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Take Twos-day: Running on Empty

Posted Sep 25, 2012

The Patriots inability to run the ball late in the game was a huge part of the Ravens loss. We break down the final offensive possession in this installment of Take Two-sday.

It’s been about 35 hours since the Patriots angrily walked off the turf at M&T Bank Stadium following the loss to the Ravens Sunday night and the time has done little do relieve much tension. Most Patriots fans believe the team was wronged by the replacement officials throughout, right down to the game-winning field goal by Baltimore’s Justin Tucker that barely made it over the right upright on the final play.

There’s no discounting the impact the zebras had on the game. Anytime a crew drops 24 flags it’s impossible to say penalties weren’t part of the equation. But the fact is that 14 of those yellow hankies went against the winning team, and in general it’s never a safe premise to say the refs cost a team a game – unless, of course, you’re the Green Bay Packers but that’s a column for another day.

While the Patriots were victimized by some odd and flat-out bad calls, the fact remains that the team was well in position to win, and the fact that it didn’t lies in an area that hasn’t received much attention.

With New England leading 30-28 and just four minutes remaining, the offense took the field. The group had moved the ball effectively for most of the game, and one more drive would have ended it. Things started well enough as Tom Brady hit Wes Welker for 11 yards and a first down on the second play of the possession.

Now the clock was down to 3:15 before the next snap, which resulted in a 1-yard run by Stevan Ridley. This is where things started to go wrong. With no reliable running game the Patriots went back to their old ways and tried to throw to seal it. It almost ended in disaster as an incomplete pass was followed by a Lardarius Webb interception that would have set up Baltimore at the Patriots 40.

Fortunately Webb was called for illegal contact, giving the Patriots another first down, and now the clock was down to 2:23. Ridley ran over left guard for 3 yards and then the Patriots received another gift from the officials when Ravens coach John Harbaugh was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the ball to the Ravens 45 and the chains as well.

Now, with just 2:18 showing on the clock and the Ravens incensed and forced to use their timeouts, the Patriots offense needed just one more first down. They didn’t come close to getting it.

Ridley carried off right tackle for a 1 yard, marking the sixth time the Patriots attempted a run in the fourth quarter. Those half dozen rushed netted a grand total of 3 yards. That, quite simply, is not good enough. Facing a second-and-nine Josh McDaniels went to the air and Brady was sacked for a 7-yard loss, forcing the Ravens second timeout with 2:06 left.

On third-and-16 from the Patriots 49, McDaniels threw again. This might be deemed a controversial decision but with the two-minute warning looming the difference between a run and a pass was minimal. Brady was pressured immediately before throwing short of Rob Gronkowski. The incomplete pass stopped the clock at 2:01. But the two-minute warning came on the ensuing punt, which would have stopped the clock regardless due to the change of possession.

So, Baltimore wound up at its 21 with 1:55 left and a key timeout. Obviously that’s an eternity for an NFL offense needing just a field goal to win. Moments later, the Ravens were at the Patriots 7 and the game was over.

The defense certainly had an opportunity to stop the Ravens, but the inability of the running game to be a viable option late made life much tougher for New England. The final three plays used up just 17 seconds – this after the Ravens gave the offense two first downs via penalty, allowing the ball to move out of danger and into Baltimore territory. And still the running game couldn’t close the door.

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