FOXBORO -- In the end, the Patriots lost by a wide margin -- 15 points.
But the space between the Ravens and Patriots on Sunday was made up of many little plays that the Patriots didn't show up for. It wasn't one or two critical moments. Rather it was a dozen or so that led to New England's season-ending Sunday night.
"Give the Ravens credit; they did a great job, they deserved to win, and they were the better team," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "We had opportunities that we didnt capitalize on and they obviously hurt us. The Ravens had opportunities that they did capitalize on and thats why theyre still playing. They did a better job of playing and coaching than we did last night. They deserved to win the game and they did. Take nothing away from them. We missed our opportunities."
Belichick cited the Patriots failures in the red zone in contrast to Baltimore (how big, in hindsight, was the hurried third-and-2 stuff of Stevan Ridley on the Patriots first scoring drive?), New England's defensive inability to follow up positive plays on first down with solid plays on second down, and the Patriots' sputtering offense after it crossed midfield.
"The red area was a big deciding edge in the game in their favor," said Belichick. "It felt like defensively we didnt do a good enough job on second down. We really, we had them in a number of second down situations, second-and-10s and those kind of things, and they kind of got off the hook there with a couple passes to Ray Rice, Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith, a run by Bernard Pierce.
"We just were never able to get into many third down situations there in the second half where we actually could have gotten them off the field. We didnt string those plays together. We had a lot of negative plays or no-gain plays in there, but we just werent able to string them together and they were able to keep those drives going and finish in the red area. Really, that was pretty much the story of the game: missed opportunities and the differential in the red area. There were obviously a couple turnovers there in the second half."
The air didn't go out of the Patriots' balloon until very late, Belichick believed. The gig wasn't up because the Patriots were still moving it.
"Even though we were behind, I still felt like as we were moving the ball, we were getting down there, if we could have gotten it in, we could have made it a one-score game and we would have had a chance there," he pointed out. "But we got to the, whatever it was, 34 or 24 or 18, somewhere in there three or four times in that 30 to 20-yard line range and just couldnt really get it past that. I thought that was kind of the story yesterday."
And the Patriots will now have an offseason to figure out what they could have done differently to get there.