Patriots used tricks to beat Ravens, but don’t be fooled — Tom Brady is why they win
FOXBORO, Mass. — Tom Brady’s right eye was a mess, bloodied by a finger poke through his facemask.
This is the type of carnage that can happen when facing the nasty Baltimore Ravens defense. But never mind that Brady’s matinee-idol looks are at least temporarily marred.
"It will be fine," Brady said Saturday night when brushing off a media question asking for details about what had happened.
Eye for an eye. It’s easier to feel better when you’re able to extract that type of revenge on the field. That’s what Brady did in a wild 35-31 divisional-round playoff win over Baltimore at chilly Foxboro.
New England’s star quarterback peppered Baltimore’s vaunted defense with short-yardage jabs. He landed a haymaker when tossing the 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell that put the Patriots ahead for the first time in the game with 5:13 remaining.
Ultimately, the Ravens couldn’t answer. Patriots safety Duron Harmon’s end-zone interception of a sloppy Joe Flacco pass with 1:46 left and New England’s subsequent deflection of a game-ending Hail Mary pass as time expired ended the fight.
All this because Brady and his teammates refused to get knocked out. The Patriots (13-4) didn’t just set a record for the largest playoff comeback in franchise history. New England rallied from two separate 14-point deficits in the first and second half to advance into its fourth consecutive AFC Championship game next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
"We played from behind, which is not the way we want to play," Brady said in his postgame news conference. "It took a lot of good execution to overcome it."
Flacco entered as the hotter quarterback, but it was Brady and the Patriots who kept their cool as Baltimore fell apart when squandering a 28-14 lead. Flacco’s five-game postseason streak of consecutive passes without an interception ended with two second-half turnovers.
Even so, Flacco and Baltimore’s offense did more than its part to win. Flacco threw for four touchdowns while running back Justin Forsett rushed for 129 yards on 24 carries.
The Ravens just couldn’t match what New England’s offense was able to produce.
Actually, make that the passing offense. The Patriots could only muster 14 rushing yards. Brady himself notched New England’s second-longest gain on a four-yard touchdown scramble late in the first quarter.
It was Brady and some creative play-calling by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels that carried the load.
New England systematically attacked Baltimore’s defense with quick passes that neutralized Baltimore’s vaunted pass rush. Tight end Rob Groinkowski (seven catches for 108 yards) and wide receivers Julian Edelman (eight for 74) and Danny Amendola (five for 81, two touchdowns) – were Brady’s top targets in his 367-yard effort.
This approach led to the opportunity that put the Patriots ahead for good.
New England’s dinking and dunking on a methodical fourth-quarter drive prompted Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin to stop giving a cushion and play press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Big mistake. Brady recognized the shift and dropped the ball just over Melvin and into LaFell’s arms down the sideline for the 23-yard score.
Not only did the touchdown come at a critical point in the game. It also marked Brady’s 46th career postseason touchdown pass, which broke the NFL record held by his idol Joe Montana.
"[Melvin] looked like his right arm kind of arm-barred," Brady said. "[LaFell] caught it with his left and was able to get his right hand on it.
"It was a great play. We needed it."
The same goes for a bit of trickery. There were a handful of snaps in which the Patriots only used four offensive linemen and declared a skill-position player like LaFell or running back Shane Vereen ineligible.
This confused Baltimore’s defense and led to complaints by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh that his unit wasn’t being given sufficient time to substitute.
"The league will look at that type of thing and I’m sure they’ll make some adjustments," said an irritated Harbaugh, who drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty when charging onto the field to get the officiating crew’s attention.
The Ravens (11-7) have nobody but themselves to blame for getting suckered by a third-quarter play that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said he last used in 2001 against Indianapolis with wide receivers David Patten and Troy Brown. Edelman — a college quarterback at Kent State — caught a lateral from Brady and lofted a 51-yard touchdown pass to Amendola that tied the score at 28-28.
"We actually got the perfect (defensive) look," said Brady, referring to a blitz by Baltimore’s nickel cornerback. "They bit up obviously to try and tackle Jules and Danny slipped behind them.
"Jules threw a dime. He throws it better than I did."
The way Brady threw Saturday night as well as New England’s grit is reflective of how the 2014 Patriots have responded to adversity. The Patriots opened the season 2-2, generating talk that the Brady and Belichick dynasty might finally be coming to an end.
New England won 10 of its next 11 games and the 37-year-old Brady proved he isn’t close to done with another outstanding season. He is now set to start in his ninth conference championship game, which is an NFL record, against the winner of Sunday’s Indianapolis-Denver matchup.
"Tom’s a great, clutch player," Belichick said. "He’s done it with a lot of different receivers, a lot of different situations against a lot of different defenses. That speaks to his greatness and ability to perform consistently under pressure. There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady."
Busted eye and all.