Curran: Patriots let their opportunity slip away

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Curran: Patriots let their opportunity slip away

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.

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick knows that how you play, not where, is what matters most. 

That's why when he was asked on Wednesday about the advantage the Patriots will have by playing at Gillette Stadium in the AFC title game, he wasn't willing to go all-in on how a comfortable environment will positively impact his team.

"I don’t know," he said. "Go ask Dallas and Kansas City."

The Patriots apparently thought enough of home-field advantage that they played their starters throughout their regular-season finale win in Miami, exposing their best players to potential injury in order to maintain their positive momentum while simultaneously ensuring a better road to the Super Bowl. 

The Patriots fans in attendance on Sunday will help when the Patriots take on the Steelers, Belichick acknowledged. But there's much more to it than that. 

"Yeah, of course," he said, "but the game is won by the players on the field. That’s who wins football games – the players. And they’ll decide it Sunday night."

And if you needed any further proof, just ask the Cowboys and Chiefs how helpful their home crowds were in the Divisional Round. 

Tomlin not letting up on Brown after ill-advised Facebook Live video

Tomlin not letting up on Brown after ill-advised Facebook Live video

FOXBORO – Mike Tomlin didn’t sidestep questions related to Antonio Brown’s ill-advised locker room broadcast.

Instead, Tomlin actually seemed to up the ante during a conference call with New England media. Asked whether Brown seemed to get the message that Tomlin delivered and take it seriously, Tomlin said, “I think time always tells those stories.”

Tomlin easily could have used a “we’re moving on” message or talked about how Brown simply made a youthful mistake but he opted not to. Which isn’t surprising.

The number one criticism of Tomlin is that the Steelers head coach runs a loose ship and that the lack of discipline and accountability is a big issue.

Seeing Brown run a live broadcast from the locker room while Tomlin’s trying to make a point doesn’t just keep that perception afloat, it advances it to a place it’s never been.

It’s not a stretch to say that Brown’s actions imperiled Tomlin’s reputation. There’s no wonder he isn’t willing to let Brown off the hook.

Brown addressed the controversy on Wednesday saying, “I absolutely regret the Facebook Live situation. It’s a total distraction to the organization. A total distraction to my teammates. Obviously disrespect to my coach. I’ve got utmost respect to my coach so I totally regret that.”

Tomlin on Tuesday went as far as to suggest other players doing team-distracting things like Brown wind up getting passed around the league despite their great talent. “That's often why you see great players move from team to team,” said Tomlin. “Don't want that to happen to Antonio Brown.

Tomlin expressed embarrassment that the language he used in the postgame in the privacy of his locker room was served up for public consumption.

“As a parent, I’m not into public displays of that type of language so I was more embarrassed about that aspect of it not necessarily the content or the message of the video,” said Tomlin.

As to referring to the Patriots as “those a*******,” Tomlin said, “Man, you could have applied that sentiment to any opponent. You could have made that tape two weeks earlier and applied it to that opponent. It’s not about the nameless great faces that we play, it’s about our overall preparation and that was the sentiment of the message that I was sending to the guys not necessarily about the New England Patriots, they just happened to be who we’re playing this week.”

Tomlin also addressed the time element he referenced in his postgame speech when he said the Patriots had a day-and-a-half head start on his team. 

“I was just trying to instill a sense of urgency in our group regarding preparation and I wanted them to understand that we didn’t have a lot of time to pat ourselves on the back based on the performance of the last game,” he explained. “That we needed to transition and transition quickly and start the preparation, whether it was actual preparation or just from a mentality standpoint.”

Because of Brown’s decision, it’s probably been a lot harder to make that transition than Tomlin ever hoped.