Still, we see Patriots quarterback Tom Brady trudging off the field Sunday after another disappointing loss deep in the playoffs and are reminded that this is becoming an annual ritual.
Brady started his career winning his first 10 playoff games, including three Super Bowls. He hasn't won a Super Bowl since. Most quarterbacks would be proud to say their last Super Bowl came at the end of the 2004 season and they've been contenders just about every year since, but Brady has been chasing something larger since that great start to his career.
Brady didn't have a bad game against the Ravens, but he wasn't great either. He threw a couple of second-half interceptions and the Patriots were shut out after halftime. The Patriots didn't have tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Stevan Ridley was knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter, but there's still way too much talent on New England's side to not get any points in a half of football at home.
Brady is 7-7 in the playoffs since that 10-0 start. He didn't have more than one interception in any playoff game during that 10-win streak; he has six multiple-interception games since then, including Sunday. Brady is still one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time - maybe the best ever. Most quarterbacks don't get the chance to get beat deep in the playoffs every year, because they're not consistent enough to get their teams that far that often. But over the last eight seasons Brady's playoff disappointments have piled up and are overshadowing his great playoff moments.
Bill Belichick: Forget the CBS postgame blow-off that didn't show a ton of class. This wasn't Belichick's finest day as a head coach well before he said he couldn't talk to the network after the game.
On New England's next drive it punted despite having fourth and 2 at the Baltimore 45 and an offense that led the NFL in yards and points per game - both by a large margin. Baltimore scored a touchdown after that punt.
In the third quarter, New England had a fourth and 8 at Baltimore's 34. That's another tough call, and a field goal wasn't a great option because of windy conditions. The Patriots punted. The Ravens scored a touchdown after that punt.
None of those decisions are heinous, but it has never been Belichick's style to play it so safe. Instead of trying to win with future hall-of-fame quarterback Brady, he played not to lose with punter Zoltan Mesko. Belichick also had the odd indecision and mismanagement of the clock that cost the Patriots a shot at the end zone before it kicked a field goal to finish the first half. And the Brady win-loss stats from above? They apply to to the coach too, of course. Belichick has had many great days in a legendary career, but this wasn't one.
[Also: Ravens make 'Harbowl' official]
David Akers: After yet another missed field goal, how can the 49ers go into the Super Bowl with any confidence in Akers as their kicker? Or, a better question, will Akers be San Francisco's kicker against Baltimore in two weeks?
The 49ers brought in veteran kicker Billy Cundiff before last week's game, but ultimately decided to stick with Akers. Going into the Super Bowl, the 49ers are likely to consider all options. And if the 49ers have slumping Akers kick in the Super Bowl, how could they feel confident sending him out in a key moment?
Stevan Ridley: There isn't much Ridley could have done on a hit by Bernard Pollard that
Ridley got into the doghouse last year after fumbling in the playoffs against Denver. Ridley had a fantastic 1,263-yard regular season in 2012, but he also had big fumbles against the Broncos and 49ers. And the fumble against Baltimore was one of the turning points of the Patriots' loss to the Ravens. Baltimore scored a touchdown after Ridley's fumble to turn a 21-13 lead into a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter. Belichick is known to have a long memory. While it's tough to blame Ridley for dropping the ball after that vicious hit, hopefully he can rebound next season and avoid getting labeled as a fumbler.
Matt Ryan ... for one play: Without Ryan, the Falcons wouldn't have come so close to making the Super Bowl. He threw for 396 yards against a tough 49ers defense and was great for most of the day. But he had one play that will play in his mind over and over this offseason.
Late in the third quarter, one series after he threw an interception, Ryan guided the Falcons to the 49ers' 28-yard line. The Falcons led 24-21 and needed a larger cushion because San Francisco was charging hard. But Ryan was rattled by the 49ers blitz, before he even got the ball. On a good shotgun snap, Ryan simply dropped the ball.
Aldon Smith got to the fumble at the same time as Ryan and got the ball away from him for a momentum-changing turnover. Ryan was very, very good on Sunday, but that's one play he'll wish he could have back, a feeling he won't have a chance to put behind him until next September.
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