2012 AFC Championship: Patriots Survive After Ravens Miss Field Goal
Usually, a game where quarterback Tom Brady throws for no touchdowns, while tossing up two interceptions, spells victory for the other team, but head coach Bill Belichick's Pats found a way to win ugly. Here is how they did it.
The game was over when:
Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff hooked a game-tying 32-yard field goal wide left just before the end of regulation.
Cundiff's struggles from 50 yards and beyond — he was 1-of-6 from that distance this season, coming into the game — led Baltimore to balk on kicking a 50-plus yard field goal to tie the game on its previous possession. Baltimore opted to go for it on fourth down instead, and Joe Flacco was pressured to throw the ball away on a 4th-and-6 play.
When New England had the ball:
Brady did not have his sharpest performance, but New England found a way to survive in a game where it committed three turnovers.
The tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 12 catches for 87 and 66 yards, respectively. But Brady, for the most part, was forced out of his comfort zone in a game where he threw for just 239 yards.
When Baltimore had the ball:
Baltimore needed Flacco to be at his best to have any chance of an upset against the AFC No. 1 seed, and that's what they got for three quarters.
The fourth-year quarterback carved up the Patriots' defense with smart throws on third down that allowed the Ravens to prolong the drive and keep New England off the field. Aside from an ill-advised interception early in the fourth quarter, Flacco played well enough for the Ravens to pull out the win.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin turned in 101 receiving yards, and Torrey Smith had 82. But, the Patriots' success in slowing down running back Ray Rice took away a critical component of Baltimore’s offense.
Offensive play of the game:
It looked like the Ravens were about to come away with a successful goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter and preserve a 20-16 lead. That was until Brady took it up the middle on a fourth-and-goal play to put the Patriots ahead for good, with his first postseason rushing touchdown since 2004.
Defensive play of the game:
The Patriots' secondary has been seen as one of the team’s weak spots this year, but backup cornerback Sterling Moore may have produced the game-saving moment. With Baltimore positioned on the New England 14-yard line, Moore bothered Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans enough to make him drop a potential game-winning touchdown catch.
The botched Cundiff kick came two plays after and the rest was history.
Bernard Pollard: Patriot Killer
It might be mere coincidence, but the Ravens safety has a knack for hurting New England players. His latest victim: Gronkowski, who injured his ankle after Pollard tackled him in the third quarter. When he was a Chief in 2008, Pollard was involved on the play that caused Brady’s ACL injury; as a Texan, he played prominently in Wes Welker's knee injury in 2009.
What the result means:
For Brady, it will mark his fifth Super Bowl start, tying him with John Elway for most starts by a quarterback. The three-time Super Bowl champ also tied Joe Montana for most playoff wins by a quarterback after notching his 16th victory.
As for the Ravens, the thought that a missed field goal and dropped touchdown catch probably kept them out of the big game will be a tough one to accept, especially after the way they outperformed the vaunted Pats offense. For aging veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the championship window just got a little tougher to squeeze through.
Not So Sweet Emotion:
On an unrelated note, Aerosmith frontman and "American Idol" judge Steven Tyler was brought in to perform the national anthem prior to the game.
Apparently, Timothy Burke at Deadspin did not give the rendition favorable reviews, and Tyler is already competing with the likes of Carl Lewis and Roseanne Barr for worst national anthem performance ever in an online poll.
Let's just say Tyler's shriek-filled outing would draw some snarky comparison to cats getting thrown off the Empire State Building if Simon Cowell were still calling the shots on Idol.
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