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Key Moment: Billy Cundiff’s field goal attempt sails wide

01.22.12 at 8:22 pm ET
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As the Ravens drove down the field in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter in the AFC championship Game at Gillette Stadium, the fans in New England held their collective breath as Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco led the offense into the Patriots red zone, well within scoring range.

After a third-down incompletion by Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta, kicker Billy Cundiff made his way onto the field with 15 seconds left for a 32-yard field goal attempt to tie the game up at 23, and Patriots owner Bob Kraft readily admitted to reporters after the game that he assumed the game was heading to overtime.

But as soon as the ball left Cundiff’s foot, it immediately started sailing to his left and wide of the far post. Patriots guard Brian Waters said after the game that he knew Cundiff missed because of the crowd’€™s reaction. This key moment ‘€“ the last play of the game (save for a Tom Brady kneel-down) ‘€“ proved decisive in propelling the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl appearance with Bill Belichick at the helm.

Flacco and the Ravens moved down the field and into position with under two minutes remaining. The Patriots defense held Ray Rice, the league’s total yardage leader, to just 46 yards on the ground through the first three quarters and 78 in the game.

After the game, Ravens punter Sam Koch said that heading out onto the field, everything felt normal for the special teams unit; the kick was just pulled a little bit too much.

‘€œIt is just really unfortunate. I feel for Billy, and he put his heart and soul out there today and he wanted to go out there and win it for us, and it is just very unfortunate,’€ Koch said. ‘€œIt was just one of those things where it just happened to go off to the left. Everything felt fine; maybe a little bit of a rush. I haven’€™t really talked to him about it, but it will be something we will diagnose later to see what he thought about it.’€

Cundiff wouldn’€™t have even had the opportunity if it weren’€™t for Patriots safety Sterling Moore. Moore broke up a sure touchdown catch by punching the ball from the hands of Lee Evans in the end zone a few plays earlier.

But when the kick sailed left and overtime was no longer going to be an option, the players from the Patriots sideline flooded the field in celebration. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis said that the team would have been ready, though, had the kick sailed through the uprights.

‘€œI wasn’€™t praying,’€ he said. ‘€œIf he had made it, we would have just come out and done what we had to do to try to win the game. Whatever we had to do; fourth quarter, overtime. Whatever it had been.’€

Now, that mission will guide the Patriots as they await the winner of the 49ers-Giants contest to determine who New England will face on Feb. 5 in Super Bowl XLVI matchup in Indianapolis.

Read More: AFC Championship, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Billy Cundiff, Patriots

Tom Brady: ‘We’ve won 10 straight. Hopefully we can make it 11′

01.22.12 at 7:25 pm ET
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Here is a transcript of the remarks by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady following his team’s 23-20 victory over the Ravens that propelled New England to its seventh Super Bowl, and its fifth with Brady as quarterback:

On the game-winning quarterback sneak:

It looked soft in there, so try to take advantage of us getting an easy touchdown. I don’€™t do that very often. I’€™m glad we had a chance to score there on fourth down. That was important.

On the play by defensive back Sterling Moore to break up a potential go-ahead touchdown by the Ravens:

It was a great play by Sterling. These games come down to one or two plays. Our defense made some huge plays there, some very critical plays. It went down to the end. It was a hell of a game.

On whether the Patriots proved they could win a tough, physical game:

It was two very physical teams I thought. … I thought we ran the ball great. It’€™s a great team. The Ravens, they’€™re in this position for a reason. They’€™re a great team. … Their offense played well. Our defense, I thought, played extremely well. Offensively, I wish we’€™d done a little better in the red area, certainly not thrown any interceptions. But I’€™m glad we won. I’€™m glad we’€™re moving on. We’€™ve won 10 straight. Hopefully we can make it 11.

On his suggestion immediately after the game that he ‘sucked,’ and whether he still felt that assessment was accurate: Read the rest of this entry »

Snap Judgments: Patriots earn trip to Super Bowl by escaping Ravens, 23-20

01.22.12 at 6:15 pm ET
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With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Patriots snuck past the Ravens when Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt with 15 seconds remaining. The Patriots, who won 23-20, improve to 7-1 all-time in the AFC championship game.

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After a back-and-forth battle in the first 3½ quarters, the Patriots defense came up big on two plays (a Brandon Spikes interception and Vince Wilfork breaking through the offensive line on a fourth down, disrupting Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco) and held on against a Ravens comeback attempt that ended in euphoria for New England fans.

The 31st-ranked defense at the end of the regular season continued to step up in big ways these past two playoff weeks. Here are some things that went right and some things that went wrong in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

— Wilfork started the game on fire defensively, helping cut short several Ravens drives in the first quarter, including three straight three-and-outs. On Baltimore’s second offensive possession, Wilfork stopped Ricky Williams on first down for a loss of five. Two plays later, he was in the backfield again disrupting and sacking Flacco for a five-yard loss. The Patriots defensive line didn’€™t have much trouble shutting down Ray Rice and the rushing game for Baltimore in the first, holding them to a total of seven yards. Wilfork left the game briefly as his left elbow was attended to, but was back on the line in no time. He added a crucial stop on third down with less than three minutes remaining in the game that forced the Ravens to use a timeout. The Ravens went for it, and Flacco’€™s pass fell incomplete.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran well in the first half on Sunday against the Ravens, gaining 50 yards on eight carries, including a 7-yard scamper for the Patriots’€™ first touchdown of the game. Green-Ellis did a good job all day of getting the New England offense into scoring range, even if multiple long drives resulted in short field goals. He outgained Rice by 29 yards at the half, but the credit there belongs as much to the Patriots defensive line as it does to Green-Ellis and the offensive line.

— After being stopped on the 1-yard line twice, the Patriots decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal with just over 11 minutes and 30 seconds left to go in the game, trailing by four. Brady kept the ball himself and leapt over the flurry of defenders for the first Patriots touchdown since the second quarter. This score gave them a 23-20 lead, and gave Brady his first playoff touchdown since 2004.

— With 7:22 remaining in the game, inside linebacker Spikes jumped in front of a Flacco pass and made a one-handed interception in the middle of the field. The interception came at the perfect time for the Patriots defense, as the Ravens offense was pushing into New England territory. Though the Patriots almost immediately gave the ball back when Brady was picked off in the Baltimore end zone, it still proved a pivotal play in preventing Baltimore from claiming a lead.

WHAT WENT WRONG

— Coverage on Ravens receiver Torrey Smith was spotty, as the speedy rookie was open deep on several occasions. The Maryland product broke free from coverage early in the game and hauled in a 40-yard reception that put the Ravens in position for their first score of the game, a short field goal that knotted the game up at three apiece. With just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Smith broke a tackle in tight coverage and sprinted 29 yards to the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Ravens their first lead of the game.

— After a spectacular first half last Saturday against the Broncos, Brady experienced just the opposite in Sunday’€™s first half. The veteran quarterback didn’€™t register one passing touchdown, although he had a chance very early in the game. Brady overthrew a wide open Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the field in the Baltimore red zone. Brady also threw an interception to Lardarius Webb in the first quarter on an underthrown ball intended for Aaron Hernandez.

— Rookie offensive lineman Nate Solder, who was listed on Friday’€™s injury report as questionable with a concussion, got the start in the AFC championship game with Sebastian Vollmer still out. Solder had a hard time handling the speedy Terrell Suggs on the pass rush, allowing Brady’€™s pocket to collapse rather quickly.

— Gronkowski went down with under a minute left in the third quarter on a Bernard Pollard (yes, that Bernard Pollard) tackle. Pollard brought Gronkowski down around the waist, and fell over his left ankle. Gronkowski was taken to the locker room for X-rays. He would return early in the fourth quarter, however.

— Timely plays were not New England’€™s specialty in this AFC championship game. Brady’€™s pick in the fourth quarter just one play after Spikes’€™ interception could’€™ve killed the team morale, but the Patriots managed to hold on at the end.

Read More: AFC Championship, Patriots, Ravens, Tom Brady

Poll: Who do you want to see the Patriots face in the Super Bowl?

01.22.12 at 6:12 pm ET
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Halftime analysis: Patriots 13, Ravens 10

01.22.12 at 4:35 pm ET
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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.

Live Blog: Tom Brady, Patriots take on Ravens in AFC Championship Game

01.22.12 at 2:46 pm ET
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AFC Championship

Video: Keys to the AFC championship game and predictions

01.22.12 at 2:39 pm ET
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WEEI.com’s Chris Price explains the keys to the AFC championship game and makes his pre-game prediction.

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