Patriots to Indianapolis: Five things we learned

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 22, 2012



By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Master of Truth and Justics


Five things we learned about the Patriots after their improbable 23-20 win that sends them to their fifth Super Bowl in 12 seasons.

1. It was ugly, but they’ll take it.

Jerod Mayo came into the Patriots’ lockerroom from the shower, and let out a “Woo!” that you’d think was all about jubilation.

But it was really more relief than joy.

New England lost the turnover battle, lost the yardage battle, failed to close out the Ravens with the ball and a three-point lead, and were a fingertip away from outright losing the game in the final seconds of the game.

Instead, they won it.

The sight of Robert Kraft silently making a point toward the heavens on the victory podium, a nod to wife Myra Kraft, was enough to make you appreciate what a charmed day it was.

It’s fitting that after a season full of “divine intervention” talk thanks to Tim Tebow, the Patriots eliminated Tebow and the Broncos and then got a miracle of their own.

Billy Cundiff, in addition to looking like Haley Joel Osment, was a bit of a weak link as a field-goal kicker for the Ravens this year (nine misses), but in today’s NFL a missed 32-yard field goal is a one-in-fifty proposition.

Charmed? Special? Blessed?

Any way you slice it, the Patriots are going to the Super Bowl.

2.Yes, Tom Brady, in his own words, “sucked.”

It’s in keeping with No. 12’s personality that his first comments upon being interviewed after a fifth AFC championship were that he, well, sucked.

Brady missed several receivers in the first half, and his interception in the fourth quarter on an ill-advised deep ball – to Matthew Slater? Julian Edelman? No one was really close, except Baltimore defenders – could have been the type of blunder that season obituaries are built around.

In the end, he finished with a passer rating of 57.5 that was well-deserved. He got good protection from his line, and the running game had a big first half before
Baltimore caught up to the playcalls in the second half.

Brady was smiling on the podium as the CBS cameras rolled, but when he came walking off the field, he had a look on his face that was more anger than happiness.

“He’s never really satisfied,” tackle Matt Light said. “That’s how he is.”

He’ll have to be better than he was Sunday the next time New England takes the field.

3.The Patriots’ defensive middle won the day.

Baltimore’s strength offensively this year was probably it’s interior offensive line. Guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda and center Matt Birk opened up a lot of lanes for Matt Birk and allowed Joe Flacco to avoid mistakes.

But on Sunday, Vince Wilfork (playing mostly defensive end as New England stuck with a 3-4 look), Kyle Love, Gerard Warren, Shaun Ellis, Brandon Deaderick, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo played a dominating game.

Building off their great effort vs. Denver, they again won the battle in the trenches, holding Ray Rice to 67 yards and a 3.2-yard average and pressuring Flacco up the middle.

“No matter what the regular season was like, it’s all about now,” Jerod Mayo said.

4. Kudos to the Patriots for making some great (small) personnel moves this year.

Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco were the two big offseason pickups for the Patriots this year, and they combined to play exactly zero snaps Sunday (Ochocinco was inactive). Failure? Not really.

Consider that free-agent Mark Anderson played the entire game Sunday at outside linebacker – a position he’d never played before in the NFL  -- and got some significant pressure on Joe Flacco.

Then there was Sterling Moore, an in-season pickup, who made the season-saving play on what would have been a game-winning TD pass to Lee Evans with second left.

\In addition, right guard Brian Waters has been an absolute rock on the offensive line, and recent unwanteds like James Ihedigbo, Kyle Love, Rob Ninkovich and Gerard Warren also kicked in contributions.

5.The Patriots’ Achilles heel cost them, but not the game.

New England did a lot of things right en route to 14 wins in 17 games, but stopping the pass was not one of them. They got a decent amount of pressure, and forced more than their share of turnovers, but they also got gashed through the air on long passes.

On Sunday, this weakness again put them at peril.

The Ravens averaged 13.9 yards a catch and could have averaged more had some of Flacco’s deep balls been more accurate.

But overall, the major pass defense issues that killed them earlier in the season seem to be past. They haven’t allowed more than 300 yards of net passing since Week 13 after allowing 13+ in eight of their first 12 games.

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