— He had never lost a game when leading at halftime at home. Tom Brady was 67-0 in such situations with the Patriots and, really, there was little reason to believe the quarterback who has won more playoff games than any in NFL history wasn't going to be 68-0.
The Baltimore Ravens' defense had been on the field for 174 plays through two playoff victories and Brady had that defense out there for a whopping 45 more plays Sunday night in the first half of the AFC Championship. True, the Patriots only led by six points heading into the locker room, but the Ravens defense was supposed to be worn out. The Ravens defense was supposed to be old and the Ravens offense wasn't supposed to be able to score enough to keep up with Brady.
All of New England and half the football world turned out for Ray Lewis' retirement party. If Lewis and the Ravens defense weren't going to drop of exhaustion during the second half, certainly they were going down with their AARP cards in their hip pads …
… and then the Patriots never scored again.
Final score: Ravens 28, Patriots 13.
The Patriots were supposed to outscore the Ravens 21-0 in the second half. Instead, it was the other way around. Stunning. Stunning. Stunning.
"They outplayed us and outcoached us tonight," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Nothing was good enough."
There will be a Harbaugh family reunion in New Orleans, and the Patriots will not join them on Bourbon Street. Jim's San Francisco 49ers will meet John's Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII that undoubtedly will come to be known as the Har-bowl. Sports reporters will be tracking the family genealogy hundreds of years. Harbaugh. Harbaugh. Harbaugh. Ray Lewis. It will be a storyline without the Patriots. A storyline without how much of a genius Belichick is. A storyline without how Brady has surpassed Joe Montana as the greatest playoff quarterback ever.
The 49ers were supposed to be in New Orleans, but the Ravens were a 91/2-point underdog. Not only did they cover, they emptied out most of Gillette Stadium five minutes before the end of the game. And when it was over, there were at least 5,000 Ravens fans crowding the field. Ravens coaches and players walked over toward them and joined in the revelry. It was a weird, incredible sight to see all that purple going nuts.
The Ravens took the Patriots' candy. They just took it.
"They're a great football team," Vince Wilfork said. "The best team won."
On a night when Brady set the NFL record for career post-season passing yards, throwing for 300 yards for the sixth time in the playoffs, he also threw two interceptions in the second half. Three turnovers, including a fumble by Stevan Ridley on a wicked hit by Bernard Pollard, left the Patriots hopeless, helpless and heading home.
"We just couldn't make any critical plays," Brady said.
Give it to the Ravens defense. They are tough. They are resilient. They are nasty. They spit at their age. They held Brady to 1-for-4 in the red zone. They made big stops on third down. And there was the old man, Lewis, making 14 tackles.
Give it to the Ravens offense, too. When you start your first five drives at the 13, 10, 8, 10 and 14, man, you are looking at long, hard sledding. Joe Flacco managed to put together one 90-yard drive in the first half. In the third quarter, when he threw for 140 yards, Flacco ran off an 87-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-13 lead. As he began getting better field position, he grew stronger, throwing three touchdown passes in the final 30 minutes. In the second half, Flacco looked patient, composed. The Patriots never sustained a pass rush. Flacco had time to think. He had time to throw. He outplayed Brady. In the second half, Brady looked barely ordinary.
"They kept the pressure on," Brady said. "We didn't stand up to the challenge."
True enough. Pernell McPhee deflected Brady's pass and Dannell Ellerbe's intercepted it with 6:49 left. With 66 seconds remaining, Cary Williams picked off Brady in the end zone. There was the Ridley fumble as he was KO'd. There was a big Welker drop in the third quarter. After holding onto the ball for only 11:48 of the first half, the Ravens controlled it for 19:18 in the second.
The Patriots had been using Talib on the opponent's top receiver and he had his eyes clearly set on Anquan Boldin for this one. Boldin had told reporters this past week, "We'll win." Talib, however, was all over him early. On third down with 5:15 left in the first quarter, he broke up a Flacco pass intended for Boldin. Talib, however, immediately grabbed his upper leg. He was gone with a thigh injury.
"You get this far, you don't see your season coming to an end," McCourty said. "It's the worst feeling."
In the third quarter, tight end Dennis Pitta took a wicked hit from Jerod Mayo at the five. Pitta got up, got behind Steve Gregory on the next play and caught a touchdown pass. Tough stuff. Yes, the Ravens were tougher, mentally, physically, spiritually. They have played three playoff games at Gillette in the past four seasons. They have won two. They lost the other last year on a missed field goal at the end.
"Last year," Lewis said, "when we walked out of here, I told our guys, 'We will be back. We've got something to finish.'"
Lewis was right. They would finish. Boldin was right, too. The Ravens would win. And they would make history in doing it.
They beat Brady when he was ahead at halftime at home.