By Ron Borges, Pro Football Weekly
FOXBOROUGH, MA. — After what happened to Tom Brady and the Patriots Sunday in the AFC championship game, you have to begin to wonder: are the Baltimore Ravens in his head?
For the eighth time Brady struggled mightily against the Ravens, who entered the game as 9½ point underdogs to New England and left as AFC champions on their way to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans after a 28-13 victory in which they outscored Brady and his prolific offense 21-0 in the second half.
Although Brady is now 5-3 against the Ravens, he has been ineffective in many of those games, including this latest one. Brady was 29-of-54 for 320 yards, but he had only one touchdown pass and two interceptions, leaving him with a quarterback efficiency rating more like Mark Sanchez’s than his norm at 62.3. Except, it must be added, that performance is pretty much his norm against the Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the rest of the Ravens’ defense.
Going into this latest showdown, Brady’s completion percentage in his previous seven games with Baltimore was a woeful 58.6 percent and his efficiency rating was 74.1. Most alarming, the Ravens are the only team against whom he’s thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (8), a trend that continued in this latest title showdown.
“I think we obviously didn’t play very well and if you don’t play very well against a good team, it’s not even very competitive,’’ a downcast Brady said after the loss. “We just couldn’t make any critical plays when we needed to.
“They make it tough on you. They kept the pressure on and we didn’t really stand up to the challenge.’’
That included Brady himself, who uncharacteristically mismanaged the clock in the final seconds of the first half, costing his team a shot at a touchdown. Normally a 65 percent thrower, he often threw inaccurately and with an odd sense of desperation in many cases.
Brady entered that game a remarkable 67-0 at home when holding a halftime lead; a streak that, like his season, came to a crashing end when a 13-7 halftime lead dissolved into a 21-0 second-half blowout in which Brady barely completed 50 percent of his throws (15-of-30) and threw two interceptions (one on a deflection at the line of scrimmage to be fair) and otherwise came up as dry as an artesian well in the Sahara.
Always respectful of Reed and Lewis, Brady at times has seemed in these games overly occupied with concerns over where Reed may be headed. This is a wise consideration, but the fact is Ed Reed is no longer the dominating physical presence he once was, and frankly even if he were that cannot overwhelm your thinking to the point where you are over thinking your work and causing yourself to feel hesitant and, frankly, at times daunted.
“Eventually Tom Brady made a couple of mistakes and we were able to capitalize on them,’’ said CB Cary Williams, who intercepted a Brady throw late in the game to seal the deal one drive after Brady had been forced to helplessly run around until he had to throw the ball away on a desperation fourth-down try.
“Tom Brady is one of the greatest warriors to ever play the game,’’ Lewis said of his long-time rival after it was over. “I tip my hat off to my defense, the way we came out and never wavered … and everything fell in place at the end.’’
Usually things fall into place for Brady, not the teams playing him. Usually he is the one who does not waver, which is why he’s won three Super Bowls and taken the Patriots to seven AFC championship games in 12 years.
But usual has a different tone when he is facing the Ravens and it was enough to make you wonder. Wonder because the pattern is now established. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Tom is still Brady and that’s worth something, but he’s seldom Tom Terrific.