A season that started in controversy for the Baltimore Ravens came to a disappointing end against a bitter playoff rival.
The Ravens twice gave up a two- touchdown lead and fell to the New England Patriots 35-31 in the AFC Divisional Round when Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game was batted down. The Patriots went on to defeat the Colts in the AFC Championship game and will face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1.
The Ravens got to Foxborough by beating the archrival Steelers 30-17 in Pittsburgh on Jan. 3. Baltimore forced three turnovers to overcome 334 passing yards from Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown’s 117 yards receiving. Baltimore sacked Roethlisberger five times, and linebacker Terrell Suggs caught one of the Ravens’ two interceptions between his legs. On Baltimore’s next play, Flacco connected with tight end Crockett Gilmore for a 21- yard touchdown pass where Gilmore ran into the end zone untouched to give the Ravens a 30-15 lead. Torrey Smith also caught a touchdown, and Steve Smith, Sr. had 101 yards receiving.
Against the Patriots, the Ravens easily drove down the field and scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. Joe Flacco hit Kamar Aiken and Smith, Sr. for touchdown passes on those two drives. New England responded with two unanswered touchdowns of their own on a four-yard run by Tom Brady, and then a 15-yard scoring pass from Brady to Danny Amendola. However, after Brady through an interception to Daryl Smith, Flacco made the Patriots pay. He capped a six-play, 57-yard drive by connecting with tight end Owen Daniels on an 11-yard touchdown pass to give the Ravens a 21-14 lead at halftime.
The Ravens built on that momentum when Justin Forsett caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Flacco for a 28-14 lead just over three and a half minutes into the third quarter. However, the Patriots once again rallied back. With the ball on the Baltimore 24, Patriots running back Shane Vereen reported to the referee that he was lining up as an ineligible receiver. The referee informed the Ravens that Vereen was ineligible. The Ravens were confused by the formation, and Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui caught a 14-yard pass. Ravens coach John Harbaugh ran out onto the field to get the officials’ attention, and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. After the game, Harbaugh said he took the penalty because he felt the officials didn’t understand what was happening. On the next play, Rob Gronkowski caught a five-yard touchdown pass to cut the Ravens’ lead to 28-21. After Baltimore went three-and-out, New England got the ball out close to midfield. Wide receiver Julian Edelman went in motion to the left, caught a lateral from Brady, and then hit Amendola in stride for a 51-yard touchdown that stunned the Ravens and tied the game at 28.
In the fourth quarter, Justin Tucker hit a 25-yard field goal to put the Ravens back on top, 31-28. On New England’s next drive, Vereen was hit by Darian Smith, who knocked the ball out and recovered it. However, the fumble ruling was overturned, and New England kept possession. Six plays later, Brady connected with Brandon LaFell for a 23-yard touchdown pass to give New England its first lead, 35-31 with 5:13 left. The touchdown pass broke Joe Montana’s record of 45 career postseason touchdown passes. On Baltimore’s next possession, Flacco was intercepted in the end zone by Patriots safety Duron Harmon. New England wasn’t able to run out the clock, and Jacoby Jones returned the punt to Baltimore’s 48 with four second left. That’s when Flacco’s heave into the end zone was knocked down to end the Ravens’ season. Flacco’s two interceptions ended his streak of five straight playoff games without throwing an interception. Forsett ran for 129 yards, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Brady’s 367 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception, along with a touchdown run.
In other Ravens’ news, two days before the game, former FBI Director Robert Mueller submitted his report to the NFL about how the league handled the Ray Rice case. The report found that the Ravens should have submitted the evidence they had without the league having to ask, and that no one in the league office had seen the in-elevator tape prior to its public release in September. However, Mueller concluded in his report that the league could’ve done more to investigate the charges properly. The report says the league never tried to get in touch with the Atlantic City Police officers who investigated the case, or tried to get the in-elevator video from the Revel Casino, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, or Rice’s lawyers. The report also found that the league never tried to follow up with the Ravens to find out if they had any additional information.