|Amendola was the unlikely hero with two TD catches (NY Post)|
The New England Patriots won a nailbiter, narrowly edging out the Ravens 35-31 in today's divisional playoff game.
Their fifth playoff bout produced an instant classic, a grueling fight to the finish on a bitterly cold day in Foxborough. Twice the Patriots went down by 14 points, and twice they stormed right back. Baltimore burst from the gate, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives and jumping out to a 14-0 cushion. New England rallied to tie in the second quarter and was driving towards the end of the half, only to have their potential go-ahead possession busted by a Tom Brady pick. Joe Flacco made the Pats pay, slinging his third TD pass of the game to Owen Daniels shortly before the first half closed.
New England got the ball to start the second half, but once again Baltimore scored first, this time on a Flacco pass to Justin Forsett. That gave the Ravens their second 14-point advantage of the evening, but again they failed to hold it. Brady and the Pats came storming down the field, using a succession of quick passes that culminated with a end zone strike to Rob Gronkowski.
The highlight of the game came New England's next possession. It was a flawlessly executed flea-flicker where Brady passed to Julian Edelman on his left. Edelman, a quarterback for three years at Kent State, turned and fired a perfect pass down the sideline to Danny Amendola, who ran into the endzone for a most unlikely touchdown (and his second of the game).
The score remained locked at 28-28 into the fourth quarter, but not for long as the Ravens took their third lead of the game on a Justin Tucker field goal. The Patriots immediately answered with Brady's third passing TD of the game (and fourth overall). The pass to Brandon LaFell was Brady's 46th career postseason touchdown, passing Joe Montana for most ever.
More importantly, New England had its first lead of the game. The Patriots locked it down by intercepting Flacco in their own end zone with little more than two minutes remaining. It was the second time they picked off Flacco in the second half, whose streak of 198 consecutive passes without a pick in the postseason came to an end at the worst possible time.
Flacco had been impeccable up to that point, adding to his sterling postseason resume by tallying four touchdown passes and outplaying Brady for much of the game. But when his team needed him the most, with him engineering a season-saving drive on the road, he choked. His deep throw went off target, fell into the hands of Duron Harmon, and that mistake effectively doomed their chances.
The $120 million quarterback, whom the NBC announcers annointed Mr. January at some point during the game (looks like they spoke too soon!), got the ball back with four seconds left in regulation. He received the snap, eluded New England's pass rush, and hurled a heart-stopping hail mary into New England's endzone. Thankfully, the Patriots' defenders far outnumbered the Ravens' receivers, and Devin McCourty was able to bat Flacco's prayer out of the end zone to seal the victory.
It doesn't get much closer than that. Thankfully, the Patriots live to fight another day and will host the AFC title game next weekend, likely against Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos. After exacting revenge on the Ravens for the 2013 AFC championship game, it would be nice if New England could do the same against Denver for last year's title game. With the weather expected to be much less favorable than the balmy 60 degree day in Colorado last January, look for Brady to get the best of his archrival once again.