ReFo: Ravens @ Patriots, AFC Championship

Sam Monson breaks down how the Ravens overcame the favored Patriots to reach the Super Bowl.

| 4 years ago

ReFo: Ravens @ Patriots, AFC Championship

Coming into this game the New England Patriots were overwhelming favorites, just as they seem to have been for every postseason game of the past decade. Whether Vegas is just working on a legacy they built up in the early years of the new millennium, or whether the Patriots have simply found creative ways of blowing games they should have won, the team’s record in the postseason is now slipping and it has been almost a decade since the last New England Super Bowl victory.

The Ravens on the other hand, now hold the best postseason winning percentage of any team in the NFL, and, whether they stumbled into the postseason or not, they found ways to win on the back of Ray Lewis’ retirement announcement. In this game the Ravens simply executed better than the Patriots, making fewer mistakes and creating a couple of big plays when they mattered to swing the pendulum in their favor.

In conditions that were troubling to a timing offense used to delicate passing, the Ravens were perhaps better set up to run the football and pass sparingly than the Patriots, who could never really seem to get their offense in rhythm.

The Ravens became the first team to topple Tom Brady in Foxboro in any game where he held the lead at the half, emerging with a 28-13 win as the Patriots failed to score after the break.

Baltimore – Three Performances of Note

Birk Redemption

The last time these two sides met in the AFC Championship game Matt Birk was victimized by Vince Wilfork on the biggest stage for all to see. Earlier in the season when the two sides met he had a pretty strong game, keeping a clean sheet in pass protection and run blocking reasonably well, but that was before Wilfork had the bit between his teeth and was firing on all cylinders.

Wilfork certainly looked like he had come to play early in this game, making a couple of nice plays against Marshal Yanda (+1.0) in particular, but Birk (+3.3) held firm. He kept a clean sheet in pass protection once again. The Ravens center was impressive with his run blocking, in particular getting to the second level to cut off the ability of Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo to make plays on the ball. Birk’s performance was one of the reasons Flacco had all the time he wanted most of the time. He also enabled the Ravens to pick up hard yards inside when they needed to, grinding critical first downs on multiple occasions in the game.

Big Plays at Big Times

The interesting thing about this game is that it wasn’t taken over by any one player, but rather the Ravens just found people to stand up and be counted when it mattered most. Anquan Boldin (+2.3) made a couple of great catches for touchdowns on balls that were simply thrown up for grabs against a shorter defensive back, while on defense the Ravens were able to fashion some crucial stops.

Bernard Pollard (+1.3) made a couple of nice plays, including a batted pass, but his knockout blow (literally) to Stevan Ridley to force a fumble was one of the pivotal points in the game. The Ravens had just taken an 8 point lead but New England had the ball back with a chance to answer. The turnover resulting from that hit gave the Ravens a short field and they were able to capitalize four plays later to extend the lead to 15, putting the Patriots in a pretty deep hole a third of the way through the final period.

Lastly, Pernell McPhee (+1.7) stepped up with a pair of batted passes late in the game to kill any chance of a Patriot comeback, one of which resulted in the interception by Dannell Ellerbe.

Listing Linebackers

The big story surrounding the Ravens is obviously the retirement of Ray Lewis (-2.9) and the play of the team to try and get him another ring as a parting gift. If they are to get it done in the Super Bowl, however, they need their linebackers to step up and improve their play. Despite a couple of splash plays in the game, none of the four graded positively with Lewis, Ellerbe (-1.4), Terrell Suggs (-2.7) and Paul Kruger (-4.1) in particular having poor games. Kruger and Suggs combined for six pressures as the primary rush threat, but knocked Tom Brady down only once and didn’t sack him. Ellerbe and Lewis weren’t able to handle the Patriots’ linemen coming at them at the second level and were consistently shunted out of the way for the running backs coming through behind them.

Lewis may have topped double-digit tackles once again, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he had a great game, because only two of those tackles were defensive stops, the rest were made some way down field.

New England – Three Performances of Note

Two Rare Drops

If you listen to the commentary on TV you could be forgiven for thinking that Wes Welker has hands of glue that never drop passes. Every time he drops one they act so surprised and usually remark how this is a very rare occurrence. Unfortunately, it just isn’t so, and Welker finished his season with another pair of drops in this game for 19 on the season, a league-leading mark. Obviously Welker is a high-volume catcher who is targeted far more than most, so this doesn’t put him down with the paddle-handed brigade at the bottom end of the scale. However, those 19 drops are 12.4% of his catchable targets, a percentage that ranks 68th in the NFL this season.

Welker may have caught eight passes for 117 yards in this game, but he also had two ‘rare’ drops, both of which came on third downs for the Patriots, ending drives, and one of which was at a critical juncture in the game. With 10:15 left in the third quarter the Patriots held the lead and had the ball in Baltimore territory. Welker found himself matched up against Paul Kruger, running an out-pattern and it was akin to stealing candy from a baby.

Brady delivered the ball but it hit Welker in his hands and then dropped to the floor. New England elected to punt on fourth down and got nothing from a drive that should have led to points. Welker is a great player, at times impossible to cover, and usually does far more good than bad. Yet he does not have fantastic hands, and the last two Patriots postseason losses feature at least one of those ‘rare drops’.

Protecting Brady

One of the more underrated parts of the Brady and Patriot legacy has been how good the offensive line has always been, as it’s rarely an issue and usually protecting their man extremely well. Brady felt pressure on 17 snaps, but only 10 of those came from the O-line, and the pressure was almost always a long time in coming. On one occasion late in the game Haloti Ngata badly beat Logan Mankins (+3.8) to the inside to notch a hit but that was about as bad as it got. Sadly for Patriots fans though the excellent work from the line went unrewarded. The starting five combined for a PFF grade of +15.4 and only Dan Connolly let the side down with a -0.3 grade from some disastrous run blocking, but he had a perfect day in pass protection.

Losing Talib

There was much discussion when the Patriots acquired Aqib Talib (+1.6) earlier in the season whether he could fit in New England and make an impact. He was clearly their best cover corner when McCourty was moved to safety, and when he went down in this game the difference was marked. Ironically enough Talib injured his hamstring making a good play to bat away a ball intended for Boldin on a crossing pattern. From that point the Patriots were forced to go deeper into the bench, and Marquice Cole in particular became the victim, struggling to deal with the size and physicality of Boldin. Cole was thrown at five times, allowing all five balls to be caught for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Game Notes

Tom Brady, one of the league’s most clutch players at one point, had a passer rating of 13.5 when pressured in this game.

– When the Patriots blitzed Joe Flacco, his passer rating as 119.7 and he threw for a pair of touchdowns.

– The Ravens missed just five tackles on defense compared to the eight of the Patriots.

PFF Game Ball

For catching a pair of touch touchdowns to put the Ravens out in front, Anquan Boldin gets the PFF Game Ball.


| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Guest

    Flacco threw 3 tds and owned the game, yet he was barely mentioned in this article. What a joke.

    • JJ

      Those TD’s were WR plays, he just floats it in the air and Boldin goes up to get it.

      • VWilforkMountain

         Just like any other FUCKING QB in the league. They pass it, the WRs catch it. Holy shit, I feel like I’m talking to an idiot.

        • Klgiuseppe4

          you are

      • Guest

        troll status confirmed

    • Jimbo

      Please go back to Monday Morning QB if all you want is to see Flacco jerked off in print.

      I come here for actual insight, and that’s what PFF provides.

      • Guest

        Actual insight would be writing about the best performing player in the game. Not plain bias by excluding him.

        • Not Guest

          They said “he played well.” He did! What else would you have them do? Say it six times instead of once? He is a low percentage long-ball thrower. He can barely run a hurry up offense, he can’t pick apart a good defense, and he’s not good enough for defenses to respect him and let Ray Rice run wild. If they said any of that, though, you’d probably throw a fit for not giving him enough credit for Finally playing up to his ability as a mid-tier quarterback who relies almost exclusively on his WRs making plays.

          • Guest

            114.7 QB Rating 853 Yards 8 Touchdowns 0 Interceptions 9.17 avg yards/attempt

          • notGuest

            You already know those stats. What is the point of PFF rehashing them?

          • Martin

             Because ProFootball Focus (barely) mentioned that Flacco played well.

            He wants to read it over and over and over again. Them saying it once (pointing out how good Flacco was against the Blitz), as if the QB is just one player out of 53, is BIAS. Half this article needed to be about how amazing Joe Flacco is!

          • Vincent

             Are you dense? Nobody is saying he played poorly. He played up to the level of what 5th year 1st round picks should be. He plays with one of the best supporting casts in the league. Yet like a reader stated above he still struggles to do any of the things that make “elite” quarterbacks elite. He still scares nobody, he still can’t read defenses, and he still struggles past his 2nd read. Let all the other quarterback driven media handle the verbal blowjobs given to Flacco, allow us to enjoy reading about how the rest of the team did. Last time i checked Flacco didn’t cause Brady to throw picks or hold the best offense in the league(one of the best of all time) to 13 points.

          • Guest

            If he “scared nobody” he wouldn’t be in the Super Bowl.

          • Vincent

             Yeah, that’s a team effort. As long as he is not terrible, the team is going to win. He doesn’t have to be a superstar, he really doesn’t even have to be good. He just needs to be average. Nobody is hating. Just stating facts.

          • Martin


            Only super-elite QBs like Trent Dilfer (who you should know as a Ravens fan) and Rex Grossman make the Super Bowl.

          • Guest

             Joe Flacco SB MVP tied Joe Montana for most TD’s thrown in a postseason without an INT.

          • guest

             So Vincent Flacco doesn’t scare anyone? Hmmm then why did he throw for 3 td’s against the number 2 ranked defense and win SB MVP?

          • Marino

            pretty much with all day to throw, guys wide open and a good running game.  most qbs would kill for that situation.  my guess is he gets his ass handed to him this Sunday.  He is still a pick-and-stick qb who needs more time than most. 

          • SayItLikeYouMeanIt

            quit  whining and complaining … you sounds like Obama

        • Jimbo

          How in the world is it insightful to rehash what every other sporting news outlet has already said about Flacco?

          The article’s premise isn’t “the best performances in the game” or “the most obvious performances in the game”, it’s: interesting/notable performances. Flacco performed well, and that was obvious, and that says all that need to be said.

          Also, please explain how this is “bias”- this implies PFF consistently disfavor’s Flacco, but he was mentioned in the write-ups from the Ravens’ Division and Wild Card wins, so you must be complaining about bias relative to other sporting news outlets, which brings me to my original retort: go somewhere else if all you want is the obvious headline.

          • Guest

            It’s ok I know you are upset with how Flacco is proving every one of you d-bags wrong.

          • Michael Weis

            Guest, I’m a Ravens and Flacco fan and I have to agree with them. How is he proving them wrong when they haven’t said anything against him? PFF is about serious analysis that goes beyond the stats. I don’t know what they could possibly say that isn’t in your typical stats.

            Why don’t you offer some analysis on Flacco’s game that is as deep as the typical PFF analysis? 

          • Martin

             Are you Joe Flacco’s girlfriend or sister or something?

            The article said Flacco played well, particularly against the blitz. You’re complaining that they didn’t say it enough. What’s your issue?

  • Guest

    Did Flacco even play in the game? How about giving him a few sentences geez

    • Guest26435

      PFF shows a ridiculous amount of bias not including a Flacco write-up.

      • ank

         It’s not like he had some great performance. He was just pretty good, above average.

        • Martin

           He was up against one of the worst secondaries in the NFL and played well, especially after the Patriots’ lost their best cornerback and had ZERO pass rush due to the Ravens’ excellent O-line.

          It’s not like he took on an elite defense, jeez.

      • river

        Why do you need PFF to confirm that Flacco was playing? If PFF don’t mention it, then it didn’t happen? You watched the same game as PFF, the same game that every football fan saw. Just repeatedly watch every throw Flacco does, make notes and then write it up yourself.

        • Martin

           Because they need to hear it over and over again.

          They can cite Flacco’s stats from memory, yet the fact that PFF “only” mentioned Flacco playing well a couple of times (particularly against the Blitz) is an INSULT. It’s BIAS!!!!

          How dare PFF talk about the WRs and LBers as if they’re important! The QB is all that matters!

          (Hint – Tom Brady only got a couple of mentions too. This is a site that doesn’t spend thousands of words praising QBs)

  • Michael Weis

    As a Ravens fan, I’m surprised by all the negative comments towards PFF for not writing much about Flacco. What could PFF possibly say about his game that hasn’t been already said?

  • Lord Mad

    OMG wahhh they didn’t butter up my QB as much as I wanted..wahhhh.

  • Jmezy69

    Just get it though your head the media and the nfl does not like the ravens been like this for years. i dont know why when boldin killed the colts pff did not say anything about it. its always about how the other team lost it not how we won it. thats life as a ravens fan thats why i love em so much. ya’ll hate us and we dont give a damn. GO RAVENS!!!!! 

    • Martin

       Are you dense? Exactly half the article was about the Ravens, and exactly half was about the Patriots. That’s not a coincidence – that’s the format of all their game-reviews.

      It’s not “anti-Ravens” bias to spend half of a game recap not talking about the Ravens when the Ravens weren’t the only team to play in the game.

      Oh – and one of the Ravens’ sections in this article was “Big Plays at Big Times,” and they mentioned Anquan Boldin. That’s kind of weird since you seem to think they “hate” the Ravens.

      Now go back to watching ESPN replay Ray Lewis praising God a thousand times.

  • boomnutz

    Ravens are one of the worst SB teams ever.  Both Denver and NE are much better it’s a travesty that Joe Flacco is leading a team in the SB, seeing as how our “guest” likes to note stats what about is below 50 QBR during the regular season.  Maybe Ray was innocent and God is smiling on him because that’s the only excuse I can come up with for this pitiful team representing the AFC in the SB.  I feel bad too because I like John a lot more than his little bro, but once again he’s going to be relegated to his usual spot, the shadow of his little brother.  This is going to be a beat down

    • umadbro

      That’s why the Ravens beat both Denver and NE. smh You trolls are mad.

  • Fredrik Nyman

    Flacco and his offense scored the same number of points on the Pats as Schaub did. The story in this game is Baltimore D and NE Offense. That’s where stuff happened we didn’t expect even though Baltimore has a history of matching up well with NE. Thanks for the insight PFF.

  • mjp

    How in the world did you fail to mention the play of Steven Gregory?  He was atrocious all game, he had consecutive drive sustaining mistakes in the 3rd quarter that eventually culminated in a lead surrendering TD to the Falcons (which was his fault too I believe, hard to remember since he was responsible for so much of what the Ravens success).
    I can’t imagine a worse performance, had New England’s Offense been even remotely productive the team still would have lost and everyone would be looking at Gregory.

    • mjp

       Ha, I shouldn’t be multitasking, the Falcons?  How Steven Gregory of me.