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Pats season ends with "crash landing" and no title

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Pats season ends with "crash landing" and no title

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady stood helplessly with his hands on his hips after his tipped pass was intercepted. He walked slowly to the sideline, removed his helmet and sat on the bench.

A fourth-quarter comeback chance was gone. The end of his season was less than seven minutes away.

Playoff games leave teams with ``either euphoria or crash landing.

``For us,'' New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday, ``it was crash landing.''

Not even the NFL's best offense or an improving young defense could soften the blow. The 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game Sunday night left the Patriots without a Super Bowl title for the eighth straight year and sent them into an offseason when they could lose two key players.

Wide receiver Wes Welker and cornerback Aqib Talib can become free agents.

Belichick, of course, will be back.

``Yeah. I'll be here. You'll have to deal with me again next year,'' the coach, known for revealing little to reporters, said in a rare light-hearted moment during his season-ending news conference. ``I know that's disappointing for a lot of you. Until I'm told otherwise, I plan on being here.''

Belichick, the NFL's longest tenured coach, is looking ahead to his 14th season with the Patriots. He led them to Super Bowl wins in his second, fourth and fifth seasons - but none since.

Only Brady and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork remain from any of those championship teams.

``That whole era is over with. It's gone,'' defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. ``This is a whole new team. This is a different bunch of guys so we all have to experience it and learn for ourselves what that's like.''

The Patriots did reach the Super Bowl twice in the five seasons before this one. They lost both to the New York Giants, the latest coming last season. Then they stocked their defense with draft choices - end Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont'a Hightower, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and safety Tavon Wilson.

That was promising but hardly a guarantee of continued success.

``Guys only think about what's going to happen the year that they're in,'' placekicker Stephen Gostkowski said, surrounded by trash bags and cartons filled with players' belongings. ``No matter what's happened in the past it doesn't mean that anything good's going to happen in the future. Each year's different.

``Coming in day one of training camp we had no idea what this team was going to be and you kind of feel your way through throughout the games.''

The Patriots started slowly with a 3-3 record. Then they won seven straight before losing to the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, 41-34 after rallying from a 31-3 deficit. They ended the regular season with two wins.

There were plenty of positives - an offense that led the NFL with 34.8 points and 427.9 yards per game and a defense that was second in the league with 41 takeaways.

Brady had his usual outstanding season, finishing fourth in the NFL with 4,827 yards passing and throwing for 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But against the Ravens on Sunday he produced just one touchdown as the Patriots were held scoreless in the second half.

The 13 points were their fewest since a 16-9 loss to the New York Jets on Sept. 20, 2009.

``It's hard to win these games,'' Brady said Monday during his weekly appearance on WEEI radio. ``Unfortunately for us, because we've had a lot of success, nothing means anything unless you win the last game of the year.''

Belichick won't wait long to work toward that goal again.

He must decide whether to keep Welker, the NFL's leader with 672 receptions over the past six seasons, and Talib, who solidified the secondary when he was traded by Tampa Bay after the eighth game.

The Patriots placed the franchise tag on Welker this season and could do so again. They also could sign him to a multiyear contract, or let him go.

Will he be back?

``I'm not sure,'' he said in the losing locker room Sunday night. ``I'm not worried about that right now.''

Talib's return also is uncertain.

``We'll see what happens in the future,'' he said, ``but I definitely had the most fun I had playing football in a long time here.''

Not on Sunday.

Talib left with a thigh injury in the first quarter. Other defensive starters played sparingly with tackle Kyle Love leaving in the opening quarter with a knee injury and Jones limited by an ankle injury to two snaps.

The absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski was probably the costliest. He watched the game from owner Robert Kraft's box after breaking his left arm the previous Sunday in a 41-28 divisional win over the Houston Texans.

And Brady had his usual struggles against the Ravens.

``Baltimore's always been a tough team for us,'' he said. ``Even when we play our best they're a tough team for us and they play very well.''

The momentum began to shift Sunday when Brady mismanaged the clock and the Patriots settled for a field goal on the last play before intermission. In the second half, Joe Flacco threw touchdown passes on three of Baltimore's first four possessions and New England lost two interceptions and one fumble on three of its last four.

At the most critical time, Brady and his teammates collapsed.

But ``there were a lot of positives from this football team,'' Belichick said. ``We wouldn't have gotten to where we were without a lot of good, consistent performances from a lot of people.''

More of them on Sunday might have sent the Patriots back to the Super Bowl.

``A season that's very much alive and with great hopes and expectations and energy suddenly crashes and it's over,'' Belichick said. ``That's where we are today. It's stopped. It's over. We're onto next year.''

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Ravens looking to make a statement in Kansas City against the unbeaten Chiefs

Ravens looking to make a statement in Kansas City against the unbeaten Chiefs

Depending on who’s asked, Sunday’s game is either a statement waiting to be made, or just another game to play. 

In perhaps the weekend’s most anticipated game, the Ravens will head to Arrowhead Stadium to face the unbeaten Chiefs on Sunday at 1 p.m. It’s an opportunity for the Ravens to stake their claim as one of the NFL’s best, against the league’s most explosive offense.

“Every game for us is a statement game,” Ronnie Stanley said. “We’ve been downplayed since the beginning of the season. Every game (is), and this just happens to be the next one.”

But while it’s being billed as a game between two of the NFL’s hottest offenses led by two bright stars at quarterback, it’s still just the third game of the season. 

“Not really,” Marshal Yanda said on if this game is a measuring stick. “We focus on the gameplan. We focus on practice and sharpening things up, just getting better every single day. Obviously, we know that they’re a good football team, and we’re going to respect them. But we’re just more worried about what we can control in this building and just getting better every day.”

There’s two mindsets, but it’s impossible to look past what Sunday’s matchup could mean. 

Firstly, it would be at least a modicum of revenge for last year’s 27-24 overtime loss, a loss which Ravens players and coaches have said still sticks with them. 

But perhaps more importantly, it would give the Ravens a leg up early in the season on one of the favorites in the AFC. 

“We’re trying to make our way,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There will be a lot at stake at the end of the year when you count them up, but right now, both teams are trying to find who they are and are trying to win an early AFC matchup. It’s just kind of an early-season game.”

At 2-0, the opportunity is there on-paper for the Ravens to state their claim atop the conference, especially with the rest of the AFC North’s start to the season.

Cincinnati stumbled out of the gate and is 0-2, as is Pittsburgh, which just lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season to an injury. 

The Browns are 1-1 with the Rams coming to town on Sunday, meaning the opportunity is there for the Ravens to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference early on.

In order for the Ravens to do so, however, they’ll have to get by Patrick Mahomes and company.

“It’s a big challenge for us in the back end, a big challenge for the defense and for this ball club on the road against a playoff-caliber team,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “They have it all. We’re excited to see what we’re made of, so it’s a big challenge for us, trying to find a way to get to 3-0.”

Still, Sunday’s game is more than just a game on paper. The Ravens can firmly cement themselves as one of the NFL’s best amongst the minds of many in the league. Even if they knew that already themselves.

“My job is to control what I can control, and that’s my offense,” Lamar Jackson said. “I don’t really care about the hype. I don’t even care about the hype they’re giving us now. They were just doubting us the whole offseason. Like I said, we’re just going to go in there and perform.”

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Ravens' 'Mile High Miracle' the biggest snub from NFL Top 100 Greatest Plays list

Ravens' 'Mile High Miracle' the biggest snub from NFL Top 100 Greatest Plays list

The Mile High Miracle isn’t the best, most creative moniker in the world. But it is one of the 100 greatest plays in NFL history.

At least, according to just about everyone besides the NFL.

The NFL Network released their top 100 plays in league history over the course of the last two weeks, and several worthy plays made the list. The Immaculate Reception, The Catch, The Helmet Catch, and many others made appearances. There were plenty of Hail Mary’s too.

And yet, the defining play from one of the great playoff runs this century, in the final minute of perhaps the single best game of the decade, didn’t make the cut.

Do you know what did make the list? A fumble recovery returned for a touchdown from the Patriots against the Jets.

What’s that? Doesn’t ring a bell? That’s because most fans know it by a different name: The Butt Fumble.


That’s right. A moment only famous for how many ways Twitter was able to make fun of it made the list of the literal 100 greatest plays in NFL history. It was a gaffe, not a great play, and the NFL chose to raise it up in lieu of Joe Flacco-to-Jacoby Jones, staring elimination in the face, with 30 seconds left, on the road, in freezing weather, in front of one of the most raucous fanbases in the league.

It wasn’t just Ravens fans who were upset on Twitter. Plenty of fans of other teams, including rivals like the Steelers, couldn’t believe the snub. It quickly became the biggest talking point online, once it became obvious the Mile High Miracle wasn’t going to come up eventually.

Now, it makes sense why some Ravens plays were left off. Ray Rice’s legendary conversion of 4th-and-29 off a dump-off pass in San Diego, otherwise known as “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle” would likely have just brought more anger than anything else, give his given his exile from the league in the wake of his domestic violence case.

And many of the Ravens’ all-time greatest players played less glamorous positions. You won’t see many Jonathan Ogden pancake blocks or Ray Lewis form tackles on typical highlight reels.

One Ravens play actually did make the list, with Ed Reed’s record-setting 108-yard interception return for a touchdown showing up in the back half of the Top 100. 

But Reed’s return, as amazing as it was, isn’t the greatest, most iconic moment in franchise history. It’s not the moment fans still talk about, remembering where they were when it happened, in the same way my parents remember where they were when we first walked on the moon.

The Prayer In Thin Air (a much better nickname for the moment) is a top-30 play in NFL history, at minimum. Leaving it off a Top 100 list is indefensible enough in a vacuum, but when you see the types of jokes they included? It quickly becomes easy to throw out the list altogether.

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