that drive, gave way to running back Errict Rhett. Twice, Rhett tried unsuccessfully to push the ball into the end zone and Baltimore settled for three points.
"The way that we have it set up, most people really wouldn't understand," Holmes said. " 'Why are they putting Errict Rhett in? [Holmes is] doing so well.' But the thing is, that's the way we have it designed. Errict Rhett does short yardage and he does goal line. And he does it very well."
That missed opportunity seemed to pump life into the Patriots and their fans. New England (8-8) tied the score on a 25-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri 3 1/2 minutes later, then took the lead on a one-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Bledsoe to tight end Mike Bartrum with 5:04 left before halftime. Vinatieri's 51-yard field goal, his longest of the season, gave New England a 13-3 lead at the end of the half.
Baltimore helped set up New England's scoring drives with poor special teams play. The Patriots returned two kickoffs, for 54 and 49 yards, and a punt for 52 yards. They had more return yards (173) than total offensive yards (151).
The Ravens controlled the third quarter, but still came away empty. New England's offense was on the field for just six downs during that quarter, and yet the Patriots were able to outscore Baltimore 7-0. The Ravens' pass protection, which was faulty all game, missed middle linebacker Ted Johnson blitzing up the middle on Baltimore's second series of the quarter. Johnson sacked quarterback Tony Banks, one of New England's seven sacks, forcing him to fumble. Defensive tackle Chad Eaton recovered the ball and carried it 23 yards for the first touchdown of his NFL career.
"A little miscommunication here, a missed technique there, just a few things that when they came together, too many little things at one time, ended up being a really bad day up front for us," Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden said.
On the Ravens' next series, Banks's 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg DeLong was called back when DeLong was penalized for offensive pass interference. Three plays later, New England cornerback Kato Serwanga intercepted Banks in the back of the end zone after Banks overthrew tight end A.J. Ofodile. "Me and the tight end were just on a different page," Banks said of the play.
Baltimore was unable to gain yardage on its final series of the quarter. The Ravens took possession on their 43-yard line, then went backward until they were at fourth and 33 on their 20.
"Things just kept happening, snowballing at the wrong time," said Baltimore wide receiver Patrick Johnson, who had the first 100-yard receiving game of his career. Johnson caught nine passes for 114 yards.
"Bad things happened at the right time for them, but the wrong time for us."