by Scott Benson

Thought they were finished, didn’t you?

I did – watching a defense that couldn’t get off the field, and an offense that couldn’t stay on it. Defenders that couldn’t tackle and receivers that couldn’t catch. Defensive backs that couldn’t cover and linemen that couldn’t hold their ground. And 11 win division winner in a complete role reversal with a 4 win team that suddenly looked like playoff contenders.

And yet the Kings STILL ain’t dead this morning. Long live the Kings.

*A more bizarre finish you couldn’t have asked for. The Pats down four with just three minutes to play. 73 yards from the winning touchdown. Four times they snapped the ball on a last chance play, three times they failed, yet all three times they were rescued by the referee’s whistle. Brian Billick called a time-out just before his defense stopped a Tom Brady fourth down sneak. Russ Hochstein flinched just before the replay down, wiping out the Ravens’ denial of Heath Evans. Either play would have ended it, as would Brady’s subsequent missed end zone conncection with Ben Watson, save for Jermaine Winborne’s defensive holding penalty. One (actually three) too many second chances granted by the Ravens.

*If that call on Gaffney had gone to a Patriots opponent, we’d be having a stroke right now. All the credit in the world for the game-winning play goes to the oft-forgotten hero of the 06 playoffs, but I could buy the argument that he never caught that ball.

*Naturally, this game would have to end with a completed Hail Mary pass stopped just two yards from the end zone and the Ravens upset. Hey, didn’t something like that happen down here in 1996? I seem to recall a Pats win in Baltimore that ended in exactly the same manner, with Vinny Testaverde at quarterback for the Ravens?

*Boy, the Patriots defense looked horrible. I can almost accept the colander-like run defense (McGahee was outstanding, and the Ravens line just out-muscled the Pats) but Kyle Boller looking like a pro quarterback? No, sorry. Once again, it all started with the defensive front, which was a non-factor. And Asante Samuel can write off any “Pay Him!” articles this week after being butchered by Derrick Mason. But for the second straight week, the New England defense made just enough down-the-stretch plays to avoid the upset. They forced three straight stops when even one Baltimore first down could have made a comeback impossible. That’s shouldn’t entirely be small consolation.

*The Ravens defense made Peter King look prescient, which is also no small thing. They won the line of scrimmage all night, which set up a suffocating pass defense that neutered Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth and forced more than a few uncharacteristic drops. By the end of the game, the Pats were left with only their running backs to save them, and on a night filled with surprises, perhaps the biggest one was that they did. Kevin Faulk pulled a Troy Brown by taking an interception, and perhaps points, away with a strip tackle. Laurence Maroney, of all people, came up huge with two receptions that had to be the biggest plays he’s ever made as a Patriot. And Brady, who’s had many a rocking-chair game this season, showed that there’s still more than a little grit behind his gaudy record-threatening numbers.

*I’m all for these character-building fourth quarter comebacks, but when are the Patriots going to start playing well again?  I’m assuming “Sixty Minutes” includes the first forty-five. Now the Pats get a late start in preparing for the Steelers next Sunday afternoon, and as Bill Belichick said afterwards, they  have a lot to work on.