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NFL Week 16 Preview : Patriots @ Ravens

Playoff implications are on the line in Week 16 in Baltimore. Who will come to play?

After a 4-6 start, the Baltimore Ravens have won their last four – making a strong late season push to return to the playoffs for the sixth straight campaign. The rematch of last year’s AFC Championship was originally scheduled for Sunday Night Football, but got flexed to 4:25 in favor of the Bears vs. Eagles. Including the playoffs, the Ravens are 3-3 against the Patriots over the past six years. This non-division rivalry reached new heights when Baltimore denied New England a chance to play in the Super Bowl last year, embarrassing the Patriots in Gillette Stadium 28-13 and then hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Sitting a game behind the 9-5 Bengals, the Ravens have clawed their way back to wildcard legitimacy despite their worst rushing production in recent years of 82.9 YPG. Ray Rice is averaging a subpar (to say the least) 3.1 YPC, but has always found success against the Patriots. New England is coming off the wrong end of their fifth straight game decided by one score or less with a 24-20 last second loss in Miami. This is easily the most adversity a Patriots team has faced in the Belichick era, off-season departures and season-ending injuries are truly beginning to dictate just how much gas is left in the tank as we approach January football.

Brady couldn’t be more accurate with his statement after the Dolphins game, “There is a small margin of error”. The team is young and with inexperience comes mistakes. Without the security blanket of Gronk in the lineup, Tom has relied on Julian “Minitron” Edelman as his go-to. Jules has 89 receptions for 914 yards and 6 TD but the efficiency lost in the Red Zone seems irreplaceable. Outside of that consistent production, no one player has been a staple every given sunday. For the second straight week, the Pats have an opportunity to lock up their fifth straight AFC East title. Because the Steelers beat the Bengals last week, the Patriots are still in line to receive the 2 seed if they win out. What will give tomorrow afternoon? Can New England take the next step in restoring the faith or does Baltimore stay hot and give the Pats a reality check? Weather is calling for a 60 degree day with thunderstorm possibilities, here’s to hoping we don’t see a repeat of the brutal Cincinnati conditions. Check out these three keys to victory for an important late-season matchup for Belichick and company:

1) Contain Torrey Smith: Despite a modest total of 59 receptions and 4 TD, the UMaryland burner has 1,032 yards on the season. Smith has recorded a grab of 40+ yards in 8 games this year with a long of 74. Week after week, the Patriots have been burned over the top from the likes of Mike Wallace, Josh Gordon, Andre Johnson and more. These impact plays occur far too often, illustrating a glaring weakness aside from the depleted defensive line.

New England is allowing 132.5 rushing YPG, putting them at the bottom of the pack at 31st in the NFL. Assuming Ray Rice returns to normality with the porous front seven, limiting the Flacco to Torrey connection is imperative. Furthermore, TE Dennis Pitta made his 2013 debut two weeks ago – filling the void that the Boldin departure created. Flacco has 18 TD and 17 INT on the season. He is on pace to record the largest amount of passing attempts and turnovers in his career. If Chandler and Nink are able to win their respective matchups, it will be a long day for the Ravens offense. McCourty and Gregory also need to have solid performances over the top at safety if New England wants any chance to escape with a victory.

2) Special Teams: For as clutch and consistent as Gostkowski has been this year, he killed the Patriots last week with his third missed field goal of the season and an untimely kickoff out-of-bounds. This ultimately allowed Miami to score that go-ahead touchdown and forced New England to score a TD in the last seconds compared to a manageable chip shot. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have one of the most dangerous returners in Jacoby Jones. He has one touchdown on the season but is always a threat to take it all the way. Baltimore placekicker Justin Tucker had a legendary performance last week with six field goals and a game winning 61 yarder. The third phase of the game will be an important factor in the outcome of tomorrow’s contest. Execution is key.

3) Linebacker Play: Dont’a Hightower and Dane Fletcher have been the recipients of additional playing time after Mayo’s season-ending pectoral injury. While Fletcher made some game-changing plays against Denver, Hightower struggled brutally in coverage against Miami last week. Yancy Thigpen caught a 14 yard TD pass with 1:15 left in which had Dont’a turned around and played the ball, he would have easily intercepted Tannehill’s game-winning pass. Hightower is solid in the run but has not been able to make enough plays when they matter. The Rice/Pierce backfield is an above average tandem and this game will be physical. The Ravens have weapons all over the field and the Patriots will need to cause a turnover if they want to get this done on the road.

These teams don’t like each other and playoff implications are on the line. What more could you ask for? I believe the Patriots can get it done with some timely luck that seems to alternate week in and week out. 21-18 New England.

NFL Week 15 Preview : Patriots @ Dolphins

Bill Belichick may have his toughest challenge to date after the loss of Gronkowski

It wasn’t pretty, in fact – it was a gruesome, improbable and miraculous 27-26 victory by Tom Brady and the Patriots last week against the Browns. Toss up, losing against Cleveland in Week 14 or losing Gronk for the postseason run? I think we all know the answer here. Just after New England escaped again in Houston, following a historic comeback versus Denver, the Pats absorbed their biggest blow of the season. It’s difficult to understand how New England is 10-3 after season-ending surgeries to two Pro Bowl defensive leaders in Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork. Losing the best TE in the game is just icing on the cake. If anything, 2013 has been an opportunity to reflect on how great of a mastermind Bill Belichick really is. He has been able to produce more with less for years and faces his steepest uphill climb to date. No one deserves the coach of the year more than BB.

While a death stare from the hooded menace may have taken the Browns safety’s soul, T.J. Ward took Gronk’s ACL/MCL in the 3rd quarter. Rewind to the first six weeks and the Patriots posted a scrappy 5-1 record without Rob, there’s hope.

New England controls their own #1 seed destiny after San Diego upset Peyton Manning and the Broncos last night 27-20. Furthermore, the Patriots have a chance to clinch their 11th AFC East title in 12 years by defeating the (7-6) playoff hungry Dolphins in Miami on Sunday. Incognito v Martin is still brewing but this mini-run is somewhat of a smoke-in-mirrors to their embarrassing MNF loss to a winless Tampa Bay squad at the height of the scandal. 2013 has been a roller-coaster ride full of luck, controversy and struggle for some but Belichick and Brady are exactly where every team in the NFL wants to be – a game away from clinching. The Patriots have the opportunity to make the Superbowl go through Gillette Stadium by winning out and it starts at Sun Life Stadium at 1:00 PM on CBS. Check out these three keys to victory for the New England:

1) Protect the ball: Over their last six games, the Patriots have had seven turnovers in the first half of these contests. That’s one easy way to fall behind early and often. This trend has been the achilles’ heal to an uncharacteristic season. Belichick is known for his second-half adjustments but these halftime deficits are scary and need to vanish, ASAP. Despite ranking 31st in the NFL by allowing opponents a healthy 135.8 rushing YPG, the young New England defensive unit has kept the Patriots in games by forcing 24 takeaways – good for 2nd in the AFC. When the Gronk returned in Week 7 and beyond, Brady smothered him with targets to a point where fans realized there was such a thing as forcing it too much to the beast. Tom was trigger happy and let more than a few get away from him in the first half of the season. Chemistry later developed and the offense was clicking on all cylinders, but now it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

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NFL Week 12 Preview: SNF – Broncos @ Patriots

Manning travels into Foxboro for Round XIV against Brady on Sunday Night Football



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There’s a first time for everything. 2013 has been a roller-coaster ride for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The 24-20 Monday Night loss against the Panthers marks their second controversial defeat of the year. Just as the pieces finally came together before the bye week, the Pats faced the 2nd overall defense in the NFL and it certainly showed. Although TB12 started out hot, he finished the game 29/40 for 296 yards with 1 TD and the game ending interception as time expired. The Patriots were held to 107 rushing yards, as both Ridley and Blount failed to surpass 50 yards respectively. Ridley did however score a touchdown, marking his 5th straight game to do so. A ton of penalties crippled both teams but the athletic Cam Newton made just enough plays to earn the victory his career and city so desperately needed. AFC seeding aside, the win meant more for Carolina than the New England loss. They did not play well enough to deserve a win. What’s next? Round XIV of the Brady (36) vs. Manning (37) saga on Sunday Night Football. There is no way the under is clearing in this high octane AFC matchup. Brady is 9-4 in his career against Eli’s better half, who has thrown 34 TDs to Tom’s 14 – yikes. So while the Patriots come off a short week and a tough loss, the Broncos beat the streaking (9-0) Chiefs to restore order in the AFC West. Check out these three keys to victory for the Patriots come Sunday night:

1) Devin McCourty & DB Play: With CB Alfonso Dennard (knee) most likely out on Sunday, Duron Harmon will be thrusted into more snaps at safety. McCourty should be an integral part to the pass defense and will be lined up against WR Eric Decker and TE Julius Thomas. Aside from his play on the field, Devin needs to corral his defensive backs mentally in the locker room. Aqib Talib was a hot head on the big stage, losing his composure against rival WR Steve Smith early and often – putting him on the sideline for multiple key plays. CB Kyle Arrington will be lined up against Welker in the slot, who has been practicing since sustaining a concussion last week. Rookie Logan Ryan has proved to be a solid tackler but has not turned heads or his with ball skills. It will be a challenge to halt this offense but it ends with Devin McCourty. Assuming Gregory will be limited on Sunday Night, a big performance from our center-fielder could propel the Patriots to a victory.

2) Protection: From Brady’s pocket to ball security, the Carolina defense got to New England when it mattered in Week 11. A sack took the Patriots out of field goal range on their opening drive, forcing a punt. Ridley’s fumble in the Red Zone was also an early squander. New England escaped an odd first half down 10-3 and stepped it up in the second half as Tom only get sacked once more. There isn’t that much room to make mistakes against elite teams and there is no doubt that Peyton Manning makes you pays for costly errors. The Patriots will need to execute a clean and efficient gameplan to have any chance of beating the 39.8 PPG Denver Broncos. This starts with giving Brady enough time to dish it out and providing running room for Ridley, Blount and Vereen.

3) Attack: 20 points won’t beat the Broncos. Aforementioned above, they are averaging almost double that in PPG and have scored 51 touchdowns as a team – the Patriots have scored 26. Although New England slowed the pace down against Carolina to combat their league leading time of possession, I predict a high-tempo no huddle offense to start the game. The Patriots did not have a lot of chances to score given their methodical approach. Denver has been solid against the pass; however, the two top receiving yards totals against the Broncos this year were by tight ends Antonio Gates (62) and Jordan Reed (90). Gronk needs to get in the end zone, it’s a fact. If not, we need multiple touchdowns from our running backs.

Last week’s game was a challenging test for the Patriots. Manning’s ankles will be sore the rest of the year and Chandler Jones needs to exploit that on Sunday to force Peyton into some early decisions. Belichick has historically owned Manning but have the times changed? Don’t think so. In what could possibly be a more exciting game than MNF, the Patriots take it 31-30. Don’t chew off all your nails!

NFL 2013: BST&N’s Patriots Midseason Report Card

The Gronk could only be held out of the endzone for so long. TB12 is back on track.



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It’s been one crazy roller-coaster ride for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in 2013. Entering the season with a key playmaker departure in Welker and Hernandez gate in full swing, the odds were not in favor of the 3-time Superbowl Champions. Furthermore, after season-ending injuries to defensive captains Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, the Red Sox playoff chase took a front-seat to what seemed like a rocky road ahead for New England. Sprinkle in Gronk’s lengthy return, Vereen’s IR stint and Amendola’s notoriously fragile nature, the Patriots seemed doomed after multiple sputtering offensive performances. Early season woes aside, Brady and company sit atop the AFC East at (7-2), while the Jets (5-4) and Dolphins (4-5) trail a few games back. There is a new powerhouse in the (9-0) Kansas City Chiefs, just one game ahead of Peyton Manning and the (8-1) Denver Broncos in the AFC West. Division leaders (6-3) Colts and (6-4) Bengals peaked early but looked subpar in Week 10 losses.

Belichick is a November and December mastermind which bodes well for the Patriots who are lucky to even be in this position in 2013. After resting up this week on the bye, New England travels into Carolina for a MNF matchup against a (6-3) Panther team that has won 5 straight – most recently San Francisco on the road. As we enter the second half of the 2013 season, check out this report card grading the Patriot’s performance thus far.

Passing Offense: C+ : Despite dropping 432 yards and 4 touchdowns on a Dick LeBeau Steeler’s defense in Week 9, Tom Brady is averaging exactly 200 yards less in 2013 (232 YPG). There is no doubt the aforementioned injuries above took a toll on TB12′s production in the first half of the year. Historically completing 63.4% of his passes, Brady sits at 57.1%, 13 TDs and 6 INT through 9 games. He passed for less than 250 yards in 5/9 games, something he only did 4 times last year. Tom had a rough October, throwing 2 TD and 4 INT but quickly dismissed skeptics with the dominating performance against Pittsburgh. On passes 11-20 yards through the air, Brady is only completing 45.7%; however he has logged 7 TD and 2 INT. His swollen hand is an afterthought and “the decline” of Brady does not seem imminent. With Gronkowski (19 rec, 284 yds, 1TD) came a renewed chemistry and a versatile offensive attack. TB12 is better than 13 TDs through 9 games, Peyton Manning has 33. The only reason they are not lower on this two weeks ago was a preview of the success that can still be attained.

Rushing Offense: B+ : What started as running back by committee has quickly become Stevan Ridley’s (118 car, 514 yds, 6 td) backfield to lose once again. The Patriots average 129.1 rushing YPG, good for 8th in the NFL. This provides an imperative balance Brady continues to lean upon during his supbar start to 2013. The Patriots came into the season with a healthy lot of 5 halfbacks, adding LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington to go alongside Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden. Blount is the only player to remain unscathed by the injury bug, logging carries and kick returns, yes kick returns, in every game (70 car, 312 yds, 2 td). Vereen looked sharp, gaining 159 total yards in Week 1 before it was discovered his wrist needed to be surgically repaired – forcing him to IR until Week 11. With Shane out, Bolden stepped up as the passing down back with 107 yards receiving and 205 yards rushing/2 touchdowns. Depth at RB is integral and New England only looks up as do-it-all Vereen is slated to make his much needed return on Monday Night Football.

Offensive Line: C+ : The Patriots allowed 27 sacks all of last year, care to guess how many they have surrendered just over the half way point in 2013? The answer is 26, yikes. Although the Pro Bowl caliber core hogs have not changed much since last year, RT Sebastian Vollmer broke his right leg in Week 8 against the Dolphins and has been spelled by Marcus Cannon. There are many variables that have caused a spike in the number of opponents getting to Brady. First and foremost, Tom is not as mobile and athletic as he used to be. There are countless times this season where TB opts for the “safe play” by taking the sack by being passive in the pocket. He was never nimble by any means but at times turns heads with a juke here or there. Without the Gronk security blanket, Brady does not have enough chemistry to trust his receivers with risky back-shoulder attempts. In turn, plays are taking longer to execute. Furthermore, the lack of experience from the receiving corps creates situations where hot-reads become ever important. So while some of the blame is shifted off the o-line due to the rushing success, they need to give Tom more time in the pocket.

Wide Receivers: B : Amendola is what we thought he was. A talented, young and feisty competitor with a nose for big plays. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to shake the injury woes trailing him from St. Louis and has missed 4/9 games to start the year. There will never be another Welker; however, Edelman has filled the slot nicely, hauling in 49 of 74 targets for 473 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jules started the year hot with 34 receptions in the first 4 games but just 15 in the next 5. He has cooled down recently in favor of rookie Aaron Dobson (31 rec, 454 yds, 4 TD), who mysteriously overtook fellow rookie Kenbrell Thompkin’s (23 rec, 334 yds, 2 TD). While Kenbrell never looked sure handed, he did make that game-winning catch against New Orleans. Gronk looks to be back at it and remains on another level. In 3 games he’s been targeted an aggressive 33 times, catching 19 of those passes at an average of 14.9 yards for 284 yards total. If he’s out there at full strength, the Patriots are dangerous contenders. “B” rating for putting up solid numbers despite a ton of drops and inexperience.

Defense Line: A- : Keeping up with the Jones’. Quickly becoming one of the most athletic and distinguished families in all of sports, Chandler Jones is making a strong case for a Honolulu dance. The DE leads the Pats with 8.5 sacks on the year, following the footsteps of Baltimore Ravens DT Art Jones and the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones Jones. He has displayed flashes of finesse and bull rushes of strength, attracting double teams as of late. Week in and week out, Chandler continues to disrupt the QB and has been the anchor on the defensive line with Wilfork out. Ninkovich remains solid with 3 sacks on the year. As a unit, New England has limited opponents to 232.8 passing YPG – good for 12th in the NFL. On the ground, teams are pounding the rock at an average of 128.2 YPG which is 30th in the NFL, that is where Wilfork is felt most. Now after losing Tommy Kelly, rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano had some serious pressure on them. How have they responded? Keep reading to find out.

Defensive Rookies: A- : The Patriots have a host of rookies receiving ample opportunity in 2013. The aforementioned DT Chris Jones has 5 sacks & 1 huge “penalty” against the Jets. Aside from that “mistake”, he has been brilliant in attempting to fill some pretty heavy shoes. Fellow DT Joe Vellano has also proven to be a solid run-stuffer half way through the year. Next up is LB Jamie Collins. Quiet to date, Collins and veteran Dane Fletcher have been splitting the reserve duties with Mayo out. It seems as though Jamie has a little ways to go in Belichick’s book. Notorious for his premature crotch grab pick six TD celebration against the Jets, CB Logan Ryan still has a lot to work on. Just last week a touchdown flew right by his head as he played the receiver, not the ball. We get it, who doesn’t love big plays? Logan has been successful rushing the QB off the edge with 1.5 sacks but will need to improve on his ball skills to become a well-rounded cornerback. S Duron Harmon only recorded 8 tackles but has a nack for the ball with 3 PD and 2 INT. These plays need to continue in the coming months. DT Michael Buchanan has not seen much time but when he has it’s been effective, getting the QB twice in 2013. That’s six rookies on defense, it’s been a while

Defensive Backs: B+ : You can’t start anywhere else except with the exceptional play from CB Aqib Talib. In the 6 games he’s started, Talib has 9 PD, 4 INT and 1 FF. He prevented the NFC’s Gronk (Jimmy Graham) from recording a single catch in Week 6 but has not seen the field since with that lingering hip injury. Spotted at practice the past couple weeks, Aqib is questionable but is expected to return against the Panthers. S Devin McCourty has carved out a nice space in the Patriots defense as a defensive captain and center fielder, making multiple TD saving deflections, breakups and 1 INT. His leadership play alongside veteran Steve Gregory makes for a solid and consistent group; quite the opposite from old friends Brandon Merriweather and Patrick Chung. Gregory was wearing the communication device in his helmet the past two games but just recently broke his thumb and is expected to miss at least a couple weeks. Kyle Arrington, Alfonso Dennard and Marquice Cole continue to be serviceable NFL cornerbacks, not making outstanding reads/jumps but not giving up homerun balls either. New England can improve on their man-to-man coverage but made enough impact plays to survive.

Special Teams: A- : Another rookie, P Ryan Allen beat out Zoltan Mesko in training camp for the gig. Mesko didn’t even make the trip to Foxboro in Week 9 – getting cut midweek. Allen is averaging 46.9 yards per boot with a 39.9 net. Although a long of 65 yards is impressive, it was a touchback and that area of his kicking needs to take a turn for the better. K Stephen Gostkowski has returned to his accurate ways, converting on 22/23 tries with a long of 54. Furthermore, he’s had his fare share of clutch kicks during a couple nail-biters. What pushes this rating into the “A” bracket is the effectiveness of PR Julian Edelman. He is average 11.5 yards per return and has made the field short for Tom Brady and company in key situations. Belichick preaches executing in “all three phases of the game” and the Patriots would not have a 7-2 record if they weren’t solid all around. If Talib can make a healthy run in November/December, watch out NFL.

Regular Season Prediction: 13-3, 2 seed behind Denver (13-3 with tiebreaker)

Playoff Prediction: Lose 34-31 in AFC Championship @ Denver

Will They, Won’t They? The Patriots And Their 18 Free Agents

It’s time to clean out the house, time to shuffle the faces and time for the 2012 New England Patriots to start looking toward 2013 after they failed to show up in the second half of their embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Ravens in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.

As is the case every year, the team has a host of free agents that they need to make decisions on. Eighteen of their 20 free agents heading into the offseason are unrestricted and if the team doesn’t do anything to lock them up, they could be gone like that.

If the front office is having any trouble, they can just ask me. I’d be glad to help. Here’s my first offseason addition of will they or won’t they. (Hint: Both Wes Welker and Aqib Talib need to be back).

A veteran in the secondary would be good to have, but I don't see Will Allen making a comeback in 2013.

A veteran in the secondary would be good to have, but I don’t see Will Allen making a comeback for the Pats in 2013.

Will Allen: The former first-round pick has had a decent career and certainly could have been able to help in the Patriots secondary this season, but he has played in just 21 games since 2009, missing entire campaigns in both 2010 and 2012. Of course, as he was drafted almost 12 years ago now, age is going to be a question. Would he be able to keep up with the fast and physical tight ends around the league like, oh, I don’t know, Dennis Pitta for instance as a 34-year-old coming off of whatever injury he had. I’m just not sure it would work out like that. I’d cut Allen loose.

Kyle Arrington: Assuming the team does bring Talib back for his first full season, Arrington’s role would be that of a third corner in nickel situations or when injuries occur, like in Sunday’s game when Talib went down. In that game, particularly in the second half, Joe Flacco was pretty much throwing the ball at will with Arrington and Marquice Cole in the secondary. In 2011, Arrington led the league with seven interceptions. In 2012, however, he had zero. If he is okay with his role as a third corner, then I wouldn’t hate to see him brought back in 2013, but for less than the $1.85M he made this year.

Josh Barrett: In the five years since getting drafted out of Arizona St., Barrett has barely touched the turf during the regular season. Though he has shown signs of strong play and intelligence, his consistent ability to get injured has done neither him nor the team any good. Though he should be ready for the 2013 season after a calf injury has held him out for more than a year, he just might be playing it with another team. I’d let this one go too.

Deion Branch: Branch only returned to the team in 2012 following the injury to Aaron Hernandez in Week 1 of the season. He was cut by the team in the preseason. At 33 years old, he isn’t getting any younger. While Tom Brady still trusts him as much as anyone else, Branch had just 29 targets on the season, an indication that even if the team may want him back, he might not be willing. I predict that one way or another, Branch will not be a Patriot for the 2013 regular season. That is, until someone gets hurt.

Patrick Chung: Chung’s play and presence on the field has declined in each of the last two seasons, culminating with him losing his starting safety job to Steve Gregory in 2012 and seeing most of his playing time come on special teams. With both Gregory and Devin McCourty expected back next season, Chung may be the odd man out at safety. He could always be used as a backup and a spot defender, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that he could be a starting safety on a lot of other teams in the league. I wouldn’t be shocked if Chung has played his last game as a Patriot.

Marquice Cole: Aside from being a pretty decent gunner, Cole doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of secondary play. Only used as a defensive back when there were six or seven of them on the field or, like Arrington, when there were injuries, Cole is the kind of player who makes his money on special teams. His speed, particularly utilized at the gunner position, can also be helpful on the coverage teams. If he wants to come back, I’d have no problem seeing No. 23 in blue again next season.

Julian Edelman has been solid, but unfortunately may have played his last game in a Patriots uniform.

Julian Edelman has been solid, but unfortunately may have played his last game in a Patriots uniform.

Julian Edelman: When Edelman went down with a broken leg on Dec. 2 against the Dolphins, there was talk about that potentially being his last game as a member of the Patriots. Assuming the team does decide to re-sign Welker, Edelman may not be needed or wanted. His real value to the team is in the punt return game and not as a play-making wide receiver. If Welker is lost, which I don’t see happening, then Edelman would appear more likely to return to the team in 2013. I guess it kind of depends on what happens with Wes, but it is very possible that Edelman does not return to the team next season.

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Ravens Shock Patriots, Return To Super Bowl

Tom Brady sits on the ground following the interception that sealed the game for the Ravens.

Tom Brady sits on the ground following the interception that sealed the AFC Championship game win for the Ravens.

Remember when Tom Brady in the postseason was as sure as death or taxes? His 9-0 start to his postseason career had people all over New England thinking that this late-round diamond in the rough could never do any wrong. Three championships in his first four seasons.

None in his last eight.

Maybe it was payback. Maybe it was destiny. Whatever it was, Joe Flacco outplayed Brady, the Ravens defense outplayed that of the Patriots and as banged up as Baltimore  had been this year, it was the home team and favorite that felt the blows when it mattered most. Oh, and Ray Lewis, with the help if his good friend, God, has lived to play another day – and for the Super Bowl.

From the moment the coin hit the ground in favor of the Ravens and they deferred to the second half – stealing the Patriots’ bread and butter on their home field – it just seemed like it wasn’t meant to be. They committed fewer penalties, made less mistakes and completed a higher percentage of their passes. Most importantly, their zero turnovers, compared to three from the Patriots, were nothing less than huge. They were the team that executed better on Sunday.

Like it did towards the end if the regular season, the Patriots offense struggled to capitalize when their defense set them up with good field position and scored just 13 points – their lowest total of 2012. As the league’s No. 1 offense, the fewest points they had scored this year before yesterday were 18 in the Week 2 loss to the Cardinals.

The windy conditions at Gillette Stadium forced both teams to play conservatively and cost the Pats a couple chances at field goals they would normally attempt.

Their opening drive looked promising, but Wes Welker couldn’t haul in a deep pass from Brady when he had his defender beat by a couple if steps. They then almost caught the Baltimore special teams off guard, however, as Ryan Mallett snuck into the punt formation and forced the Ravens to burn a timeout.

A quick three-and-out by Baltimore gave New England the ball back, but only after a holding penalty called on Aqib Talib backed them up to their own 21. They had to settle for a 31-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski and took a 3-0 lead on their 32nd straight red zone possession that resulted in points.

The next Baltimore drive ended quickly as well, but came at a cost as Talib hurt his thigh while breaking up a pass on third and long. Some production from last week’s star Shane Vereen on the ensuing drive and a 15-yard personal foul penalty called on Lewis were for not as Brandon Lloyd ended up dropping a tough catch on third down.

Flacco then missed an open Dennis Pitta down the field and New England couldn’t convert following a 28-yard punt return from Welker as Paul Kruger influenced the Brady pass. The Pats D allowed just one completion in the first quarter and the Ravens went 0-for-3 on third down. New England led the Ravens 3-0 after one quarter of the AFC Championship game for the second consecutive year.

As the second quarter began, Flacco would lead a 90-yard drive in his first Title Game win to put the Ravens on the board with a two-yard run by Ray Rice. Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower both missed tackles on the back as he then walked into the endzone on second down. Pitta had an 18-yard reception on third and four and Flacco took advantage of Talib’s absence, hitting Torrey Smith on a 25-yard pass to the New England 15.

Brady would answer right away, however, aided by another personal foul penalty, this time on Dannell Ellerbe. A 24-yard pass to Welker set the Pats up in good position and Brady found him again from a yard out to make it 10-7 Patriots with 4:18 left in the opening half.

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