It's Lights Out For the Patriots

A brief assessment of the utterly depressing Patriots loss in the AFC Championship.

“Is he dead?”

My brother’s girlfriend wasn’t joking. She thought something was seriously wrong with Stevan Ridley. Early in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s AFC Championship Game, Ravens safety Bernard Pollard—the man responsible for destroying Tom Brady’s knee and Rob Gronkowski’s ankle—slammed into the Patriots running back with what seemed like an inhuman amount of force. The hit, which created a nauseating crunch that typically can be associated with a nasty fender bender, caused Ridley to spin around, temporarily lose control of his limbs, flop forward like a rag doll, and lose the football. He had to have been knocked out cold at least for a few moments. It was terrifying to watch.

Honestly, I didn’t even care that Ridley had fumbled the ball away. My brother’s queasy girlfriend nearly had to leave the room when CBS showed the replay from multiple angles. It was too gross to watch once, let alone over and over again. Thankfully, Ridley was OK. Well, OK in the sense that he wasn’t dead. He even managed to walk to the locker room under his own power. Ridley had what the Patriots, in their typically cryptic fashion, deemed a “head injury.” (It’s kind of pointless to complain about how the Patriots report injuries, but calling what happened to Ridley a “head injury” is like calling a compound leg fracture a “lower-body injury.” It doesn’t really do it justice.)Baltimore ended up winning, 28-13, but it felt far worse than that. To put it bluntly: the Ravens beat the crap out of the error-prone Patriots. Pollard’s hit on Ridley was the scariest, most glaring example of that. Like every playoff loss in the past decade or so, this one was stunning. But not every defeat should be a referendum on the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. Sometimes, the other team is just too much to handle. It’s depressing for utterly spoiled Patriots fans to think about, but it’s the truth.

“I mean, I love playing football,” defensive lineman Vince Wilfork told reporters afterward. “Taking a loss like this kind of (makes you) question how long you want to play, but it’s just the moment. I’ll get over it.”

We will, too, hopefully sooner rather than later.

If you can stomach reliving Sunday’s misery, here are a few things worth reading:

Advanced NFL Stats breaks down Belichick’s questionable fourth-down strategy:Belichick faced eight fourth downs in the game against the Ravens, seven of which were legitimate questions for the best course of action: Go for it, punt or kick the field goal. Whereas we would normally expect Belichick to be aggressive, he seemed more reserved in his decision-making.”  [h/t Aaron Gordon]

Pro Football Focus has some interesting stuff about Wes Welker, who had a key drop in the third quarter: “If you listen to the commentary on TV you could be forgiven for thinking that Wes Welker hashands of glue that never drop passes. Every time he drops one they act so surprised and usually remark how this is a very rare occurrence. Unfortunately, it just isn’t so, and Welker finished his season with another pair of drops in this game for 19 on the season, a league-leading mark. Obviously Welker is a high-volume catcher targeted far more than most, so this doesn’t put him down with the paddle-handed brigade at the bottom end of the scale, but those 19 drops are 12.4 percent of his catchable targets, a percentage that ranks 68th in the NFL this season.”

And finally, the Globe’s Greg A. Bedard dissects the Patriots’ defensive woes: “The problem was, the Patriots failed to make any big plays on defense. The Patriots were second in the league with 41 forced turnovers during the regular season (Bears, 44). Giving the Patriots offense a few extra swings at the plate—with short fields—was one of their greatest strengths. Against the Ravens, the Patriots didn’t force a single turnover.”