By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts schoolyard pussy
The Cold, Hard Football Facts harvest 10 Cold, Hard Football Facts from Baltimore's dominant 33-14 schoolyard beatdown of the Patriots Sunday. You can see our Saturday reactions to the Jets win over the Bengals here and the Cowboys win over the Eagles here.
1. Comparing the Ravens to Jerry Mitchell of Three O'Clock High fame was the most brilliant sports analogy in the history of mankind. Remember Three O'Clock High, the 1980s teen movie about the geek who punched out the schoolyard bully? That's who we saw in the Ravens in our pre-playoff analysis of each team. They didn't look like much in the regular season (9-7), but we said they were capable of punching out anybody in the postseason.
Our analogy couldn't have proved more prophetic. Baltimore came out Sunday and absolutely punched the once-mighty Patriots in the face, splattering their blood all over the field and shattering their once-proud reputation as the toughest kid in the pigskin playground.
Baltimore running back Ray Rice ripped off an 83-yard TD run on the game's first play from scrimmage and the Ravens never looked back.
They scored more often in the first quarter than the hot young school nurse with the football team, taking a 24-0 lead into the break.
2. Receivers are overrated. Quick, name all the receivers in history who have carried their team to a championship?
Wow, that was easy: none.
Maybe Don Hutston with the Packers back in the 1930s and 1940s, back when wideouts were the evolutionary amphibians of a pigkin Pangea, slowly climbing out of the seas and stretching their legs on land for the first time and disturbing the natural order of the planet in the process. But that's it.
The Patriots stand as living proof of the futility of relying on wideouts as your main weapon. Randy Moss stands as living proof. All of football history stands as living proof.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls during seasons in which their leading receivers were journeymen Troy Brown (31 career TD receptions), Deion Branch (28) and David Givens (12).
Since 2007, they've played with Randy Moss (148 TD receptions, second all time) and Wes Welker (first player with three straight seasons of 110-plus receptions).
They have nothing to show for it.
Few all-time receiving leaders ever inspire their teams to championships. They are secondary players in the big scheme of a football team. Consider the three most prolific receivers of our time, three of the most prolific in history: Moss, Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison. Their teams put up a lot of points, absolutely. But between the three of them they enjoyed one Super Bowl title – when Harrison's Colts won it all in 2006.
But even he did little to lift his club that year. Harrison caught a meager two TD passes in 16 career playoff games – really an embarrassing legacy – and in Indy's 2006 championship run he compiled a total of 15 receptions for 193 yards and 0 TD over four games (4 catches for 48 yard per game).
Football fans and pigskin "pundits" who believe in the impact of wideouts like to point to Jerry Rice, the all time leader in everything, who won three Super Bowls with two different prolific passers. But people forget that Rice was drafted by an organization that had won two Super Bowls without him and that was 15-1 and the defending champs (the greatest team in franchise history) the year before they hauled him out of Mississippi State in April 1985.
For the Patriots to return to glory and salvage the last prime years of Brady's career, they need to return to their roots and end their love affair with, and their dependency, on dazzling wideouts.
Moss, for his part, caught five passes for 48 yards Sunday and has not produced a 100-yard receiving day in the postseason since January 2001 when he caught two passes for 121 yards and two TDs with the Vikings.
3. Ray Lewis and the gang delivered a message. Sure, the face of the Ravens franchise is 211 years old in linebacker years. And, sure, nobody will confuse the 2009 Baltimore defense with that of the 2000 champions, the stingiest unit of the Live Ball Era. But the Ravens delivered their messages early and often on Sunday: we're still good and we're going to knock you senseless.
Patriots receiver Julian Edelman grabbed a short screen pass and was nailed by half the Baltimore squad for a 2-yard loss on New England's second play from scrimmage.
Terrell Suggs strip-sacked Brady on the very next play and then recovered the ball, setting up a short TD drive to give his team a quick 14-lead.
And then on New England's next offensive snap, Ray Lewis blitzed up the middle, ran over a hapless Laurence Maroney as if he were a New Orleans levy trying to stem the tides of a hurricane, and dropped Brady for a 7-yard loss.
Message sent. Message received.
4. The Ravens will need more production out of QB Joe Flacco. The Baltimore quarterback put up amazingly abysmal numbers for a guy who just led a blowout: he completed 4 of 10 passes for 34 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT.
It was the lowest passing output by a victorious playoff QB since Bob Griese completed 3 of 6 passes for 34 yards in a win over the Raiders for the Super Bowl champion 1973 Dolphins.
Griese was a hand-off machine that day: Miami ran the ball 53 times for 266 yards and 3 TD in a 27-10 win.
The Ravens earned a dominant win this week. But it's hard to see them running the table against the likes of the Colts next week and the Chargers or Jets in the week after without a more impressive performance out of their quarterback.
5. Tom Brady has done a fairly good impression of a playoff Peyton Manning in recent postseasons. In Brady's last three playoff games (2007 AFC title game vs. San Diego, Super Bowl XLII vs. N.Y. Giants, Sunday's wildcard loss to Baltimore) he's looked like a shadow of the big-game QB who could always be counted on to come through in the biggest battles of the year against the best teams.
In those three games, he's completed 75 of 123 passes (61.0%) for 629 yards (5.1 YPA), 5 TD, 6 INT, 67.4 passer rating.
The killer numbers are the 5.1 YPA and the 6 picks. Both of those are losing numbers. And, interestingly, these poor performance have all come at the end of Brady's most prolific regular seasons (2007, 2009) and in the games in which he's played with his most highly touted receiving corps (Moss and Welker in 2007; Moss in 2009).
We've always said that "game manager" is not a perjorative. In fact, it's the best thing you can say about a quarterback, because effective "game managers" win games, especially in the playoffs. And, in recent years, the Patriots have abandoned this "game manager" approach. It hasn't worked.
6. Nobody can dispute our assertion that Bill Belichick has lost his mojo. This statement has been an ongoing staple of the Cold, Hard Football Facts since the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, during which the Patriots surrendered two long fourth-quarter TD drives. That defeat came on the heels of New England's loss in the 2006 AFC title game, during which the Patriots surrendered 32 second-half points and suffered the biggest championship-game collapse in history.
It's only some last-second heroics by Brady and the Patriots offense that prevented the Patriots from also losing thanks to fourth-quarter collapses in Super Bowl XXXVI (two late touchdowns by the Rams) and in Super Bowl XXXVIII (three fourth-quarter touchdowns by the Panthers).
Our belief has engendered a lot of wrath from Patriots fans, who think we're hating on thier coach.
We're not. We're just stating the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
The bottom line is that Belichick's defenses simply have not performed in big games. The debate's over. We won the argument. Deal with it.
This time, the collapse came early: the Patriots gave up 24 first-quarter points and the game was over before it started.
7. The Defensive Hogs rule! The team with the better Defensive Hogs are now 2-1 in the 2009 postseason, pending the outcome of the Packers-Cardinals game.
It's a rather humble record considering the indicator's prolific record of success (22-3 since 2007). The lone loss so far this weekend was the Cowboys (No. 8 on the DHI) pounding the Eagles (No. 2 on the DHI) Saturday. But as Colonel Comey noted in his story on the Cowboys victory Saturday, Dallas's Defensive Hogs have been dominant in its stretch run and were dominant again against the Eagles.
Baltimore's Defensive Hogs were also dominant: they held the Patriots to 3.5 YPA on the ground (18 for 63), they harried Brady like he hasn't been in a long time, forcing six Negative Pass Plays (three sacks, three INT) on 45 dropbacks (13.3%), and they limited New England to 3 of 12 (25%) on third downs.
Bottom line: Defensive Hogs win playoff games and they've won each game so far this weekend.
8. Wildcard teams rule! Teams battle year after year for one of the top two seeds and the bye week that comes with it. Pigskin "pundits," meanwhile, continue to harp on the need to get the week off to rest and refresh.
In recent years, however, mostly since the realignment of 2002, the bye week has been virtually meaningless.
  • In the AFC this year, both visiting wildcard teams captured decisive victories.
  • Each of the past five Super Bowls have included at least one team that played on wildcard weekend.
  • And it's been six years since a No.1 seed won the Super Bowl (2003 Patriots).
9. John Harbaugh could become a coaching force to contend with. Coaches, like quarterbacks, are typically judged by their performance in the postseason. And, so far, the Harbaugh Era is off to a pretty impressive start. The 11-5 wildcard Ravens of 2008 earned road wins over the AFC East champ Dolphins and the AFC South champ Titans (a 13-3 club) before losing at Pittsburgh in the conference title tilt.
This year, his 9-7 wildcard Ravens beat up one of the great home teams in NFL history. Tom Brady's Patriots had won 22 consecutive home games (dating back to the middle of 2006) and had never lost a home playoff game.
Harbaugh's Ravens made a mockery of that legacy, forging a stunning 24-0 first-quarter lead and never looking back. They battle for their second straight AFC title-game appearance in two years under Harbaugh next week at Indianapolis.
10. The Ravens have a good shot to return to the AFC title game this year, too. Baltimore absolutely dominated the Patriots in the early moments of the contest, making every big play and making New England look as bad as it had in years, and maybe in decades. Next week they travel to Indy to face a Colts team that they nearly beat back in November. A late Joe Flacco interception deep in Indy territory was the only thing that prevented the Ravens from kicking a game-winning field goal in a 17-15 loss in Baltimore. 
The Colts, meanwhile, haven't played a game in anger in a month. Should be a blood bath, the kind that Jerry Mitchell loves.