BALTIMORE — It has been ugly, unwieldy, and totally unpredictable. Bill Belichick never would admit it, but the 2013 Patriots season has been a bigger challenge than recovering from a 5-11 introductory season, a bigger challenge than going through an entire year without Tom Brady.
And no matter what happens now, this 2013 season will stand as Bill Belichick’s masterpiece; the Hoodie’s Sistine Chapel.
The Patriots thrashed and embarrassed the world champion Baltimore Ravens, 41-7, in their own house Sunday. The Belichickmen (now 11-4) were crowned division champs before the game even started — thanks to Buffalo skunking the Dolphins — then went out and annihilated the favored Ravens, who entered the game with four straight wins and a hard-earned reputation for staring down the Patriots.
Our boy Bill was really happy after this one. He even almost cracked a smile when he said, “It was nice not to go down to the last minute. We actually had a lead with a couple of minutes to go.’’
OK, that may not be “Jimmy Kimmel Live” or “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but it’s a virtual yuk tsunami for Bill.
He loves this team. And why not? Everyone who ever cared about New England sports should love this team. It has done more with less, pulled off more miracles, and been a model for Next Man Up for future generations.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this football team,’’ said the Foxborough Flatliner. “You need everybody and we had everybody tonight.’’
‘It was nice not to go down to the last minute. We actually had a lead with a couple of minutes to go.’
There is one game left in this regular season (Buffalo at home Sunday), which will be followed by the great unknown of January playoffs. The sustainability of New England’s 2013 success is highly questionable, but it’s crystal clear that this is Belichick’s best job since he took over for Pete Carroll way back in 2000. He’s not one to look back through his scrapbooks to compare winning seasons, so we have to do it for him. And this is it.
In this amazing season, the Patriots lost Wes Welker to free agency, watched Aaron Hernandez go away on a murder charge, lost the defensive backbone of Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Tommy Kelly, then watched Rob Gronkowski go down with a frightening knee injury. They won in the closing seconds against New Orleans, beat Miami after trailing, 17-3, came back from a 24-0 halftime deficit against the AFC West champs from Denver, came back from a 10-point deficit in Houston, then scored two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds to beat Cleveland.
But Sunday might have been the most impressive win of all. It was predicted by few. The Ravens were the national rage. They had a big boy coach who is not afraid of the Patriots. They had beaten the Patriots in three of their last five meetings. The Ravens had the momentum and the house-of-cards Patriots were teetering on the brink of being exposed.
The Patriots were 3-4 on the road this year, winning only in Buffalo, Atlanta, and Houston. The Patriots had lost three of their last four road games, including last week’s final-second disappointment in Miami. They appeared to be unraveling.
In Brady’s last six games against Baltimore he had only six touchdown passes to go with nine interceptions, 12 sacks, and a meager 60-percent completion ratio.
“We know that nobody picked us to win this one,’’ said Brady.
More than 70,000 descendants of “Diner” turned out to watch the Ravens have their way with the mighty Patriots again.
This was a butt-kicking by New England. Belichick took John Harbaugh’s lunch money.
The Patriots led, 17-0, after the first play of the second quarter. In the first 15 minutes, the Ravens punted twice, had a pass intercepted, and rolled up 50 yards worth of penalties on four misplays. Baltimore’s offense never made it past midfield in the first half. It was 20-0 after three. Harbaugh, a man’s man who won the Super Bowl last season, was reduced to Marvin Lewis. Trailing, 20-0, in the fourth, he went for a field goal. Justice was served when money kicker Justin Tucker missed from 37 yards.
The jailbreak didn’t come until late in the fourth when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and backup Tyrod Taylor kept turning the ball over and Patriots defenders kept scoring. It all added up to the worst beatdown in the home history of the Baltimore Ravens franchise.
“Actually, you could burn the tape,’’ said traditionally mouthy Raven Terrell Suggs. “It’s not even worth looking at.’’
Across the way, Patriots players were donning AFC East Division champion T-shirts and caps. This marks the 10th time in 11 years that the Patriots have won the NFL’s Adams Division.
“Everybody has to be prepared and everybody has got to be ready to go,’’ said Belichick. “You never know when you’re going to have to play. You might play a lot more than you think you’re going to play.’’
Belichick was raised in Annapolis, Md., where his dad was an assistant coach at the US Naval Academy. It was there that he learned about football and preparation and execution. And it was in Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street in Baltimore that he was introduced to the NFL by Baltimore Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda. Young Bill learned his lessons well and Sunday came home to remind the locals how you go about playing this game.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy