Unexpected Performances Highlight AFC Championship Game

In the week leading up to the AFC Championship game, everyone was talking about the matchup between the New England Patriots offense and the Baltimore Ravens defense.  What they didn’t expect was that the most important matchup would be between the Ravens offense and the Patriots defense.

 

Tom Brady, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker against Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Bernard Pollard was the matchup expected to decide the victor of the AFC but that wasn’t the case.  Tom Brady was largely ineffective throughout the game or in his words, “I sucked pretty bad today.”  Going 22 for 36 for 239 yards, the most glaring statistics for Brady is that he threw no touchdowns and was intercepted twice.  Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez played well in the passing game but the running game was non-existent.  The only Patriots rusher to break 20 yards was BenJarvus Green-Ellis who ran for 68 yards on 15 carries.

 

Joe Flacco, who was called out by teammate Ed Reed during the week, came through with a very good performance.  Flacco went 22 for 36 for 306 yards while throwing 2 touchdowns and being intercepted once.  While Ray Rice was seen as the key ingredient for the success of the Ravens offense, it was receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith who came up with the big games.  Boldin led all receivers with 6 receptions for 101 yards while Smith caught 3 balls for 82 yards and scored an important touchdown.

 

With those offensive statistics and the Ravens defense you’d expect to see a Ravens victory.  However, it was the Patriots defense that came through when the team was in need.  The Pats defense was  able to keep pro bowl running back Ray Rice to only 67 yards on 21 carries.  In the fourth quarter, as Flacco was driving the Ravens offense down the field, it was linebacker Brandon Spikes coming through with the interception and  with the game on the line and the Ravens driving for the win, it was a little-known rookie who started the year on the Oakland Raiders practice squad who made the big plays.  First Sterling Moore stripped Lee Evans as he was coming down with the ball in the end zone turning a go-ahead touchdown into an incompletion.  As Flacco went to Moore’s side again, the rookie came through for the second straight time knocking down a pass inside the 10-yard line which forced the Ravens to go for a game-tying field goal that Billy Cundiff would ultimately miss.

 

Overall, the Ravens offense outperformed the Patriots offense in every statistical category.  The Ravens had better third down efficiency (52% to 45%), more total yards (398 to 330), more yards rushing (116 to 96), and more yards passing (282 to 234).

 

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens defense played worse than usual and the Patriots defense played much better than usual.   The Ravens defense gave up more points (23) than their season average (16.6) and gave up more yards (330) than their season average (288.9).  The Patriots on the other hand, gave up fewer points (20) than their season average (21.4) and gave up fewer yards (398) than their season average (411.1).

 

The matchup everyone tuned in to see may have not been the most important one, but the best matchup made for a very entertaining game.  The questions of whether Joe Flacco could rebound from a sub-par performance against the Texans and whether the Patriots could keep up the strong defensive effort shown against the Broncos was answered in the affirmative.  The game may have been decided on a missed field goal, but the story was how each team’s supposedly weaker side of the ball became their strength.


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