FOXBOROUGH - John Harbaugh could see the kick bending.
The ball was still in the air and you could see the Ravens coach appear to mouth the words, “He missed it.’’
Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs couldn’t stand the sight.
“Oh, my God,’’ he said, watching the ball hook left.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s eyes were fixed on the kick. Then his head snapped to the right. The look on his face wasn’t one of delight or relief. He appeared almost puzzled by what he had witnessed.
Joe Flacco had driven the Ravens from their 21-yard line to the Patriots’ 14, setting up a field goal attempt that would have sent yesterday’s AFC title game to overtime. The kick was from 32 yards.
Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff said, “It was a kick I’ve probably kicked a thousand times.’’ He didn’t mean in his life. He meant since training camp.
But the time when it mattered most was the time his accuracy failed him.
The missed field goal sealed the Patriots’ 23-20 victory, and sent the Ravens back to Baltimore facing a long, sour offseason.
It was the first kick Cundiff had missed in the fourth quarter all season.
“There’s really no excuse for it,’’ Cundiff said. “I get paid to make field goals. I don’t get paid to miss field goals.’’
Flacco, who had been under fire after teammate Ed Reed added to the criticism of the fourth-year quarterback, answered the scrutiny by throwing for 306 yards and two touchdowns.
But after the loss, he described the Ravens’ locker room with one word.
‘I get paid to make field goals. I don’t get paid to miss field goals.’Billy Cundiff, Ravens kicker
There were opportunities that will undoubtedly flash through their minds all offseason. For one, there was the decision one possession earlier to go for it on fourth and 6 rather than let Cundiff attempt a 50-yard field goal.
The numbers said the Ravens had a better chance of converting on fourth down (they were 4 for 7 this season) than Cundiff did of connecting from that far away (he was 1 of 6 from 50-plus this season).
“If you look at my stats from 50-plus, it didn’t really give Coach a lot of confidence to make that play,’’ Cundiff said. “This year, I wasn’t as successful as I would have liked to be from that range, and it probably made the decision for him pretty easy.’’
The Ravens came up empty on fourth down, but the defense produced a three-and-out to give Baltimore the ball back with 1:44 left.
Flacco marched the Ravens into the red zone, and on second and 1 from the 14 he thought he had thrown to Lee Evans for the go-ahead touchdown.
“I threw my hands up and started running that way,’’ Flacco said. “Then I saw the referee give the incomplete sign pretty quick.’’
On the next play, Flacco’s pass to Dennis Pitta fell incomplete. Sterling Moore had him by the jersey, but there was no penalty.
The chance to send the game to overtime came down to Cundiff, but the Ravens refused to lay the blame for the loss solely on his shoulders.
“Not one play won or lost this game,’’ said linebacker Ray Lewis. “Could you have put us in a position to keep playing? Absolutely. But one play didn’t win or lose this game. There’s no one man that’s ever lost a game. For me to go to him, which I will very quickly [and say], ‘Don’t you ever drop your head. We win as a team, we lose as a team.’ ’’
Still, Cundiff thought about the faces in the locker room, the years spent trying to get to the Super Bowl, the players who may never get this close again.
He thought about Lewis in particular, knowing he has been in the league 16 years and was seeking his second trip to the Super Bowl.
“To know that Ray’s poured his heart out, he’s had a long career and you don’t know how many years he has left,’’ Cundiff said. “To let him down is pretty tough.’’
The list goes on. Evans spent seven seasons with the Bills, six of them losing seasons. Reed has been named to eight Pro Bowls, but never reached the Super Bowl.
Reed’s disappointment was evident as he stepped slowly out of the visitors’ locker room, singing to himself.
It was Teddy Pendergrass’s “Love TKO.’’
“I told myself, time and time again, this time I’m going to win. But another fight, things ain’t right. I’m losing again.’’Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.