By Kevin Saleeba
It seemed to all start with a Wes Welker drop.
The Patriots were driving and apparently in control of the AFC Championship game against Baltimore. New England had the ball on the Ravens 34-yard-line on a third-and-eight and a 13-7 lead.
Brady spotted Welker making his break along the left sideline and gunned it to the Patriots all-time leading receiver. Much like the Super Bowl a year ago, when it came time to make a play, Welker let the ball slip right through his fingers, hitting his face mask for an incomplete pass.
If Welker makes the catch, it would have been first down near the 25 yard line and a possible drive ending in points for New England. The play does not go down as a turnover on the stat sheet, but it was as good as one.
The momentum shifted to the Ravens and they never looked back as the entire game changed from that one moment. Baltimore went on to score 21 unanswered points.
This is not an indictment on Welker or blaming him for the loss. Football is about momentum and the drop was a big momentum turning point. The Patriots would never get the momentum back following that play.
When asked if he thought Wes Welker's drop on third down changed the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said "there are a lot of plays in the game; there a lot of things we could have done better, all of us."
Belichick is right. The indictment should be put back on the defense, especially when the Patriots best cornerback, Aqib Talib, left the game early with a reported thigh injury.
There were two Patriots defenses this season. Prior to Talib's arrival in November, the Patriots defense allowed 47 plays over 20 yards and 15 plays over 30 yards in the first nine games of the season. During the last eight games with Talib, the numbers dropped down to 32 plays of more than 20 yards and eight plays of more than 30 yards. The Patriots let up no big plays against Houston in the Divisional round of the playoffs last week, but after Talib left against Baltimore, the Patriots let up four big plays over 20 yards. Without Talib in the game Sunday, the secondary reverted back to giving up too many big plays like they did in the first half of the season.
It was surprising it took Baltimore until the second half to attack the weakened Patriots secondary. When they did, following the Welker drop, there was no looking back. Baltimore went to a more up-tempo style offense, playing out of the shot gun in three wide receiver sets. Flacco lead his team on a 10 play 72 yard touchdown scoring drive after the Welker drop midway through the third quarter. Flacco threw the ball nine times on the drive.
"Of course, you never want to see one of your guys go down," said Patriots safety Steve Gregory. "But we have to keep playing. It doesn't matter who is in there … we need to just find a way to go out there and make plays and give ourselves a chance to win the football game. Just overall we didn't do that today."
Unfortunately for the Patriots, it did matter who was in the game. Flacco exposed and exploited the Patriots pass defense without Talib. He had difficulty completing passes with Talib on the field. Flacco threw for only 81 yards in the first half. However, with Talib on the sideline in the second half, Flacco threw for 159 yards on 15 completions and three touchdowns.
Without Talib's steady lockdown coverage on Ravens receiver Anquan Bolden, the Patriots defense was toast. Bolden had no catches in the first half. With no Talib in the second half, Bolden had five receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
Belichick made no excuses. "We really weren't good enough. It wasn't as good as the Ravens tonight. That's why they're moving on and we're not. They were just better than we were in really everything."
Both Welker and Talib are free agents. The Patriots may want to call Talib's agent first.
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin ( on Facebook ).
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