Mon 19 Jan, 2015 09:45 am
A Sigh of Relief as the Ravens Fade From View
JAN. 10, 201
By HARVEY ARATON
NYTimes.com. FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Here on the dark side of the A.F.C. postseason draw, the New England Patriots gave Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner, what he most needed and presumably wanted as he shivered in the stands Saturday evening at a frigid Gillette Stadium among the rabid riffraff.
Coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 35-31, and blocked them from the conference championship game. Maybe the B on the blue baseball cap Goodell wore as he passed up the warmth of a luxury suite stood for a wishful “Booyah!” But having watched Tom Brady connect with Brandon LaFell for a 23-yard touchdown with 5 minutes 4 seconds left in the game, the decisive score, Goodell can now look forward to a Super Bowl week without fresh echoes of his botched handling of the Ray Rice case ringing in his ears.
Sound like a good time, Mr. Commissioner?
Many would have considered another Super Bowl run for the Ravens to be a fitting finish to a 2014 season that may already be beyond separating itself from the reverberations of Rice’s elevator assault on Janay Palmer, then his fiancée and now his wife. Considering what might have been had the Ravens not twice surrendered 14-point leads, Goodell will gladly bear the visage of Darth Belichick as he pursues his fourth Super Bowl trophy as New England’s coach. The Patriots will play at home next weekend in the conference title game against the winner of Sunday’s Denver-Indianapolis game.
The case of New England subterfuge involving videotaped spying on the Jets? That was in 2007 — ancient history, a misdemeanor compared with the violence and misogyny to come in the N.F.L. Aaron Hernandez? The actions of the former Patriots tight end, now behind bars after being accused of murder, were last season’s hair-raising scandal.
In an ideal Goodellian world, where it’s all about the game and the celebration of its heroes, Peyton Manning’s pursuit of a second ring and redemption for Denver’s shocking collapse against Seattle in New Jersey last winter would probably be the best bet to rewrite the season’s narrative. An appearance in Arizona by the Colts and the bearded one, Andrew Luck, might also do the trick.
Manning is the league’s feel-good quarterback. Luck is supposed to be his heir.
Brady and the Patriots are a trickier proposition. Almost everywhere but New England, degrees of Brady-and-Belichick fatigue have surely settled in. Still, those men continue to demand grudging admiration for refusing to let go of a partnership that has already produced three Super Bowl titles. Granted, the last of them came a decade ago — take a bow, Eli Manning, David Tyree and Mario Manningham — but the Patriots are here again, 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl, one year after coming up short in the A.F.C. title game in Denver.
Had they lost to the Ravens, had Joe Flacco’s impressive run of five playoff games with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions not come to a crashing halt — although not before he added four more touchdowns — it would not have been unreasonable to suggest that Brady, at 37, had played in his last Super Bowl.
We understand that he is not the deep-ball threat he once was — and yet he deserves credit. With the season on the line, he made a perfect throw as LaFell beat Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin down the right sideline to wipe out the Ravens’ 31-28 lead and complete the comeback.
The running game produced an absurd 14 yards on 13 carries — 4 of them by Brady on a touchdown run. But Brady threw 50 passes and one overhand lateral that was his most memorable throw of the night and, really, the season. Julian Edelman caught the ball near the left sideline, squared his shoulders and fired a 51-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 4:20 left in the third quarter, tying the score.
“I’m not going to lie — I thought it was overthrown,” Edelman said of his first pass as a Patriot. “Dola was on fire tonight. He ran under it. I’m glad we got it executed. Maybe I have license to throw again.”
Don’t bet on it. Asked about the call, Belichick said it was the same play the Patriots ran against the Colts in 2001. In other words, the smartest brain in football doesn’t overuse these things. He saves them for special occasions and dire circumstances.
Two years ago, the Ravens came to Gillette Stadium and gave Belichick’s team a beating on their way to winning the Super Bowl over the San Francisco 49ers. Remember Ray Lewis bending down to kiss the ground in what was his N.F.L. farewell? Back then it was easy — too easy — for a football-crazed public to push away the memories of Lewis’s connection to a 2000 fight that resulted in two men being killed and Lewis getting 12 months’ probation for giving a misleading statement to the police and a $250,000 fine from the league.
Fifteen years later, the league operates in a vastly changed environment, especially after its tortured experience with the Rice case. With the recent release of the Mueller report, which essentially accused Goodell of institutional sloppiness more than inexcusable willfulness, Goodell isn’t likely to lose his job. But there is no question that he has taken a big reputational hit this season. The last thing he needed was to have it end with the Ravens playing for the trophy.
NYTimes online, 01/11/2015