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Saturday, 10 January 2015

Baltimore Collapses In New England: Five Things We Learned

If we could have expected one thing from today's AFC Divisional matchup between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, it was that this would be one of the toughest-fought football games in the playoffs... ever.

The matchup- Tom Brady, whose accolades are well-known vs. Joe Flacco, who has become known for his stone-cold play in the post-season.

The game lived up to it's billing, and the result may have given us the signature moment of Brady's illustrious career. Here are the reasons why:

1. The Raven's defense.

Two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble... not huge numbers, but Terrell Suggs and company hounded Brady and the offense from start to finish. Brady was hit often, forcing him to resort to the short-passing game. His longest completion was to Rob Gronkowski for 46 yards. The vast majority of his passes traveled less than 20 yards in the air.

In fact, the Patriots looked hapless in their first drive. But just as suddenly as the Raven's went up 14-0, Brady turned it around and scored 14 of his own. Also of note: New England finally employed the no-huddle offense on the second of those scores.

2. Brady doesn't need a running game.

Actually, the running game did not show-up for the Patriots. While Baltimore ran for 136 yards (129 for Justin Forsett), the Patriots barely registered on the stat sheet. If you discount the sack yardage, Brady, Blount, Vereen, and Bolden ran for 18 yards (what has happened to Jonas Gray?). Brady's contribution was a four yard dash for a touchdown to get on the board for the first time.

3. Brady and Edelman carried this team to victory.

Rob Gronkowski may have been the leading receiver with 108 yards and a TD, but Julian Edelman caught 74 yards-worth AND added a 51 yard toss to Danny Amendola, who finished the day with 81 yards and two TDs. Edelman's passing TD marked the second time the Patriots came from 14 points down to tie the ballgame.

Brady totalled 33 completions on 50 attampts for 367 yards and three TDs. Brady now holds NFL post-season records for games played, wins, and TD passes. He also broke his own franchise record for passing yards in playoff game. Brady overcame heavy defensive pressure, even after an untimely interception that the Ravens turned into a go-ahead TD at the end of the first half.

4. Brady exorcised the Raven-Demon.

That was the story- Brady was 1-for-3 against Flacco and this game could have sealed it- Flacco as Brady's Kryptonite. But as fate would have it, the Patriots pulled-off a gutty performance behind the energy of one of the greatest QBs of all time.

It is that fire that cannot be contained in a box of quarterback qualifications. It separates the Bradys from the Leafs. And Brady unleashed that fire today to steal the heart and the win from the Ravens. It felt as big as a Super Bowl. The only thing better for Pats fans would be revenge on Eli Manning.

5. Flacco isn't there yet.

What was it John Harbaugh said about his QB? I think it was something about being the best QB in football... I guess that will have to wait for a while. Flacco had a good day with 292 yards on 28 for 45 passing, four TDs but two INTs. And it was the second INT that sealed their fate late in the game to end a desperation drive to retake the lead. On both turn-overs, it was safeties (Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon) who snuck across the back end of the routes to nab the throws from Flacco.

If there was still any doubt that Brady deserves the accolades, this game put all that to rest. He is NOT washed-up; he is NOT too old; he is still one of the best in the business. Flacco is a strong QB, but Brady is a Hall-of-Famer. He has had his struggles in recent years, but the desire and drive for another Super Bowl remains.

This performance is an indication of his capability to go the distance. The next team up (Denver or Indy) had better be ready for a war, because that is what Mr. Brady will bring next Sunday.


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