Refuse to win

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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.

It got so bad that on the Patriots' last two plays of the game, the holding call that moved the ball, on fourth-and-5, down to the Ravens' 8, and the pseudo-TD to Jabar Gaffney (sure looked like a juggle to me), I put a stopwatch on Tom Brady to see exactly how much time that three-man rush afforded him.

He had 3.43 seconds to deliver the ball on the penalty play. On the TD it was 3.72 seconds. He was in perfect balance, he even had enough time to give a little pump fake to the other side, buying enough time for Gaffney to run an in-out pattern that left his defender, Dawan Landry, sprawled in the end zone. Three and a half seconds for Tom Brady! I mean are you nuts?

Tom Landry always blitzed a team that was near his own goal line. The theory was that the risk of giving up a long play because of excessive boldness was nonexistent, so you might as well bring plenty of heat. Buddy Ryan just brought the heat all the time. Rex decided not to.

In his postgame analysis, Steve Young talked about great teams that experience a certain lull at various points in the season. And that's what the Patriots had gone through for two straight weeks -- first Philly, then Baltimore, both games they could have, and in the Ravens' case, should have lost. I think there's more to it.

The defense got walloped. Adalius Thomas, playing against his old mates, made a few plays in the first period. After that he could have been in the witness protection program. In the third quarter, when the Ravens keyed their offense to the thundering hoofbeats of McGahee, the only notice you took of Adalius, was the way he was getting driven backward. The Ravens keyed their thrust to the right side of the Patriots' defensive line, which came out in a base 4-3 precisely because their coaches feared what actually happened.

And the guy who took the major heat was all-pro Richard Seymour. Oh my, what a job Baltimore' bowling ball of a left guard, Jason Brown, did on him. And Jonathan Ogden on whoever manned the DRE spot was a heavy overmatch. And Tedy Bruschi in the middle looked like a little guy who was getting overrun. These chaps aren't getting any younger.

It will be interesting to see what Pittsburgh does to the Patriots linemen on both sides of the ball. Particularly distressing was the sight of my all-pro left guard, Logan Mankins, getting eaten up by 340-pound Haloti Ngata. Hey, the Steelers have some big guys, too.

Well, maybe Steve Young was right and this was just a downbeat period for the unbeaten Patriots, and once they've righted themselves they'll go back to covering their 14-, 16-, 20-point spreads. But maybe the Ravens opened up a window to something more sinister, something that could be exploited by a big, muscular, physical team, coached by people who aren't terrified by the prospect of scoring a major upset.