FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There was no miracle catch this time.
There was no “Are-you-kidding-me?” play.
Yet another season has ended for the New England Patriots without a Super Bowl championship.
And Vince Wilfork, the team’s leader on defense, a 325-pound tackle whose word is to be taken very seriously, knew why.
“The best team won tonight,” he said.
Pure and simple. The Baltimore Ravens defeated the Patriots 28-13 Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, scoring the game’s final 21 points to advance to the Super Bowl in New Orleans against San Francisco on Feb. 3.
The Ravens earned their first Super Bowl berth since the 2000 season — setting up the Harbaugh Bowl, a game between head coaches and brothers John of Baltimore and Jim of San Francisco — by pounding the Patriots on every play, by exploiting their advantages, and by making every big play they needed to make in the second half.
The Patriots simply earned an early vacation.
From start to finish, the Patriots couldn’t make enough plays. On offense. On defense. On special teams.
“I don’t think anything was really as good as it needed to be tonight,” said Coach Bill Belichick, his glum, dour self in the postgame press conference. “Gave up too many points, didn’t score enough. I’d say we probably came up a little short in every area.”
The Patriots were favored by as many as 10 points. They had a huge advantage in field position in the first half, which ended with them ahead 13-7.
But in losing their first AFC championship game at home after four victories, the Patriots couldn’t hold on in the second half.
“We felt pretty good about where we were in the first half,” said quarterback Tom Brady, who became the NFL’s all-time leader in postseason passing yardage. “We didn’t come out in the second half and execute very well.”
Maybe the Patriots’ downfall started with a dropped pass by Wes Welker early in the third quarter.
New England led 13-7 at the time and was driving. But on a third-and-eight from the Ravens 34, Welker couldn’t hold on to a Brady pass that would have given New England a first down.
Instead of possibly adding points, the Patriots punted, and the Ravens then drove 87 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Maybe it started when cornerback Aqib Talib, whose presence after he arrived in a Nov. 1 trade transformed the Patriots’ secondary into a pretty solid unit, went out with a hamstring injury in the first quarter.
He had just broken up two passes intended for Anquan Boldin when he limped off the field. That was with 5:10 left in the first quarter. He never returned.
The Ravens took advantage of his absence in the second half, when Boldin caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, using his size advantage against the smaller Marquice Cole and Devin McCourty.
Then there were the second-half turnovers: two Brady interceptions and a fumble by Stevan Ridley.
The fumble by Ridley was likely unavoidable. With New England trailing 21-13, Ridley ripped off an 8-yard run, only to be met with a vicious helmet-to-helmet collision with Bernard Pollard — the same guy who put Brady out for the 2008 season when he was with Kansas City, the same guy who Welker was trying to avoid when he blew out his knee in 2009 against Houston, and the same guy who tackled Rob Gronkowski when the tight end injured his ankle in last year’s AFC championship game.
Dazed by the collision with Pollard, Ridley dropped the ball. Baltimore recovered, and Joe Flacco — who once again outperformed Brady — hit Boldin for the clinching score minutes later.
Then there were the four third downs the Ravens converted in the second half, after converting just one in the first.
This game, you see, didn’t turn on any one play.
Belichick knew that.
“There are a lot of plays in the game, there were a lot of things we could have done better, all of us,” he said. “It really wasn’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.”
It really was that simple.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: