Refuse to win
Ravens pull back at wrong time against Patriots
Posted: Tuesday December 4, 2007 11:13AM; Updated: Tuesday December 4, 2007 11:48AM
During the Ravens-Patriots telecast ESPN showed us a shot of Buddy Ryan sitting in a box watching the game. Ron Jaworski played for Buddy in Philly. Jaws told us not once, but twice, that the coach didn't want to merely sack the enemy quarterback, he wanted to destroy him. If I were Buddy's son, Rex, who coordinates the Ravens' defense, I would be afraid to face the old man after that disgraceful show put on Monday night, handing the Patriots their 27-24 victory.
OK, Rex's last second timeout that nullified the fourth-down defensive stop that would have won the game for the Ravens was a disaster, but it's a mistake that could happen. I'm talking about that mushball three-man rush that he treated Tom Brady to during almost the entire course of the winning drive. Rex's defense had been jacked to the eyeballs. The Ravens had Brady misreading his receivers, and the hits they laid on the wideouts had them dropping the ball. They were generating constant pressure.
The Baltimore offense, which had put together such a terrific muscle drive and pounded the Patriots into submission on two TD marches, had played itself into a state of exhaustion. Willis McGahee was battling leg cramps, but he kept gutting it out. But when the Patriots, out of desperation, loaded the box, Baltimore's attack didn't have much left, and it was up to the defense to win it.
The Ravens D is a group that thrives on pressure, and they had Brady on the ropes as he came out for the last time, on his own 27 with 3:30 left and four points down. They were jacked. They were ready for more mayhem. And Rex's whole reputation had been a coach who loosened the reins and let his horses run, who enjoyed pressure as much as they did.
But this was big. The unbeaten Patriots were tottering on the brink. Many lives depended on what would happen in the next few minutes. So he called off the rush. He attacked with three and "played coverages," which is a euphemism for standing around with your finger up your ... you get the point. And as I watched Brady steer his ship through the calm waters, an eerie memory came back, the way Buffalo had blown their very real shot at a Dallas upset exactly the same way in Week 5.
But the Bills' coordinator, Perry Fewell, is an old line conservative, everything in moderation, take it slow, no need for undue agitation. Rex's style always has been a perfect mesh with the chest-thumping, muscle flexers who man his defense, the perfect coachman for his team of wild horses. But not Monday night. He felt the icy fingers. He stopped bringing pressure and rushed only three. He completely misread the mood of his team, which was to put Brady on his back. Oh, the shame of it, and with Buddy sitting in the box, taking it all in.