Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – 2012 Conference Championships
One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”
Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.
(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.
Away from the game(s)
I SAW both the road teams – Baltimore and San Francisco – win the Conference Championships.
Next stop: The Big Easy, New Orleans for the Super Bowl.
’Nawlins is the party capital of America – the perfect location for bro-on-bro action and Ray Lewis’ retirement celebration.
Yes, as if you didn’t already know, it’s the Harbowl, the Super Baugh, the Bro Bowl. Ravens coach (and older, more conciliatory brother) John Harbaugh will take on the Niners, coached by his younger (and the bigger, more casual bully) brother, Jim.
TFQ will post a Super Bowl preview in the next few days, but for now a few thoughts:
I SAW an improbable matchup for Super Sunday, between a quarterback from University of Nevada (Niner Colin Kaepernick) and a QB from University of Delaware (Raven Joe Flacco). It’s the weirdest alum matchup at the position in the big game since a guy from U of Northern Iowa lost to a product of U of Miami (Ohio). (Kurt Warner v. Ben Roethlisberger)
While both players were darlings of their respective draft classes in the eyes of pro scouts, it’s safe to say that they both came in under the radar when their careers as starting pivots in the NFL got under way. Hell, Kaepernick wasn’t even supposed to start at all until some time in the future, but here he is on the biggest stage in North American sports in what will be just his tenth start as a pro. There is a boatload of juicy story angles for this season’s Super Bowl, but the two QBs have taken complex – and very different – paths to get here.
It sure sounds weird to hear of a University of Delaware alum quarterbacking a team to the Super Bowl, but it’s not the first time. Former Raiders QB Rich Gannon also went to the school.
I SAW a crazy run of dominance come to an end – or at least take a 1-year break. I was thinking, and checked up on QBs to have played in the Super Bowl in recent years….
I just mentioned Raiders QB Rich Gannon’s Super Bowl appearance. That was at the end of the 2001 season, against the Buccaneers and QB Brad Johnson. In the twelve years since, every Super Bowl has had a Manning brother, Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger play in it. Those four quarterbacks have gone 8-4 in those chances. (Peyton lost to the Saints, Brady has lost to Eli and the Giants twice, and Big Ben was beaten by the Packers.)
I SAW that a separate post will follow in the weeks to come giving him his fair due, but it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the career of the most prolific tight end in history, Tony Gonzalez, who has likely played his last game after his Falcons lost to the Niners.
1,242 career receptions (second only in NFL history to Jerry Rice).
14,268 career receiving yards (seventh in NFL history, and 4,208 more than the next-highest tight end, Shannon Sharpe).
103 career TD receptions (6th all-time, and 20 more than the next-highest tight end, Antonio Gates).
6 Fumbles over 16 seasons and 254 games played.
He also completed the lone pass attempt of his pro career, for 40 yards, as a Chief in 2001. He retires with a sterling passer rating of 118.7.
What a career. Another Hall Of Fame career will end on Sunday, when Ravens LB Ray Lewis takes the field.
For now, let’s take a look at the last multi-game day of the 2012 NFL season.
(2) San Francisco wins @ (1) Atlanta, 28-24
I SAW that we should start this baby with a bomb.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, when the Niners came back to win after being down 17-0 to the Falcons, it was the biggest comeback win in NFC Championship history. Ironically, the previous NFC record was when the Falcons made it to their only Super Bowl appearance by overcoming a 13-point deficit against the Vikings in the playoffs to the 1998 season. So, one could argue that Atlanta got Karma Sutra. (When life comes back to screw you in the rear.)
(The comeback record in the AFC Championship happened during the 2006 season when the Colts came back after trailing the Patriots by 18 points.)
The end result: The Niners are back where they used to belong, heading to their first Super Bowl since 1995 – which was their fifth such appearance in the 15 years prior.
I SAW that falling in an early hole didn’t phase the Niners one bit. After going down 10-0 to Atlanta in the first quarter, San Fran head coach Jim Harbaugh and his offensive coordinator Greg Roman started to put an extra offensive lineman out on the field, and San Fran made like Olivia Newton-John and got physical, which is what they do best.
The Falcons defense came out ready to try and contain the running ability of Niners QB Colin Kaepernick and the read-option fake that tore the Packers a new one the week before. Atlanta’s defensive ends and ’backers came at plays slowly – in a good way. They held the outside edges and didn’t over pursue any angles, essentially forcing San Fran to beat them another way. However, though slow pursuit and holding ground generally fares well against ball-fake-oriented schemes, it puts the front seven in more flat-footed positions. Advantage: The road graders on the Niners O-line and RB Frank Gore. After being put under the knife throughout his career as often as a med school cadaver, the man they call The Inconvenient Truth continues to be the unsung heart of the offense, and on Sunday he had 21 carries as San Francisco took control of the line of scrimmage, and Gore put the game away with the last two touchdowns of the season in the Georgia Dome.
But, as we all know, it takes two teams to make up a final score, and though Atlanta blew up the first half, well….
I SAW, for the second time in the last two games, the Falcons fail to show enough stamina to hold up all game. Against Seattle in the Divisional Round, Atlanta came mere seconds and a failed Hail Mary attempt away from blowing a 20-0 lead after the Seahawks surged back to take a 28-27 lead with under a minute left in the game.
On Sunday, the Falcons blew a 17-0 lead – and paid dearly for it this time around. As mentioned above, their defense began to wear down under the Niners’ oft-overlooked power style of offense that employs old-school formations with trios of tight ends, multiple fullbacks and the like. But this loss isn’t just on the defense, either. Look at how the offense floundered after halftime:
Falcons In Either Half, NFC Championship
|First Half||Second Half|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
Clearly the points were the killer, but note that Atlanta gained about half as many yards in the second half compared to the first half – with the same amount of plays.
The collapse was punctuated by small mistakes writ huger than John Holmes. On the Falcons’ first possession of the third quarter WR Roddy White slipped running a route and QB Matt Ryan’s pass was intercepted by CB Chris Culliver (that guy who doesn’t like the gays). Then, with one minute left in the quarter, Ryan took his eyes off the ball for just one split second to survey the field. Unfortunately, that moment was when the shotgun snap hit his hands, and Atlanta turned the ball over again.
Neither of those plays resulted directly in Niners points, but they did put an offense with a fragile confidence further out of sorts. In the end, the Falcons gained 477 yards, but lost the game. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that sets a record for most yards gained by a team in a playoff home loss. (Super Bowls aren’t counted, as it is played at a neutral site.)
I SAW Falcons QB Matt Ryan set a franchise playoff record with 396 passing yards in Sunday’s game. The problem was that, like his team, Ryan had a great start and a bad finish. His first half numbers: 18-of-24 for 271 yards, 3 TDs and a 151.2 passer rating. That means the Falcons QB had just 125 yards after halftime, which generally won’t cut it against a surging team the likes of San Francisco.
Obviously the easiest explanation would be to credit the Niners defense – arguably the best all-around unit in the NFL. But Ryan & Co. didn’t keep their collective heel on San Fran’s throat in the second half. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in the first half alone Ryan equaled his full-game career high for completions on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield, with 11. However, his aggressiveness (or the play calling) waned as the game went on:
Matt Ryan, Throws Deeper Than 10 Yards Downfield, Sunday vs. Niners
|First Half||Second Half|
|Yards per Att||18.2||12.2|
(ESPN Sports & Information)
One direct result of this was a serious decline in the impact of second-year WR Julio Jones. After catching five throws out of 6 that were deeper than 10 yards downfield in the first half for 121 yards and two touchdowns, Jones was thrown at just three times in those situations in the second half, for just one reception and 37 yards.
More on Jones in a moment, but first let’s lay another bombonyall:
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Falcons aren’t new to losing playoff games while their quarterback goes off. Of the four postseason game during which Atlanta’s QB has surpassed 300 passing yards – Ryan, Chris Chandler in 1998, Jeff George in 1995, and Steve Bartkowski in 1980 – the franchise only has one win to show for it. (Bartkowski’s game.)
I SAW Falcons WR Julio Jones do more than prove he’s worth the blockbuster draft day trade the team pulled to select him two years ago. In the first four minutes of the game, Jones had four receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown. His second TD catch came in the second quarter, when he did a great job of keeping his feet inbounds at the back of the end zone and hauled the pass in despite some uncalled pass interference on Niners CB Tarell Brown.
By halftime Jones had gouged San Francisco’s secondary for 7 catches, 135 yards and 2 TDs. His team lost the game, but the blame is hardly on his shoulders. The second-year wideout has the size-speed combination to become an elite receiver in the mold of Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall; he just needs to round his game out by running better short and intermediate routes.
I SAW a dirty defensive move that is becoming more popular as the rulebook further protects NFL quarterbacks. The play in question was the one late in the game that injured Falcons QB Matt Ryan’s non-throwing shoulder. Reports from Atlanta claimed that Ryan could have played in the Super Bowl had his team won the game, but he put up several errant throws while in obvious pain – especially the one that was thrown behind WR Roddy White on a 4th-and-4 in the red zone with under a minute to play in the game.
Niners LB Ahmad Brooks committed the cheap part of the play, and he is by no means the first defender to do it. In fact, the move is starting to become popular: A defender with a clear shot on a QB wraps him up high, and on the way to the ground, stretches his hands out above his head. It looks like an innocent “I’m not driving him into the ground” gesture, but what it accomplishes is a belly flop onto a quarterback’s shoulders and/or ribs. Any defender that claims innocence on this move is full of shit. These players analyze every move they make, and seldom is something so recurring an accident. Sadly, it just goes to show that many players will find ways to try and hurt the passer, no matter what changes are made to the rulebook.
I SAW Niners QB Colin Kaepernick continue his unexpected rise to stardom by leading his team to Super Sunday – and he did it from the pocket.
One could argue that the Falcons overreacted from his performance last week against the Packers. Either defensive end drastically shaded the outside edge, forcing Kaepernick to give the rock to his tailbacks. (And, giving him numerous looks at zone coverage on pass plays – see above below, with respect to Vernon Davis.) The second-year pivot showed his (thus far) underappreciated versatility. Had just 2 rushes, the least in any of his starts, but he tore apart the Falcons with his passes in the second half, finishing with a very efficient 16-of-21 for 233 yards, a touchdown and a 127.7 passer rating.
Kaepernick was kept in the pocket on 21 of his 23 dropbacks Sunday – his highest rate of the season. (ESPN Stats & Information) Until Sunday, most analysts would have expected that to be the way to beat the kid. But Kaepernick’s arm is top-notch, as was demonstrated each time he unfurled it and sent a whistling pinpoint spiral into the appropriate window of the defense.
Bottom line: So far in his brief career as an NFL starter, Kaep is showing that if he is on his game, defenses are at a loss at what to do to stop him.
I SAW Niners TE Vernon Davis show up for first time in a while.
Credit goes in part to QB Colin Kaepernick’s play last week. The Falcons played a lot of zone on Sunday, so that their defensive backs and linebackers didn’t play with their backs to the quarterback, as they would in man-to-man coverage (and as the Packers did en route to getting schooled by Kaepernick in the previous round). However, zone coverage tends to favour tight ends, who, given the nature of their placement on the field, run more crossing and seam routes. Giving a TE with the size and speed of Davis such gaps in the defense to exploit is doubly problematic.
Kaepernick and offensive coordinator Greg Roman made a great adjustment by looking for Davis downfield. Until Sunday, Davis had been the forgotten man in the San Fran offense since Kaepernick took over as starter, but that was far from the case against Atlanta:
Vernon Davis With Colin Kaepernick As Starting QB
|First 8 Games||NFC Championship|
|Targets Per Game||3.0||6|
|Receptions Per Game||1.6||5|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
According to the NFL Network ticker, Vernon Davis is the first player with 100 receiving yards in consecutive Conference Championships since Michael Irvin did it with the Cowboys.
I SAW PROPS to the Niners organization for allowing ousted former team owner, Eddie DeBartolo present the NFC Champs trophy to the team after the game.
If you haven’t watched the NFL Network episode of A Football Life that details DeBartolo’s life, understand that his team was taken from him after he and his sister, Denise, feuded over his association with a gambling project. Eddie was given the rest of the family business (with which he remains one of Forbes’ 400 richest Americans), and Denise took over the team, which her son, Jed York, oversees as team president. It was heartwarming to hear Denise all but announce reconciliation to the TV audience, saying, “We’ve come full circle, and the dynasty will prevail.”
Make no mistake: DeBartolo was an all-around businessman, but he loved his football team, and treated his players like family members. Super Bowl win or not, it was heartwarming to see Eddie DeBartolo holding back tears of joy from being back in a victorious Niners locker room after a playoff victory.
(4) Baltimore wins @ (2) New England, 28-13
I SAW the Ravens reach their first Super Bowl in a dozen years. Fittingly enough, the only holdover from that Championship roster is LB Ray Lewis, who, by announcing his retirement before these playoffs started, breathed life into a team that lost four of its last five games to end the regular season.
“This is our time. This is our time.” Lewis told the Associated Press after Sunday’s game – in which he had 14 tackles.
It’s certainly Lewis’ time. He leads the NFL in playoff tackles this season with 44 – fresh off of a 10-game absence due to a torn triceps. (I know, I know, maybe he used PEDs. The problem right now is that his accuser, Mitch Ross, seems more eccentric and confusing than Lewis’ in-game rants do. It’s too murky a quagmire to touch at this point.)
Baltimore gained just 130 yards on offense in the first half, and a pedestrian 356 all game. No Raven rushed for more than 52 yards, or had more than 69 yards receiving. But QB Joe Flacco threw three touchdowns – all of them in the second half – and the defense shut down Patriots QB Tom Brady and their colossus of an offense, further tarnishing a team with one foot in dynasty territory and another in disappointment….
As Ravens LB Terrell Suggs told the Associated Press leading up to the game: “We are probably the only team in the AFC that matches up good with the boy, No. 12 over there and his coach.”
I SAW the Patriots lose their first of five home AFC Championship games in franchise history, denying head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady a historic sixth trip to the Super Bowl together.
Unfortunately for New England, they found another way to be historic. Until Sunday’s loss to Baltimore, Belichick had been 72-1 as coach of the Pats in home games during which his team held a lead at halftime. Brady had been 67-0 in such situations. (NFL Network’s NFL Gameday)
There’s never one single way to explain a loss (more will follow below), but fact that Brady and the offense couldn’t score when it truly mattered.
The highest scoring offense in the NFL regular season by more than 100 points was shut out in the second half. New England didn’t so much slump on offense as it did fail to capitalize: On five trips inside the Ravens’ 25-yard line, they came away with just seven points – and that same with 6:49 left in the game. Brady threw two interceptions in the second half, and another fumble by RB Stevan Ridley ultimately sealed the game (see below).
The offensive lapse evokes some concerns about the legacy of the Patriots, but first another blammo:
As pointed out by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, if Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wins the Super Bowl, he’ll have an NFL-best 63 wins since he was hired in 2008 – the same amount of wins over than span as the revered Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
I SAW – not to take away from the achievement(s) of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh just mentioned above, but his equal-footedness with Pats counterpart Bill Belichick serves as a reminder that the latter and his team aren’t enjoying the untouchable success that they used to.
I pointed out after New England’s close loss to Seattle in Week 6 that the Patriots are quietly becoming soft in the clutch. I also said this, with the stats updated to include this season’s playoffs:
“Every playoff game is clutch time, and that’s where the potential decline really starts to rear its head for the Pats – close games or not. Look at the change in postseason W-L from 2001-06 (Brady’s first five years as a starter in New England) to 2007-now (the 16-0 regular season and beyond):
Seasons Playoff W-L (incl. SB) Super Bowl W-L
2001-2006 12-2 3-0
2007-present 3-4 0-2
To make matters worse, Belichick’s team is 3-4 in the postseason since going 18-0 to start the season en route to the Super Bowl for the ’07 season. We all know what happened then, and one could argue that this team hasn’t been the same since.
There can be extended debate as to why New England is losing close games and/or giving up leads late but the fact is that they somehow do. We can lavish their offense with all sorts of stats that hail their historical production over recent years, but one of the things that always distinguished the Pats since Tom Brady took over is the way in which they somehow found ways to win those big, close games more often than not. After looking at the stats above and remembering that NE failed to close out their last two Super Bowls – and only made it to last year’s because of a shanked short field goal attempt by the Ravens – it’s worth asking if this team has lost some of its edge. Based on the way that Seahawks CB Richard Sherman fearlessly twitter-hounded Brady after the loss, the Pats certainly don’t intimidate every opponent the way they used to. What’s more, the once-refreshing realist perspective that Brady or Belichick have shown after a loss when they opine that any team can lose to anyone is sounding more and more like two men without the answers for problems they used to be able to solve. One could argue that it’s a tad early to appraise this decline in the Patriots, but the stats for close games and playoff losses over the last 5 years say otherwise.”
There’s been more questioning what’s wrong with the Patriots in recent weeks than I can recall ever happening in the past – but that’s not to say that there’s been a whole lot of it. But former head coach Dennis Green brought up a good point on NFL Network’s The Coaches Show. New England doesn’t play with the physicality that it used to when it won all those Super Bowls, and they lost because they ran into a more physical team than them – the Ravens.
There’s some truth to that claim. In the early 2000’s, Belichick’s teams were easily seen as the offspring of teams he helped coach during his days as a defensive coordinator with Bill Parcells with the Giants – tough and immovable at the point of attack. Honestly – does anyone think of the Patriots as a smash-mouth team anymore? Which player apart from DL Vince Wilfork is viewed as more “powerful” than “athletic”? There was a time about a decade ago when the New England roster was replete with the former. This can help to explain the recent playoff struggles that the Pats have experienced. Everything gets more physical in the playoffs, and it’s worth noting that the Patriots lost twice in the Super Bowl to a team that once thrived on physicality themselves – the Giants.
(As an aside, consider those same Giants and another team, the Steelers. I’d argue that the most direct explanation for the recent decline of either team is that they’ve dropped off in terms of physicality.)
I SAW that after this most recent postseason disappointment, it’s also worth looking at the statistical success of Brady throughout his playoff career. I checked them out, and the mirror effect in relation to his team’s success is striking:
Tom Brady In Playoffs, By Season
|Season||# Of Games||Comp %||Yards Per Attempt||TD-INT||Passer Rating|
*- Won Super Bowl
^- Lost Super Bowl
Overall, Brady’s career playoff numbers are, well, average.
Tom Brady In Playoffs, Career
|# Of Games||Comp%||Yards Per Attempt||TD-INT||Rating|
So, the division isn’t like night and day, but it’s worth noting that Brady’s production in terms of scoring and yardage rose dramatically after New England’s run of three Championships in a four-season span. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, but ONE touchdown pass in his storybook first playoff run? One?! And yet once the Super Bowl success dies off, his TD production per game almost doubles. Apart from the debacle against Baltimore to end the 2009 season, his passer rating is arguably more consistent as well.
The stats are tough to appraise, because the earlier periods of Brady’s career were defined by leading a talent-deficient offense. (Was Troy Brown his best receiver? Kevin Faulk his most consistent RB before Dillon?) So, he went from a QB that was mostly judged by wins alone, like Roethlisberger was judged early in his career, to one that was able to make use of a myriad of options once the front office started to add talent to the offensive side of the ball. (Note how during that transition the defense got worse and worse.) It’s the latter years when that those middling statistics betray a QB that has struggled much more than most tend to admit, because by then Brady had already been saddled with the wunderkind, 3-ring stage he’d had earlier. He basically hasn’t been able to combine statistical success with winning.
I SAW vintage Bill Belichick during one particular play on Sunday. On fourth down during their first possession, the Patriots lined up in a punt formation, with backup QB Ryan Mallet as the upback. Before the snap, New England shifted into an offensive formation with Mallet under canter, forcing the Ravens to call a timeout.
I love it. New England hasn’t converted a fake punt since 1999. (CBS Broadcast) It’s amazing how much every coach thinks their ass off to prepare for Belichick, and then he nails them to the wall with the simplest of situational surprises. He doesn’t so much outsmart opponents as he does out-simples them. It’s like his whole attitude is, well if you’re not going to do it, I will, and if you haven’t prepared your players for it, you’re fucked.
I SAW the Patriots’ chance to win this game dissipate when CB Aqib Talib left the game for good after tweaking his thigh muscle in the first quarter. I detailed the positive impact Talib has had on the pass rush of the Pats defense by allowing them to play more man-to-man coverage on the edges (see: What I Saw, Wk 17), but once he left the game the downfield coverage took a big hit. To make matters worse, S Patrick Chung got hurt in the second quarter as well.
Halftime adjustments are a bog deal in the NFL, and once the Ravens offense was able to regroup and discuss the Patriots personnel shortage in the defensive backfield during the break, lo and behold Ravens QB Joe Flacco’s production went up. In the first half, Flacco was just 6-of-12 for 77 yards and no TDs. In the second half, he completed 15 out of 24 for 163 yards and three touchdowns. A lot of that had to do with the absence of Talib (and, to a lesser extent, Chung).
Before some more thoughts about Flacco and the dreaded E word, an exchange with a friend of mine about Talib’s injury proved to be an amusing – and strangely apt – statement about the roster strategies employed by New England:
Friend: Why not just put [wide receiver] Brandon Lloyd back there to cover Ravens?
Me: Well, he’s no Troy Brown. [The Pats WR who was often forced to play CB due to injuries to other players.]
Friend: Whatever. Everybody’s Troy Brown.
Kinda like what I’ve always said about WR Wes Welker….
I SAW Ravens QB Joe Flacco step up again in the playoffs.
Flacco’s game didn’t start too well, though. His trademark high-arcing deep throws didn’t suit the very windy conditions in Foxboro. Flacco didn’t adjust, and several throws fluttered ever so slightly off-target, as his 50 percent completion rate in the first half would suggest. As mentioned above, the injuries suffered by Patriots CB Aqib Talib and S Patrick Chung contributed to Flacco’s second half success, but his throws also became noticeable more accurate, hence the 62.5 percent completion rate in the second half. That’s not sexy, but while the Baltimore defense shut out New England for the last 30 minutes, it was more than enough.
Flacco’s six career rod victories in the playoffs are the most in NFL history. Overall, that’s more than the total for 19 separate franchises.
We have ourselves another Eli Manning quandary here. Both men started off a successful trip to the Super Bowl with offseason talk about being an elite quarterback, and both pivots shine in January while doing a seesaw act in their regular seasons.
I grow so tired of the elite QB debates. Can we leave it for now that Eli and Flacco are good examples of the difference between a franchise quarterback (which they are), and an elite quarterback (which they aren’t)? When you come to expect stints of three-and-outs from a quarterback at any point during any season, that’s not elite. SI.com’s Peter King put it well when describing Flacco:
“It’s not the only way to win, but it’s a way to win, and it’s Flacco’s way. The Ravens’ offense is suited for him for a couple of reasons. Baltimore can live with the three-and-outs that Flacco’s going to have because he’s not the classic short-passing, chains-moving quarterback. As with the Niners, Flacco’s not a stat guy. Never has been. He’s not going to be a very highly rated quarterback because he’ll throw downfield a lot, and downfield throwers don’t have great completion percentages. But, obviously, it’s good enough.”
Sounds like Eli Manning to me. On Gameday Final NFL Network’s Rich Eisen asked this question: Does Joe Flacco need to win the Super Bowl to be elite?
I would say yes – and he needs to do more than that.
I SAW the Patriots’ kryptonite. I mean, S Bernard Pollard should have come out of the tunnel in Nate Robinson’s green body suit that he used to beat “Superman” Dwight Howard.
(NBA sidebar: I doubt Superman would bitch about not getting the ball.)
As a player for the Chief, Pollard made the infamous hit on Pats QB Tom Brady’s knee in 2008 that knocked the superstar out for the season. The season after that, Pollard joined the Texans, and was the defender that was squaring up to hit WR Wes Welker when the wideout juked, blew out his knee and missed the playoffs. Last year, as a Raven, he was the defender that inured TE Rob Gronkowski’s ankle in last year’s AFC Championship, leaving Gronk somewhat hobbled in New England’s Super Bowl loss.
But Pollard’s biggest impact for his team – literally – against the Patriots came on Sunday, when, late in the game, he blasted RB Stevan Ridley at the end of a running play. The crushing hit clearly knocked Ridley unconscious for a moment, and as a result he fumbled the ball. New England could have tied the game on that drive, but instead Baltimore scored off of the turnover and increased their lead to 14 points. A two-touchdown swing in a Conference Championship.
Pollard had nine tackles and a deflected pass on Sunday, but the wood he laid on Ridley was, in one man’s opinion, the biggest play of the day. After the game, head coach John Harbaugh was on the field, and during the CBS broadcast one could have seen him bang his index finger into Pollard’s chest, and tell him, “What a season we’ve had…you won that game.”
Apart from that moment, the Patriots need to start figuring out how to avoid being their own kryptonite….
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