And just like that, the season ends.
A loss at home in a title game is so rare in New England, and so abrupt, it leaves players nearly speechless.
In the Patriots locker room after the game, blank stares and shaking heads were to be found in abundance. Less so, answers to the most pressing question: How do you deal with a loss in a game of this magnitude?
"It's the worst feeling," co-captain Devin McCourty exclaimed. "You get this far, you don't see your season coming to an end. You can't prepare for this."
"Yeah, it always comes to a screeching halt. That's just the way it is," quarterback/co-captain Tom Brady concurred. "Only two teams advance and those two teams deserve it. We've lost before. It takes awhile to get over."
"Tonight is a hard pill to swallow," remarked cornerback Kyle Arrington. "We'll move forward, take it one day at a time. Definitely felt like we have a good team, good game plan. Just felt like we should be moving on... Obviously we're not... Credit to the Ravens."
Long pauses between sentences were common Sunday night. They were indicative of players in a state of shock, struggling to find the right words – the most diplomatic words – to express how they were feeling in that instant.
"Right now, it's hard. After a loss like this, it's hard," safety Steve Gregory replied, when asked how he's putting the loss in perspective. "This is about as low as you feel. After a long season of getting to this point, and then it ends like this... I think tomorrow we'll get in with a little more clear conscience and start to think about the season we did have, the good things we did do. To get to this point is a great thing, but we fell a little short of our goal.
"You never come into this expecting to lose. We expect to win this game and to move on. When it does happen like this, there is a sense of shock, but we'll just have to deal with it for now."
The raw emotion was evident not only on the players' faces, but also in their voices, at times barely audible even to those standing directly in front of them.
"It's always hard," wide receiver Wes Welker said, barely above a whisper. "You put a lot into it all year round. You want to finish strong. We just didn't do it. We made it to the AFC Championship, did some good things along the way. It just wasn't enough in the end.
"The sun will come up tomorrow and we'll just try and move on."
If you followed both teams closely this past week, you might have gotten the sense that the Ravens were the more confident team, from their head coach on down. That was reflective in their comments to reporters, like receiver Anquan Boldin bold assertion that this year would be different than last year's AFC title loss here in Foxborough. When asked why, he responded, "Because we'll make it different… we're going to win."
It was that belief in themselves that seemed to carry over onto the field. Even the Patriots had to admit it afterward.
"They came to play and we didn't," tight end Aaron Hernandez declared.
They were gracious in defeat, praising their opponents. Gregory told reporters that Ravens QB Joe Flacco deserves respect for the great game he played, that he deserves to be talked about as an "elite" quarterback.
Sure, McCourty acknowledged, the loss in the first quarter of starting corner Aqib Talib to a hamstring injury (officially announced as a thigh) affected the game, but not necessarily the game plan. When he departed, it seemed like Flacco and the Ravens had more success throwing the ball down-field.
It also didn't help that the Patriots defense couldn't pressure Flacco much. He had plenty of time to throw most of the night. Or that offensively, the Patriots couldn't make plays in critical situations – such as a Welker drop on third-and-eight with the team clinging to a lead in the third quarter.
Little things like that add up, and the players are left to wonder what might have been, and where they go from here.
"We expect to win every game… They out-played us, out-coached us," Hernandez bluntly stated. "We have to come back next year and hopefully make it further. Obviously, we're down, but there's nothing really you can do but get prepared for next year and hopefully have a different result."
"Very disappointing. When you work so hard to get to this point… somebody has to win and lose," defensive tackle/co-captain Vince Wilfork pointed out. "I thought we had a good plan going into the game, but at the end of the day they just made a lot more plays than us. It's very disappointing, but we have a hell of a team. We know what it takes to win. We're going to fight our tails off in the offseason. We're going to get back to playing the way we want to play.
"We'll be back here," he promised.
But right now, that's the farthest thing from any of their minds.