Foxborough, Mass. — About halfway through the third quarter, my eyes confirmed what my ears have been hearing for much of this early 2010 season -- the Baltimore Ravens are No. 1.
They not only made the New England Patriots' defense look pedestrian, which a lot of us expected, but they also made Tom Brady look rather ordinary, by NFL standards.
Leading 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter, your Ravens appeared to have everything in place to finally make a run at the Lombardi Trophy, including the quarterback, the running game and, especially, the defense.
But then, as quickly as you could say Lombardi Trophy, hell broke loose.
First, Billy Cundiff booted the kickoff out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball on 40. Then, almost at the same moment, your Ravens coaching staff decided to let Brady try to win the game, rushing three or four players, at most, while Brady threw into a defensive-back-laden backfield.
Have the Ravens coaches ever watched film of Brady before? You beat Brady the same way you ruffled his feathers for much of the first half: You send bodies after him.
Anyway, Brady eventually got the Patriots to within a field goal, finally finding Deion Branch, wide open in back of the end zone after the three-man rush allotted Brady nearly five seconds.
It set up, in my mind, the difference between champions and wild-card wonders.
On the Ravens' next possession, they were soon facing third-and-1 on the their 47 with 9:10 remaining.
Rather than go with the always dependable Ray Rice, they sent him up to the line in the tight end position and Flacco ran a quarterback sneak. He needed about 8inches. He didn't get 1 inch. It was a weak effort, to say the least.
But it gets worse, really worse.
With the chance to put the Patriots away, on fourth-and-inches, coach John Harbaugh decided to punt. I couldn't believe it. Nobody in the press box could believe it.
The point is you win the game. If Rice can't get 6 inches at this point of the season against this defense, then he isn't all that.
Most of what transpired after that was insignificant. The Patriots held the ball for almost six minutes and tied the game, as anyone with half a brain expected.
With the Ravens' offense changing course after scoring their 20th point and deciding the 2-yard pass to Rice was their best option, the Patriots finally pulled it out.
Again, though, it gets worse.
Not only did the Ravens lose, fair and square, but everyone, including their coach, took the psychological diagnosis of "denial" to new lengths.
"We feel like we came in here and we fought, and we competed," Harbaugh saidafterward. "And we made some good plays and some not-so-good plays, some good decisions and some not-so-good decisions. They made good plays, they made some not-so-good plays. It is a classic NFL football game, two good teams going at it."
Are you kidding me?
Rather than tipping your cap to the opposition, taking your lumps, a few players took it a step further, making veiled threats about a potential meeting in January.
One Ravens linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe, a guy who has started only four games since he was picked up as an undrafted free agent last year -- and a guy I had never heard of before Sunday -- was asked whether he was hoping for another playoff meeting with the Patriots in three months.
"I hope to," Ellerbe said. "It will be a repeat of last year."
Veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs said, "They better hope they don't see us again."
There is a reason the Ravens at times look like they really are No. 1 and before you know it they're renewing their golf memberships.
They don't get it.
The 2010 Patriots are a far cry from the 2009 Patriots the Ravens buried from box to wire last January. They are winning games they weren't supposed to win. They are younger, quicker and tougher on both sides of the ball.
They also have a few players and a coach that have won championships ... with an "s" at the end.
Message to Ravens coaches and players (and fans, too):
You may be good. But you're not as good as you and much of America thought you were.
Bill Burt is executive sports editor for The Eagle-Tribune, in North Andover, Mass., a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He has been covering the New England Patriots for 20 years and was at the Patriots-Ravens game on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Here is his take, from the Ravens perspective, of what transpired.