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Ravens Send Pats Packing

As a Patriots fan, I’ve become a bit used to playoff disappointment. The last Pats playoff game I witnessed was the epic Super Bowl XLII, in which my team watched their dreams of perfection slip away thanks to one of the most bizarre catches in NFL history. That said, the Pats had not lost a home playoff game in over 30 years.

Today, I just finished watching the Ravens go into Gillette Stadium, run a completely one-dimensional offense, turn the ball over twice, and complete four passes all day. This happens.

It’s been a bizarre season for the Patriots but, alas, it’s over. Brady ends a decade he dominated with a three-interception game in which every nightmare scenario that could be imagined by Pats fans came to life. RB Ray Rice was unstoppable, RB Willis McGahee was just effective enough to keep drives moving, and Flacco avoided the Pats’ miserable pass rush with just enough efficacy to avoid mistakes despite only four completions.

It was the worst 60 minutes of football New England has played since they got blown out by the Saints at the Metrodome in Week 12. Quite honestly, it’s the worst playoff performance I’ve seen from the Patriots since Super Bowl XXXI.

But, the season is now over. The 2010 New England Patriots begin today, 0-0.

There are many question marks around this Patriots team as they enter the offseason.

  • Will Bill Belichick hire an offensive coordinator? This year saw a considerable drop-off in New England’s offensive efficiency as Belichick decided to enter the 2009 season with no offensive coordinator, as Josh McDaniels left Foxboro to become head coach of the Broncos.
  • Will Dean Pees be retained? All season long, the Pats’ defense fell apart in the fourth quarter, contributing directly to losses to Denver, Indianapolis, Miami, Houston, and icing any chance the Patriots had to come back against the Ravens today. This may be a playcalling or conditioning issue, but considering that the Pats have not had a top-flight defense since Eric Mangini, I have to think that Pees is on the hot seat and will be gone either this year or next if the team continues to struggle.
  • What needs are most pressing as the Patriots enter the draft? You could make a case for several positions. On defense, Leigh Bodden is a good defender, but Shawn Springs is an aging veteran well past his prime, and it will be up to Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler to step up and be the next Asante Samuel-Ellis Hobbs combo to stymie the pass. The run defense fell apart in the second half of the season, with Arian Foster steamrolling the Pats in Week 17 and Ray Rice doing the same in the Wild Card contest. On offense, Laurence Maroney has probably played his last game as a Patriot after several fumbles in critical situations put him in Belichick’s doghouse. Julian Edelman shows promise as a slot receiver, but Sam Aiken has underperformed.
  • Will Randy Moss return? His monster 2007 season is far in the rear-view mirror. This year, Moss put up solid numbers and led the league in touchdowns but was inconsistent, as a lack of other passing threats led to double-teams. That is to say nothing of the heady rumors regarding his alleged lack of motivation, which are fueled by his lack of performance toward the end of his stints in Minnesota and Oakland.
  • How will Wes Welker look recovered from injury? The same injury that fell Brady in Week 1 of 2008 sidelined Welker. Unlike Brady, Welker won’t have a 16 week headstart to get healthy before the 2010 season begins, and it is likely he will be on the Physically Unable to Perform list several weeks into the season. As the true engine of the Patriots offense, it will be rough going without him.
  • Is it time to consider life after Brady? Tom Terrific will turn 33 before the 2010 season starts. While Brady has claimed in interviews that he’d like to play until he’s 40, it may be time to consider drafting a successor, unless Belichick has it in his mind that undrafted free agent Brian Hoyer is the quarterback of the future.

And, to avoid the appearance of sour grapes, I will say this: the Ravens earned that victory. Stiff defense and a relentless running game was the recipe for success this time around. I look forward to seeing if the same combo can fell the mighty Indianapolis Colts. Congratulations, Baltimore fans, and see you in 2010!

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