A simple summary of the mood swings for Patriots fans on Saturday would be high–low–high–low–high.
It wasn’t easy, but the New England Patriots earned a spot in the AFC Championship Game with a wild 35-31 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
This was the fourth playoff meeting between the Patriots and Ravens at Gillette Stadium since January 2010. In the parking lot before the game, Patriots fan and South Boston resident Stefan Laurides said the fact that Baltimore won two of the first three didn’t make him nervous.
“You got the quarterback, you got the coach combination. That’s what we do here in Gillette. We’re not going to lose. Different team this year. We’re going to do it and we’re going to clean up,” Laurides said.
The Patriots put that optimism to the test. Baltimore took just five plays to go 71 yards on the first drive of the game –- capping it with quarterback Joe Flacco’s touchdown pass to Kamar Aiken. Then Flacco connected with Steve Smith to give the Ravens the first of two 14-point leads.
New England head coach Bill Belichick says he was hoping for better execution, but his players stayed focused.
"Down by 14 points twice, I don’t think that’s formula to win a lot of playoff games."Patriots coach Bill Belichick
“Down by 14 points twice, I don’t think that’s formula to win a lot of playoff games. I’m sure there’s been a lot more playoff games lost by teams down by 14 points in the middle of the 1st quarter or the middle of the third quarter than have won ‘em," Belichick said. "But gotta give our players a lot of credit. They’re resilient. They’re mentally and physically tough. They hang in there.”
The Patriots got on the board with a four-yard rushing touchdown by Tom Brady. Then in the second quarter Brady connected with Danny Amendola, who turned a missed tackle into a diving touchdown that tied the score. But Brady threw an interception just before halftime that set up another Ravens touchdown. He says he’s hard on himself after that kind of mistake.
“We finally tied it up 14-14. We had a chance actually to go ahead for the first time in the two-minute drive there and I just made a terrible decision," Brady said.
The Ravens pulled ahead to a 28-14 lead in the third quarter. Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell, who had the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, says after the game he thanked Brady for bouncing back.
“I done played this game long enough and I’ve seen guys throw interceptions right before the half and they just went in the tank," LaFell said. You didn’t do that, man. You came back and lead us. We was down 14 in the second half and you kept preachin’. You kept leading us and kept leading by example and we appreciate that.”
“Julian’s a great athlete. ... He put it on the money tonight. It was a great pass."Danny Amendola on fellow Patriots receiver Julian Edelman's touchdown pass
Brady threw for a total of 367 yards and three scores and in the process, broke Joe Montana’s record for career postseason passing touchdowns. But the touchdown pass everyone was talking about after the game came from Julian Edelman. After catching a lateral from Brady, the former-Kent-State-quarterback-turned-Patriots-wide-receiver tossed a 51-yard strike to Amendola, who was impressed, but not surprised.
“Julian’s a great athlete. He’s one of the best athletes, you know, I’ve ever been around," Amendola said. "And he put it on the money tonight. It was a great pass.”
The ground game was a different story for the Patriots. The Ravens got 129 yards from running back Justin Forsett, but the entire New England backfield tallied a total of just 14 yards rushing on 13 attempts.
The Patriots didn’t get their first lead of the game until their fifth and final touchdown with just over five minutes left to play. The Ravens still had some chances. A pass by Flacco that would have given Baltimore the lead was picked off by defensive back Duron Harmon. Harmon, who had one interception during the 16-game regular season, predicted he would had one this weekend, but admits he predicts that every week.
“I tell my family, friends, ‘I’m gonna get an interception this week. I just feel it,'" Harmon said. "And like I told people I’m for 2 for 17 this year, so hopefully my probability gets a little better."
The game ended on a Hail Mary pass from Flacco that was batted away. The Ravens quarterback says New England handled the pressure well.
“They don’t panic. They just play the game. And keep at it, keep at it. The same kind of things that we like to do and it worked out for ‘em,” Flacco said.
The Patriots will host the AFC Championship Game next Sunday at Gillette Stadium. They’ll face the winner of today’s match-up between the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos.
Doug Tribou covers sports for WBUR's Only A Game.
This segment aired on January 11, 2015.