Tom Brady looked solid throughout much of the day, but ultimately the Ravens’ defense proved just too much for he and the Patriots to handle. Dannell Ellerbe’s interception ultimately clinched the game for Baltimore, too, as they continue on with Ray Lewis’ retirement tour.
Joe Flacco started slow, completing just one of six passes in the first quarter, but he was brilliant in the second half and finished with three touchdowns on the night. Aqib Talib, who shut down Torrey Smith for much of the first quarter, left the game in the first half and the Patriots’ defense was never the same again.
Once again, Flacco outplayed Brady, and the Ravens will be headed to their first Super Bowl since winning the game back in 2001.
Awaiting them will be the San Francisco 49ers, who ousted the Atlanta Falcons in dramatic fashion earlier in the day with a 28-24 win in the NFC Championship Game.
As for the Patriots, they’re headed into another deflating offseason with only dreams of what could have been. That closes the book on a very promising and successful — but ultimately disappointing — season for the Patriots. Next season might bring more glory, but this one just didn’t pan out as Bill Belichick envisioned.
Fourth Quarter, 2:00, Ravens 28-13: This game really took a turn in the second half.
Flacco led the Ravens to 21 unanswered points and the Patriots just weren’t able to get anything going against Ray Lewis and this Ravens defense.
What a comeback by the Ravens, too. They really are working their butts off to send Ray Lewis out into the sunset. Now, they’ll get their chance to see him off in style.
Fourth Quarter, 7:25, Ravens 28-13: That’s all she wrote.
The Patriots were in prime position to at least cut the lead down to a single score after a big Welker reception, but a batted ball and interception by Dannell Ellerbe all but sealed the game for the Ravens.
Brady’s been pretty good all day, but the Patriots needed better than “pretty good,” especially in the second half, to win this one.
Barring any drastic changes, the Ravens will be heading to New Orleans and the Patriots will be headed into yet another disappointing offseason.
Fourth Quarter, 8:27, Ravens 28-13: There’s more than eight minutes left, but barring some dramatic turn of events it looks like the Patriots will be done right here.
Brady dipped and dunked down the field, but a key drop from Shane Vereen and a few errant decisions by Brady ultimately saw that drive stalled. The Ravens get the ball back with a chance to finish the one off.
Fourth Quarter, 11:16, Ravens 28-13: Stevan Ridley won’t be coming back, but this time the fumble wasn’t really his fault.
The Ravens took advantage of an unfortunate fumble from an almost unconscious Ridley, and Flacco hit Boldin for another touchdown catch to put Baltimore up 28-13.
After dominating much of the first half, the Patriots have been outscored 21-0 in the second.
There are still 11 minutes left, but judging by the Patriots’ inability to stop Flacco in the second half, this one will need a quick strike from Brady or we could be waiting for the fat lady to sing.
Fourth Quarter, 14:56, Ravens 21-13: That Ravens drive looked almost Patriots-esque.
Baltimore worked its way down the field in 4:50 and ran 10 plays, mostly passes, to give them what feels like a commanding eight-point lead.
The middle of the field continues to be a big problem for the Patriots’ secondary, and Devin McCourty just got beat by the more physical Boldin on that touchdown snag.
Brady and the offense really need to find a rhythm and quickly, or maybe even get Ridley going again. Otherwise, this could be a blowout going in the wrong direction heading into the final minutes of the fourth.
End Third Quarter, Ravens 14-13: That quarter couldn’t have gone any worse for the Patriots.
The offense was quiet, and then the defense let Flacco and the Ravens drive downfield twice, scoring to take the lead once and now in prime position to build on that lead.
Brady hasn’t looked very sharp in the second half, and Baltimore is finally utilizing its tight ends and the middle of the field. The emergence of Bernard Pierce out of the backfield has also killed the Patriots, as he’s busted out nine carries for 47 yards on the ground and reestablished the running game.
Third Quarter, 6:14, Ravens 14-13: Jim Caldwell was the Ravens’ biggest problem in the first half, but he’s finally seemed to adjust to what can work against this defense.
After Talib went out in the first half, Caldwell started calling a lot of deep balls to exploit the absence, but the Patriots stood strong and Kyle Arrington played well in his place.
On that drive, though, Caldwell started attacking Marquice Cole and the middle of the field over the top of the linebackers. Well, it worked, as Flacco found Dennis Pitta on a few conversions and finally started eyeing Boldin more.
If the Patriots don’t figure out how to contain Pitta and these tight ends, then the Ravens will stick around all night.
Third Quarter,9:48, Patriots 13-7: With so much of the focus on Talib’s absence, Chandler Jones has been an absolute no-show on the day.
After fully participating in practice on Friday, the expectation was for the Jones to see at some sort of role in today’s game. Apparently he must not have been healthy enough to really contribute today.
Both Justin Francis and Trevor Scott have been filling in well in his place, but it is interesting to see Jones standing intently with his helmet on on the sidelines as if he’s expecting to go in at some point.
Third Quarter, 12:49, Patriots 13-7: The Patriots are clearly much better with Talib on the field, but Kyle Arrington has actually done a nice job in his absence.
Arrington allowed one big 25-yard catch to Smith on the Ravens’ scoring drive, but since then he’s done a nice job shutting down the big-play receiver and really locking in on the outside.
When Arrington moved inside to the slot midseason, the results were tremendous and it seemed like a permanent fit. Now, he’s at least showing that he can still cover on the outside, especially with the Patriots in a pinch without Talib.
I don’t see Talib coming back anytime today, either.
Halftime, Patriots 13-7: The offense was steady throughout the first half, mixing in a good variety of run and pass and jumping all over the Ravens heading into the half.
One key to the Patriots’ 13-7 lead heading into the half was the disparity in field position for both teams. The Ravens started all four of their drives inside their own 15-yard line, while the Patriot started two of their drives beyond their own 30 and one inside Baltimore territory.
Brady went 14-for-24 for 139 yards, connecting with Aaron Hernandez seven times for 67 yards, and really opening up the running game for Ridley. The running back pounded the Ravens for 46 yards on the ground and really took control on the Patriots’ only touchdown drive.
As for the defense, Aqib Talib’s early exit with a thigh injury was noticeable when Joe Flacco dinked and dunked the Ravens down the field over the patchwork secondary. Ray Rice did his part, too, running off for 31 yards and punching in a two-yard score to get the Ravens on the board.
If Talib can’t return, the Ravens might be in a very good spot offensively and we might see a lot more deep passes to Smith and Boldin. With Baltimore getting the ball to start the second half, that initial drive will be key for the Patriots in continuing their momentum and giving Brady a chance to tack onto that lead.
Second Quarter, 2:00, Patriots 10-7: With the passing game rolling on full tilt, the emergence of Ridley out of the backfield has been just as important to the Patriots’ offensive success so far.
Ridley has run 13 times for 46 yards on the afternoon and is continually eating up Ravens linebackers. His success on the ground has forced Baltimore to take some focus away from the pass and allowed Brady to reconnect with Welker over the middle.
With Ridley running in high gear, Brady should be able to work in another scoring drive heading into the locker room. The Ravens get the ball to start the second half, so it would be very important to have a two-score leading coming out of the half.
Second Quarter, 4:18, Patriots 10-7: We’ve got a Wes Welker sighting, and he’s looking good.
Welker, who was shut out entirely in the first quarter, caught three big passes on that scoring drive, including the two-yard touchdown to reclaim the lead for the Patriots.
Welker needs to establish some sort of presence over the middle for Brady to find more consistency in this passing game, but his emergence on that drive is certainly a good sign.
Meanwhile, Ridley is pounding away at this defense and just continues to find holes to run through. He’s going to continue to be a big piece in this offensive puzzle.
Second Quarter, 9:28, Ravens 7-3: Just like you did with your mom as a kid, with Talib away the Ravens could play.
Flacco rediscovered his deep ball with a nice pass to Torrey Smith, and Ray Rice tore up the Patriots on the ground and through the air, eventually punching the two-yard run in for the score.
If Talib can’t make it back on the field, the Patriots might be in big trouble. His ability to shut down Smith or Boldin was key to containing this passing game in the first quarter, but without him Flacco seems far more comfortable.
Bernard Pierce was also key on that drive, spelling Rice and gashing the Patriots’ defense a few times. Now, Vince Wilfork and Co. will need to lock down up the middle and contain this dangerous pair.
End First Quarter, Patriots 3-0: Flacco needs a big day to take down the Patriots, but so far he’s come up with nothing.
Flacco’s completed just one of six in the first quarter, and the Ravens’ offense isn’t functioning nearly as effectively as it did in Denver last weekend.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are rolling as usual, though. Brady’s connected with both Hernandez and Lloyd for all of his production (eight catches for 80 yards), and the running game has found some legs — at least temportarily — behind Ridley and Shane Vereen.
The big key in this one, so far at least, has been the field position for both teams. Neither offense has started drives with great field position, but the Ravens have started each of their four drives inside the 20-yard line now. You’re not going to win any big games without field position, too.
Now, the major question lingering is if Talib can return to this game. His thigh clearly bothered him as he went back to the locker room, but without him the Ravens might find a way to beat the Patriots deep.
First Quarter, 5:00, Patriots 3-0: So far, Joe Flacco’s big, strong arm has been held in tight contain by this secondary.
Aqib Talib has been a big part of this defense since coming over in a trade, and his big-play ability was on display again to start this game. He’s shut down both Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin as the Ravens’ passing game is almost non-existent.
There is a point of concern on Talib, though. He seemed to hop toward the sideline, grabbing his right hamstring, as he headed off the field. He met with members of the Patriots’ medical staff, but then went off to the locker room as the Pats’ offense took the field.
First Quarter, 6:21, Patriots 3-0: Tom Brady has looked awfully accurate to start this game, and his connection with Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez is playing a big part in that.
Lloyd, who had a great game against the Ravens in Week 3, is finding holes in their coverage again with three catches for 37 yards to start this game.
As for Hernandez, he’s being used as something of a Z-back and lining up all over the field. But his ability to catch and run with the ball has been huge for the Patriots in getting first downs and extending drives.
If Brady is to continue being effective, more guys like Welker will need to step up and assert some sort of presence on the outside. For the time being, Lloyd and Hernandez are doing a terrific job.
First Quarter, 11:50: Even without Gronk, the Patriots started out of the two-tight end set in this one.
Hoomanawanui and Hernandez were up on the line for most of it, and Stevan Ridley established the ground game with three carries for 13 yards.
That running game will be key for the Patriots in this game, as it will determine how much time Brady will have to throw out of the pocket. Brady’s time and protection, which seems quality on that first series, are crucial to maintaining this up-tempo attack.
6:22 p.m.: Tom Brady’s all sorts of fired up leading up to kickoff here, but Ray Lewis has his Ravens teammates just as jacked up.
The Patriots are fortunate to have home-field advantage in such a big game, especially considering the impact it had on last year’s outcome. But while the crowd gets settled into their seats and all riled up for what should be another epic showdown, we’ll get you ready with our weekly Three and Out.
Let’s take a peek at the three biggest keys for the Patriots in this AFC Championship rematch.
1. Replacing Gronk — Well, let’s cover the obvious with this one. Rob Gronkowski was placed on injured reserve on Thursday, officially ending his season. The Patriots finally have a healthy Aaron Hernandez, which will be huge, and guys like Michael Hoomanawanui at tight end and Shane Vereen out of the backfield will help to make up for Gronk’s impact and production here against the Ravens.
2. Special Concerns — Last week the Ravens were gashed by Trindon Holliday and the Broncos’ special teams. But the Patriots faced a similar fate as the Texans return unit sliced through Matt Slater and the special teams on a few different occasions. This time around, Jacoby Jones and the special teams unit could present a major issue for the Pats, which needs to be a top priority throughout.
3. Tom Terrific? — In last year’s version of this game, Tom Brady put up quite a stinker. Joe Flacco outplayed him in almost every aspect of that game, and a similar performance this year might not see the same result. Brady really needs one of those legendary playoff showings (like he did a few times during the early part of his career) to keep the Patriots’ offense rolling and Flacco off the field.
6:10 p.m.: After a phenomenal finish in Atlanta, it looks like Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers will be waiting for one of these two teams in New Orleans.
The 49ers made a terrific comeback from down 17 to pull out the win, and whichever team they meet will certainly make for an exciting Super Bowl.
As for the Falcons, you’ve got to give them credit for another gutsy performance. Ryan, even with a battered shoulder, led them down inside the 10 for the second straight week, but they came up short this time.
What a terrific game. These Falcons can no longer be seen as “chokers.”
5:43 p.m.: The 49ers have taken the lead, but Matt Ryan and company still have plenty of time to get back in the driver’s seat.
As a Boston College alum I’m a bit biased here, but I do feel like Ryan has done nearly everything to put the Falcons in position to win. This defense just can’t seem to stop anything in the second half.
The Niners have taken away a lot of the deep balls that Ryan killed them with early on, so he’ll need to rely on Gonzalez to take control of this one.
Keep up with all the action in our 49ers-Falcons Live Blog.
5:15 p.m.: Rob Gronkowski won’t be walking through that door, but we knew that coming into this championship showdown.
With so much focus on Jacoby Jones and one of the NFL’s best special teams units, the Patriots were expected to have some extra specialists out there today. Instead, it looks like they won’t have any extra help on that unit after all.
As for Gronk, it’s no great surprise that tight end Daniel Fells is active and should see a decent role in this game.
Now, let’s take a look at the other guys who won’t be playing for the Patriots and Ravens on Sunday.
CB Asa Jackson
OL Ramon Harewood
DL DeAngelo Tyson
DT Bryan Hall
S Omar Brown
LB Adrian Hamilton
WR Deonte Thompson
WR Kamar Aiken
DE Jake Bequette
DL Marcus Forston
CB Malcolm Williams
CB Derrick Martin
OL Nick McDonald
OL Marcus Zusevics
4:30 p.m.: The first game of today’s championship doubleheader is proving to be quite exciting. It’s really setting a precedent for this Ravens-Patriots showdown, too.
Julio Jones is the talk of the town down in Atlanta, already racking up more than 130 receiving yards, but Matt Ryan’s three touchdown passes are even more impressive.
After trailing 17-0 to start things off, Colin Kapenerick led the Niners back downfield for a pair of scores to cut the lead to just three. But then Matty Ice sparked a quick-strike drive within two minutes once again and put the Falcons up 24-14 just before the half.
Keep up with all the action and excitement with our 49ers-Falcons Live Blog.
3:23 p.m.: Here we go, New England. It’s championship weekend and the big game is finally upon us.
The Falcons are already on the board, leading the 49ers 7-0 early in the NFC showdown. Meanwhile, the Patriots and Ravens are getting set inside the lockers rooms here at Gillette.
NFL Writer Luke Hughes and NESN.com writer Doug Kyed will have all your news and analysis here from inside the press box from here on out.
Players haven’t made their way onto the field for pregame warmups just yet, but here’s a shot of the field in preparation of today’s events anyhow.
8 a.m. ET: The day of reckoning is upon us, at least for those of us who intently follow the NFL.
The NFL’s conference judgment day will begin with the San Francisco 49ers’ visit to Atlanta for the NFC crown, but all eyes will be peeled for the Ravens’ trip to Foxboro to mark a repeat of last season’s AFC title game.
Tom Brady has been preparing for his chance at a sixth Super Bowl appearance, and he won’t let another underwhelming performance, as he experienced last year, keep the Patriots from getting back to the big game.
Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and the defense are keeping a similar mindset, trying to play with a chip on their shoulder given the Ravens’ narrow 31-30 victory over the Pats earlier this season. The Patriots boast a very different defensive unit than Baltimore saw in Week 3. Aqib Talib has helped stabilize the Patriots’ secondary, while the play of Devin McCourty and rookie Alfonzo Dennard has also made a significant difference in the transition.
This game will be much different than the first one between these teams this season, as the Patriots have developed into a very different team and Joe Flacco has seemingly developed into a very different quarterback in these playoffs. There’s plenty to keep an eye out for, so make sure you keep it locked here with the NESN.com live blog for all your updates.
Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m., but make sure you stick with us all day to get all your news, notes and analysis from the 49ers-Falcons showdown as well ahead of the Patriots’ game.