Friday, January 9, 2015

Baltimore vs. Boston in the Postseason

The Ravens upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh to set up a divisional round matchup with the AFC's top team, the Patriots. These two have developed a playoff rivalry of late, as this is the fourth time in six years that Baltimore will visit Foxborough. Let's take a look at the first three games.

2009 Wild Card

The Ravens grabbed the AFC's last playoff spot at 9-7 and were underdogs against the third-seeded 10-6 Pats. The Gillette Stadium fans had barely settled into their seats when Ray Rice broke an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.

On New England's first possession, Tom Brady was stripped by Terrell Suggs and lost a fumble. Given a short field, Baltimore quickly took a 14-0 lead on Le'Ron McClain's 1-yard TD plunge.

Rice scored again later in the period and after an Ed Reed interception of Brady set up a field goal, it was 24-0 Ravens in the first quarter.

This was one of only two games in NFL playoff history in which the road team led by 24 or more points after 15 minutes. The other was the Chargers-Dolphins overtime classic on January 2, 1982.

Unlike that game, there would be no huge comeback by the home team this time. Brady threw for two touchdowns and pulled the Pats to within 13 in the third quarter, but Willis McGahee's 3-yard score in the fourth put the game out of reach. The Ravens won 33-14 as Brady hit postseason career lows in QB rating (49.1) and yards per atttempt (154/42, 3.67).

Flacco attempted only ten passes, completing four. His 34 passing yards tied Bob Griese's playoff record for the fewest by a winning QB. The Ravens were thumped by the Colts in Indianapolis in the next round.

2011 AFC Championship

New England and Baltimore were the top two seeds in the AFC in 2011. After winning their post-bye divisional round games, they squared off with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

The game started slowly, with only a 3-3 score in the second quarter. The Pats finally broke through with a touchdown drive on their first drive of the period, ending with a Benjarvus Green-Ellis 7-yard run. The Ravens responded with a TD of their own on Flacco's 6-yard pass to Dennis Pitta. New England took the lead on Stephen Gostkowski's field goal before halftime and he added another on the first series of the second half.

Trailing 16-10, the Ravens bounced back and took the lead when Flacco connected with Torrey Smith on a 29-yard catch-and-run TD (1:12 mark in these highlights). Danny Woodhead fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and the Ravens quickly tacked on a field goal for a 20-16 advantage at the end of the third quarter.

The Patriots were stuffed at the goal line twice on their next drive, but on 4th-and-goal, Brady leaped over the pile to put New England in front again (2:28 in highlights). Bernard Pollard and Jimmy Smith teamed up for an acrobatic interception of Brady midway through the fourth (2:46), but Baltimore's drive fizzled out at the New England 33.

Down 23-20 with under three minutes remaining, the Ravens defense stood up and forced a quick three-and-out and got the ball back with 1:44 left. Flacco converted two third downs, including a 29-yard strike to Anquan Boldin that sent the Ravens into field-goal range (3:51). Lee Evans nearly reeled in a go-ahead touchdown pass two plays later, but Sterling Moore broke it up. 

The Ravens missed a chance to win it there, but a short field goal from Billy Cundiff could have sent the game to overtime.

Cundiff was late getting onto the field before shanking the 32-yarder, but in his defense, holder Sam Koch didn't get the laces all the way out, either. Regardless, the Patriots headed to another Super Bowl and a rematch with the upstart Giants. New York ended their perfect season four years earlier and somehow reached another Super Bowl despite a 9-7 record. The rematch was similar to the first game, however, as Brady and Bill Belichick were once again shocked by an Eli Manning game-winning drive and the Giants won 21-17.

2012 AFC Championship

The two teams met again for the Lamar Hunt Trophy a year later in the sixth conference championship rematch since the 1970 merger.

Just like the previous game, a Gostkowski field goal marked the only scoring of the first quarter. Both teams finally reached the end zone on their first possessions of the second. Rice capped a 90-yard drive with a 2-yard run and the Pats answered with Brady's 1-yard TD pass to Wes Welker.

Down 13-7 in the third, Flacco drove the Ravens 87 yards and tossed a 5-yard TD to Pitta to give visiting Baltimore the lead. The Pats went three-and-out and Flacco led another touchdown drive with a 3-yard pass to Boldin making it 21-13 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

It was still a one-score game with plenty of time left, but on the next Patriots drive, Stevan Ridley lost the ball in a brutal helmet-to-helmet collision with Pollard*. The Ravens recovered and scored four plays later for a 28-13 lead.

* Pollard also tore Tom Brady's knee in 2008 and injured Rob Gronkowski's ankle in the 2011 title game.

New England's last-ditch efforts at a comeback fell short as Brady was picked off in Ravens territory twice, first by Dannell Ellerbe, then by Cary Williams. Baltimore had their revenge with a 28-13 victory, then capped an unlikely championship run with a wild 34-31 Super Bowl victory over the 49ers. 

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