FOXBORO You watch sports long enough, you see all the different ways in which games are won or lost.
There is the early-game torrent in which matters are decided within minutes of the anthem ending, and the stunning reversal in which a team has things secured only to fall prey to an onslaught of late-game heroics.
Sunday night? The procrastinators special.
The Patriots kept putting it off, putting it off, putting it off and biding their time. Then slowly, imperceptibly, momentum changed because of New Englands inaction and the realization struck that, oops, times up.
The Patriots didnt hand the Ravens this game. They handed a game to John Harbaughs brother, Jim, about a month ago with four turnovers that helped put them in a 31-3 hole they couldnt fully climb out of.
No, this AFC Championship loss was more about a failure to seize. And you could almost feel it building. A first quarter the Patriots dominated ended with them ahead 3-0.
Hmm. Not gonna get away with that all night. Better finish some of those drives and cash in on that outstanding field position.
Second quarter? The Ravens score and the restless shifting begins in earnest. An answering touchdown from Tom Brady to Wes Welker allays concerns and when the Patriots orchestrate the clock nicely to get the ball back near the end of the half, they are poised to go ahead 17-7.
And then they butcher two opportunities to stop the clock and preserve chances to fire at the end zone and they settle for a field goal. Its 13-7. A matter of time before they start to bust out? Sure. But with the Ravens starting their first half drives on their own 13, 10, 8, 10 and 14? Shoulda been more.
But the second half. After some tinkering in the locker room, you figured an offense that converted 48.7 of its third downs would get things straightened out.
The Patriots got the stop they needed after the second half kickoff and took over looking to go up 20-7. From their own 9 to the Baltimore 36 where they had first down. Two plays later they had third-and-8 from the Ravens 34 and wound up with linebacker Paul Kruger trying to cover Wes Welker. And Welker dropped the pass that hit his hands.
Another punt and then the reins came off of Joe Flacco. He carved up the Patriots back-seven that had -- to that point -- mitigated the loss of Aqib Talib. A touchdown drive made it 14-13, Baltimore, but the Patriots know how to close. They always close. And the Ravens would be exhausted from their marathon in Denver the week before. Just a matter of time.
Backed up in their own end, the Patriots converted a third down with Danny Woodhead. But a hold meant a do-over on third-and-12 and the Patriots couldnt convert that either.
A punt. Another Ravens drive. Another touchdown. And suddenly, it was 20-14. And all the missed chances, and all the great field position wasted started to loom large. Not to mention the knowledge that Baltimore had found itself offensively.
The inevitability of New England continuing to be what its been all year -- more resilient, more efficient, undaunted -- dimmed.
A touchdown to start the fourth for Baltimore. A fumble by Stevan Ridley on a knockout hit by Bernard Pollard. Another touchdown four plays later and it was 28-13.
Too late? Too late. The tide had turned and it was doing what the tide will do -- engulfing the Patriots.
Suddenly, a team that hadnt lost by double-digits since the 2010 season -- a span of 44 games -- was on the ropes and in trouble.
The realization took hold. The Patriots ship had sailed for 2012. All the versatility of their offense, all the efficiency had gone away on this day. The Patriots didnt seize the AFC Championship game when it was there for the taking. And the Baltimore Ravens did.