Once again, the New England Patriots hosted the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game. But this time the outcome was different, as the Ravens found a way to take advantage of New England’s weaknesses to punch their first ticket to the Super Bowl since they beat the Giants in 2000. Only this time, instead of being the centerpiece, Ray Lewis was not even the best middle linebacker on the team as Dannell Ellerbe stole the show.
Starting off the game with a trick play on a punt, shifting into a formation to run a play after lining up quarterback Ryan Mallett as the personal protector, the Patriots took an early lead on a 31-yard field goal on a five minute drive.
The key to the Patriots’ late-season pass defense, cornerback Aqib Talib, pulled his hamstring while breaking up a pass on a crossing pattern to Aqib Talib. That jump-started the Ravens’ offense and they opened the second quarter with a very long, running-back heavy drive. That led to a Ravens score on a run that saw Ray Rice slip through two tackles on the way to pay dirt, capping a 90-yard drive to take a 7-3 lead.
New England answered on the next possession with a sustained drive of their own, with Tom Brady featuring H-back Aaron Hernandez on passes, screens and even a run. In the red zone the Ravens brought an all-out, Cover 0 blitz which the Patriots beat using a quick pass to Wes Welker in the front of the end zone. Brady, seeing the man coverage, brought Welker in motion behind Hernandez, who served as a rub for Welker’s man as he ran a quick route to the flat.
Baltimore kept running down 10-3, but New England continued to stop it with their physical linebackers. Rob Nikovich finally got to Joe Flacco for a sack, giving the Patriots the ball one more time before the end of the half. New England responded with a two minute drill that resulted in a field goal before the end of the half, although the Patriots could have taken a shot at the end zone with better clock management. They could not line up to spike the ball in the red zone and wasted time before finally calling a time out with four seconds left, taking the field goal to make the score 13-7 at halftime.
When the Ravens received the ball at half, New England finally started to create pressure while their cornerbacks played aggressively. The Patriots got the ball back and started to drive, aided by a Bernard Pollard penalty on a defenseless receiver, but the drive stalled on a Welker drop on third down.
After punting to the Ravens, Baltimore began to wear down the Patriots defense by continuing their methodical, grinding offensive attack peppered in with a more aggressive passing game. They started attacking the outside more, taking advantage of a Talib-less secondary. Tight end Dennis Pitta got hot, proving to be too fast for the Patriots’ lumbering linebackers and too big for their safeties. Combined with a Rice screen, Pitta led the team downfield on slants, scoring a touchdown to take a 14-13 Baltimore lead.
The Patriots’ offense sputtered again on the next possession, and the Ravens passed their way down the field again. That drive culminated on a touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin, who continued to be heavily involved in the Ravens offense this postseason. Flacco hit Boldin on a three-yard touchdown pass in which Boldin ran a slant past a linebacker and Flacco threw the ball up high, letting Boldin high-point the ball over the linebacker.
New England responded with a long drive, but Pollard again stung New England by knocking running back Stevan Ridley out cold, causing a fumble that the Ravens’ Arthur Jones. Baltimore again exerted their will on offense, and Flacco hit Boldin for another touchdown reception. This time Boldin ran a fade route and Flacco again put the ball up high, allowing Boldin to reach up and pluck the ball out of the air for another physical touchdown to make the score 28-13 with 21 unanswered points.