The rivalry between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots isn’t about blowouts. It’s about close, mean, venom-filled games. Tom Brady marching the visiting Pats to a 41-7 in M&T Bank Stadium wasn’t something anyone had in mind, except for Bill Belichick.
Injuries? Rob Gronkowski out for the season again? There’s always an answer, always a plan, even if it’s against the Ravens, a team the Patriots lost twice to last season – once in the regular season and again in the AFC Championship game.
Brady didn’t do anything too special – he just avoided the pressure he had a hard time with during the visit to Miami, and threw one touchdown pass. The rest of the work was done by the running game come alive all of a sudden, and the defense that made life quite miserable for Joe Flacco.
LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley led the Patriots in rushing, going for 142 yards on 34 carries. Blount carried the ball into the endzone twice. Two more touchdowns were scored by the defense – one by Tavon Wilson, scoring the final touchdown of the game of a Joe Flacco interception, and one by Chandler Jones, picking up the ball fumbled by backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the end zone, as the Patriots scored the last 21 points of the game in just two minutes during the final quarter.
The Ravens are used to these kind of wild finishes, but were on the winning end of those until now. Joe Flacco was sacked four times, throwing two interceptions. He had a lot of trouble with the standard pass rush, 18-of-32 for 210 yards with two interceptions and two sacks when the Patriots sent four or fewer pass rushers. He joined Geno Smith as the only two quarterbacks to throw multiple interceptions without a touchdown against New England’s standard pressure. He was terrible trying to make the deep ball work (2-9, 30 yards, interception), which is no surprise, as Flacco is the third worst QB in the NFL when it comes to throws for 15 yards or longer.
The Patriots clinch the playoff spot and their division, if anyone was wondering. Yes, it was possible for them to fall apart in the final two weeks, but that was only theoretical, and no one actually believed in such a thing happening. They still have a shot at clinching home field advantage for the rest of the playoffs if they win their next game and the Broncos lose, but right now, all roads point towards a Brady – Manning showdown in Denver.
This will be the 11th time Tom Brady plays in the postseason, tied for third in NFL history along with Joe Montana, trailing Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. The Patriots are also the first team since the merger to win 10 division titles in an 11-season span, separating from the Vikings in the 1970’s and the 49ers from the late 80’s and earl to mid 90’s. Once again, with Brady being the polarizing figure he tends to be, no one will remember all that regular season success if it ends without a Super Bowl ring.