Tom Brady and Defense carry Patriots to AFC Championship Game

The great Tom Brady did it again. After seeing his team fall behind so many times today, he decided to take it upon himself to get his team back on track. Accurate passing by him and an opportunistic defensive effort from the New England Patriots defense, helped send the Baltimore Ravens home in a 35-31 AFC Divisional Playoff victory at Gillette Stadium.

 

NFL: New York Jets at New England Patriots

Brady who was recently named to the 2015 Pro Bowl, was 33 of 50 for 367 yards, 3 touchdown passes and just one interception. Brady didn’t have the best playoff performance of his career, but he cut through the Ravens (11-7) defense like a surgeon when he needed to.

As for the Patriots defense, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (28 of 45 for 292 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 costly interceptions) sliced and diced them for much of the game, but he couldn’t do that to their defense in the fourth quarter like he wanted to, which included a heroic interception by a second string strong safety.

The Ravens started the first drive of the game for both teams at their own 29, after the opening kickoff from 2015 Pro Bowler and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The drive culminated with a 19 yard Flacco to Kamar Aiken 19 yard touchdown play. The Ravens took a 7-0 lead with around 12:15 left in the first quarter.

Later, the Ravens culminated their second drive of the first quarter with a juggling 9 yard back of the end zone touchdown reception by Steve Smith Sr. (3 catches for 44 yards and 1 score). With 4:44 left, the Ravens went ahead 14-0.

The second drive of the game for the Patriots was the charm, as they finally got on the other side of the 50 in the first quarter. And it was Brady who decided it was time that the Patriots get on the board on this drive, as he went 3 for 5 for 75 yards passing with him also ending the drive with a 4 yard scramble into the end zone. That play took place with around 43 seconds left in the quarter and put the score at 14-7.

After all Danny Amendola (5 catches for 81 yards and 2 scores) has been through this year as an afterthought as a receiver in 2014 for the Patriots, or from 2011-2013 with injury issues with the St. Louis Rams and the Patriots, it had to refreshing for him to score on a 15 yard touchdown reception in this super important game.

Late in the second quarter, Amendola took a Brady pass near the left sideline and then proceeded to run down the sideline and ditch two Ravens defenders, with him finally diving into the end zone from the BAL 3 yard line. That marvelous play by Amendola tied the score at 14-14 with 3:40 left.

Later in the second quarter, an interception by Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith of a Brady pass near the middle of the field and a defensive pass interference call on cornerback Darrelle Revis, helped set up the Ravens for their next score going into halftime.

Those instances set up an otherworldly 11 yard back of the end zone touchdown reception by talented tight end Owen Daniels (4 catches for 41 yards and 1 score). Daniels on the play, had close coverage from Patriots linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, with last second coverage from strong safety Duron Harmon. Daniels got behind those three to catch a toes-tapping back of the end zone touchdown pass from Flacco, which gave the Ravens a 21-14 lead with nine seconds left in the first half. Daniels has been in the league for nine years and that was the first postseason touchdown reception of his career.

The Ravens picked up where they left off from the first half, as Flacco threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, this time to running back Justin Forsett (24 carries for 129 yards and no score) who caught the pass and sped easily and untouched into the end zone for a 16 yard play. The Ravens took a 28-14 lead with 10:22 left in the third quarter.

But on the Patriots ensuing drive, they methodically advanced down the field with a key 14 yard Brady to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui reception to the BAL 10 yard line. That play set up Brady—-who started the play in shotgun formation—-to throw a 5 yard touchdown pass to 2015 Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski (7 catches for 108 yards and 1 score) which cut the Ravens’ lead to 28-21 with 6:48 left in the third quarter.

Later in the third quarter, Amendola did it again. On Amendola’s game-tying scoring play, Brady took the snap, then he threw a backwards lateral to receiver Julian Edelman who stood near the left sideline, then he unleashed a pass downfield that ended up in the hands of a streaking and wide open Amendola who took the pass in for a 51 yard score. It was 28-28 with just under 4:30 left in the quarter.

Then on the ensuing drive for the Ravens, free safety Devin McCourty jumped in front of Ravens receiver Torrey Smith (3 catches for 62 yards and no score) and intercepted Flacco at the BAL 37 where he was ushered out of bounds by Smith. But three straight incompletions intended for Gronkowski forced a Ryan Allen punt on 4th and 10 at the BAL 37.

Ravens placekicker Justin Tucker gave his team their last lead with a 25 yard field goal to make the score 31-28 with just under 10:20 left in the game.

The key to the Patriots coming back and actually winning this game was their defense and their next offensive drive, which took 5:04 off the fourth quarter game clock. The defense did something that not too many teams have done against the Ravens offense and that was keep them out of the end zone for a whole quarter.

But first things first. On the drive that buttressed Tucker’s field goal, the Patriots went to work starting at their own 26. The marathon 10-play, 74 yard drive was dominated by Brady’s accuracy and it was also helped by an overturned fumble recovery Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith on the third play of the drive. Meanwhile, the drive was culminated by a Brady 23 yard lob pass to wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who beat coverage from cornerback Rashaan Melvin and late deep coverage/help from free safety Darian Stewart. It was 35-31 Patriots with 5:13 left in the game.

The second string safety that was mentioned earlier in this story was Harmon, who pretty much ended the Ravens comeback hopes, when leapt in the air to intercept a Flacco pass intended for Torrey Smith in the end zone for a touchback. That play took place with 1:40 left in the game. Brady executed four kneel downs which ran the clock down to around 14 seconds.

The Ravens were only able to get one play off after the Allen punt, and it was a Flacco incompletion to Smith. Game over.

 

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