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■ But the coverage wasn’t a huge issue — nine missed tackles (second-most for the season) and the lack of pressure on Joe Flacco was. The Patriots generated just seven total quarterback pressures (17.5 percent — only 49ers game, 16.7, was worse since Thanksgiving). Rob Ninkovich had three, while the replacements for end Chandler Jones — Justin Francis, Trevor Scott, Jermaine Cunningham, even linebacker Dont’a Hightower on a handful of blitzes — produced just one. That’s nowhere near good enough.
Basically, that’s the overall sentiment. Nowhere near good enough, by almost everybody dressed in blue Sunday night.
The position ratings from the AFC Championship game:
Quarterback (3 out of 5)
If you can’t run the ball well enough against nickel, you’re going to need an extraordinary performance from your quarterback. And while it would be easy to point to Brady and say he should be able to do that, I’m not going to do it. He didn’t have enough weapons at his disposal and there were at least three key drops.
Deion Branch is a tremendous person and pro, but if he’s playing 47 percent of your snaps in the AFC title game at this stage of his career, you’re in trouble.
That’s not to absolve Brady; he should have been a little better. On the screen to Wes Welker on the second series, Brady was pressured and it was an awkward play, but he has to make a better throw with four blockers and three defenders in front of Welker.
On the next drive, Brady felt pressure but overthrew a wide-open Hernandez. He also missed throwing the ball in better places (once to Welker). On the first play of the final series of the first quarter, Brady had Hernandez down the right sideline one-on-one with safety Bernard Pollard, and Brandon Lloyd coming free on a crossing route. Brady held it for 7.28 seconds and took an unneeded shot from Haloti Ngata.
Brady had Hernandez one-on-one against linebacker Dannell Ellerbe on the failed third and fourth downs with about eight minutes left in the game. The last interception was on Brady. Overall, I had Brady for eight questionable throws/decisions, but 10 outstanding throws and decisions.
Terrific job by Brady creating space by moving away from the blitz right before halftime and then delivering a perfect pass to Hernandez . The pass Brady made on first down with 11:04 left — 12 yards to Lloyd from the opposite hash mark — was ridiculously good
Running backs (1.5 out of 5)
A week after I praised them, they had perhaps their worst game of the season on the big stage. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen each had at least two runs on which they read the wrong hole. Ridley had the huge fumble (helmet-to-helmet is legal on established runners), Vereen a drop, and Danny Woodhead allowed a knockdown of Brady.
Receivers (2 out of 5)
This group had five broken tackles and seven standout catches (most by Welker), but everybody had issues. The tight ends couldn’t block a lick — Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs owned them — and Welker and Lloyd each had drops. Welker’s drop in the third quarter swung the momentum. The first deep third-down throw to Welker wasn’t technically a drop — it was well outside his frame — but it’s a ball a good player should catch in a big spot. Welker also missed his block on Corey Graham on the third down to end the next series, while Dan Connolly also gave up penetration.
Offensive line (3 out of 5)
Outside of Vollmer, this group actually held its own. Center Ryan Wendell capped a stellar season with a flawless performance. Outstanding job by Wendell on the 9-yard run by Ridley with 14:49 left. He turned Ma’ake Kemoeatu right, pinned Ellerbe left, and was aided by a great cut by Ridley. In order of performance: Wendell, Logan Mankins (two hurries, knockdown), Nate Solder (1.5 hurries, two knockdowns), Connolly (two half stuffed runs, four poor run blocks) and Vollmer (5.5 hurries). And that was clearly a hold on Solder on that key third-and-2 play. It had to be called.
Defensive line (2 out 5)
There wasn’t much poor play out of this group, it was just dominated by the Ravens to a man. Ninkovich (two sacks, hurry) had by far the most impact, but he also had the most negative plays by failing to set the edge three times, missing a jam on a tight end, and lining up offside. Ravens center Matt Birk got his revenge on Vince Wilfork (knockdown, half stuff) for last year. Francis (knockdown, stuff) was out of his element as an every-down player. Nobody else did anything.
Linebackers (3 out of 5)
Jerod Mayo played well, and Brandon Spikes had a few plays, but this group had a ton of trouble covering. Spikes peeked into the backfield on Dennis Pitta’s 22-yard pass on a little pop pass against the blitz. On the second-and-10 throw on the second touchdown drive, Mayo got zero depth on his drop, making for an easy throw to Boldin against Cole, who was playing to help. Hightower was barely visible except when he gave up two edges. Continued...