|01.22.12 at 6:12 pm ET|
|01.22.12 at 4:35 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 13-10 lead. Here are a few quick notes:
For the Patriots, Tom Brady was 14-for-24 for 146 yards and one interception. In addition, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has eight carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Joe Flacco was 11-for-16 for 162 yards and one touchdown and Torrey Smith has two catches for 53 yards.
The Patriots were able to get on the board late in the first quarter when the Ravens stopped them in the red zone and New England had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to make it 3-0 with 5:49 left in the first quarter. However, Brady was off a little in the early going, missing on a couple of balls, including one to Rob Gronkowski down the middle of the field that would have almost certainly gone for a touchdown. Brady also had at least one ball tipped, and one picked off on a great interception by Baltimore cornerback Lardarius Webb on a ball meant for Julian Edelman. The Ravens were able to cash in with an eight-play drive that ended with a 20-yard field goal from Billy Cundiff with 14:21 left in the half to make it 3-3.
The two teams traded touchdowns late in the half. The first touchdown of the day came on a seven-yard run from Green-Ellis with 10:35 left in the second quarter at the end of a 10-play, 75-yard drive. On that sequence, the Patriots were able to spread the Ravens out, and New England took advantage in the running game, handing the ball to Green-Ellis for big chunks of yardage. (The ground game was something they didn’t use effectively in last year’s playoff loss to the Jets when they had the opportunity.) The Patriots ended the half with a 35-yard field goal from Gostkowski with 3:04 left to make it 13-10.
The Ravens answered with 6:03 left in the first half on a six-yard Flacco to Dennis Pitta touchdown pass to tie it at 10. For all the slings and arrows that Flacco took over the course of the week, it was a very nice play for the quarterback, who displayed great patience and held the ball for just long enough before delivering the pass in a very tight window. (Flacco did miss a big throw later in the half to a wide-open Smith.)
Through the early going, Edelman lined up at cornerback, punt returner, wide receiver and running back.
Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was immense in the early going. He was able to occupy at least two blockers on a first-quarter passing play that allowed Mark Anderson free access to Flacco for a sack, and he was able to pick up a sack of his own late in the same quarter. (Needless to say, Baltimore center Ben Grubbs is having a rough afternoon.) The Patriots’ defense was up to the task early on, but Patrick Chung was fooled badly on a play action fake that led to a 42-yard pickup for the Ravens on a Flacco-to-Smith ball with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.
|01.22.12 at 2:46 pm ET|
|01.22.12 at 2:39 pm ET|
WEEI.com’s Chris Price explains the keys to the AFC championship game and makes his pre-game prediction.
|01.22.12 at 1:52 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Sunday’s inactives for the Patriots are quarterback Ryan Mallett, running back Stevan Ridley, running back Shane Vereen, linebacker Gary Guyton, offensive lineman Donald Thomas, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
The most interesting person on the list is Ridley, as the rookie appears to be a healthy scratch. However, he fumbled the ball twice over the last two games, with one in the regular-season finale against the Bills and another in the divisional playoffs against the Broncos. (It’s the first scratch of the season for Ridley.) This will also likely mean more snaps across the board for the rest of the running backs, including Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk, and could also mean the Patriots plan on throwing the ball more against the Ravens.
One other notable scratch (although he’s had a minimal impact over the last six weeks) is Ochocinco, who flew back to Florida over the weekend to attend his father’s funeral. According to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe, Ochocinco did make it back in time for the game, but will not dress against the Ravens. Again, his absences won’t dramatically affect the offensive game plan, as he was on the field for just one snap in the divisional playoffs last week against Denver.
Vollmer was on the injury report this week with back and foot issues (as has been the case for much of the second half of the season), and hasn’t played much if at all lately because of it. (He hasn’t played since Nov. 27 against Philadelphia.) Look for Nate Solder to go wire-to-wire at right tackle (as he has done for much of the season with Vollmer on the shelf) in his absence. It’s worth mentioning that Solder spent time on the injury list this week because of a concussion.
Meanwhile, Mallett, Guyton, Vereen and Thomas are all healthy scratches who are simply personnel decisions. Not sure we’ve seen someone slide off the depth chart as dramatically as Guyton, who began the season as a starter at inside linebacker but hasn’t started Nov. 27 against Philadelphia, and has had a minimal impact over the last six weeks of the season.
|01.22.12 at 11:02 am ET|
FOXBORO — Mother Nature has cleared her slate while the Gillette Stadium crews have cleared the several inches of snow that fell between Thursday and Saturday, and the stage is set for the Ravens and Patriots to battle for the first ticket to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 30s are expected at 3 p.m. ET. Winds out of the northeast between five and 10 MPH will produce a wind chill in the low 20s. Still, it won’t be nearly as cold as last Saturday night when the wind chill dipped near zero.
The Patriots are hosting their fourth AFC championship. They have won their previous three, beating Jacksonville in the 1996 contest at old Foxboro Stadium, beating Indianapolis in 2003 and besting San Diego in 2007.
Overall, the Patriots are making their seventh appearance in the ultimate AFC game, losing only in 2006 when they blew a 21-6 halftime lead in Indianapolis and lost to Peyton Manning and the Colts.
Today, the team will commemorate the 15th anniversary of the 1996 AFC champions when they introduce four members of that squad as honorary captains. Troy Brown, Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi and Drew Bledsoe will head to midfield for the coin flip while baseball hall of famer and Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken will do the honors for the Ravens.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft announced on the Patriots All-Access show on Saturday night that if the Patriots win, Bledsoe will have the privilege of handing off the Lamar Hunt AFC championship trophy to coach Bill Belichick and the team.
A game of hard hitting figures to get off to a rocking start as Aerosmith lead vocal and superstar Steven Tyler will sing the national anthem.
As for the game itself, the inactive list shouldn’t be a big factor as both teams are relatively healthy.
The Patriots took quarterback Tom Brady off their injury report on Friday. He missed practice on Wednesday but was back to full participation on Thursday with a left shoulder injury. The NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported Friday Brady is dealing with a sprained AC joint in the shoulder that will require six weeks of rest and treatment to get back to full strength. Brady – who set an NFL postseason record last Saturday with five first-half TD passes – hasn’t seen his performance fall off. Brady and the team are monitoring the shoulder as Brady deals with the discomfort.
The Patriots listed 14 players as questionable in their final injury report on Friday, including Patrick Chung (knee), Wes Welker (knee), Deion Branch (knee), Aaron Hernandez (concussion) and Nate Solder (concussion). All are expected to play.
The Ravens, meanwhile, listed just one player – Ed Reed – on their injury report all week. The perennial Pro Bowl safety injured his left ankle on Houston’s “Hail Mary” at the end of the game last Sunday. He was limited on Wednesday and Thursday but returned to full participation on Friday and was listed as probable. He will almost certainly will start today for the Ravens at free safety.
Here’s the full rundown of the Patriots in the AFC championship game:
1/12/86 Patriots 31, Dolphins 14 in Miami
1/12/97 Patriots 20, Jaguars 6 in Foxboro
1/27/02 Patriots 24, Steelers 17 in Pittsburgh
1/18/04 Patriots 24, Colts 14 in Foxboro
1/23/05 Patriots 41, Steelers 27 in Pittsburgh
1/21/07 Colts 38, Patriots 34 in Indianapolis
1/20/08 Patriots 21, Chargers 12 in Foxboro
Some other notes:
|01.21.12 at 5:50 pm ET|
So while the rest of us sit and wait for kickoff Sunday at 3 o’clock, what’s going on with the Patriots as they sit and make final preparations for the AFC championship game for the Ravens? Players and coaches are going through several different meetings at the team hotel, making sure that everyone is on the same page for Sunday.
But coach Bill Belichick said that when it comes down to Saturday night, each situation is different.
‘There are games, Saturday night where I can remember staying up and wanting to go through something one more time,’ Belichick said. ‘Then, there are other Saturday nights where you watch a college game on TV or you just go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep and start in the morning. I think it’s just how you feel at that point in time.
“Sometimes you go through the Saturday night meetings with the players and something comes up. If you’re not sure then they’re probably not sure,” he added. “Maybe you need to go back and do it one more time. ‘I’m not going to be able to get to sleep until I really, like I have to get this straight in my head before I can get it to them.’ A lot of times you come out of a meeting feeling like, ‘We’ve got it, we just have to go play.’
“Each week is different, for me anyway, every week is different. Preparation is different, the practices are different. What you need to do at the end of the week, whether that’s talking to an individual guy, whether that’s the way you want to handle the whole team, whatever you want to try to emphasize leading right up to the game in the final meetings or hours, I think that sometimes is a reaction to where you are at that particular point. You don’t know that at the beginning of the week, at least I don’t.’
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