New England Patriots' Unsung Heroes of the AFC Championship Game

Oliver Thomas@OliverBThomasContributor IJanuary 23, 2012

New England Patriots' Unsung Heroes of the AFC Championship Game

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    The New England Patriots would not be traveling to Indianapolis if it weren't for some fantastic plays by unheralded players.

    Granted, Billy Cundiff's game-tying field goal miss sure did assist in the Patriots' success too.

    Nonetheless, the Pats' victory in the AFC Championship game over the Baltimore Ravens would have not been possible if guys didn't step up, and in the words of head coach Bill Belichick, "do their job."

    When a team signs a player, they can only hope that the acquisition will pay dividends down the road. All 53 men on the roster are there for one reason—to win. The Patriots have found some players who weren't afraid to dig deep when a Super Bowl bid is on the line.

    Football is about playing hard for 60 minutes, the following Patriots did exactly that.

Sterling Moore, Cornerback

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    Sterling Moore went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft out of Southern Methodist.

    The Oakland Raiders signed Moore to their practice squad this September. However, the Raiders decided to release the defensive back from their practice squad on Sept 26. It was then that the Patriots took a chance on Moore and signed him. 

    Bouncing up and down from the practice squad all season, Moore never lost focus. Who would have thought that Moore (and Billy Cundiff) would be responsible for the Patriots earning a spot in Super Bowl XLVI?

    Moore's play on Ravens' wide-out Lee Evans was a game saver.

    With the Ravens surging, looking to take a 27-23 lead with little time left in the fourth quarter, Moore made the play of his life.

    Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco threw a pass to Evans in the end zone. At first it appeared that the receiver caught the ball for a touchdown, but Moore stripped the ball out of Evans' hands and the pass was ruled incomplete.

    Thanks to Moore's relentless effort, the Patriots held on after a Billy Cundiff field goal was pulled wide left.

    It isn't everyday that a practice squad player finds themselves in a position like this.

Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle

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    Vince Wilfork led the defensive charge all afternoon on Sunday.

    The former Miami Hurricane helped keep the Ravens' potent running game in check as Baltimore running back Ray Rice only managed 67 yards on 21 carries.

    Big Vince also took pressure off the inconsistent New England secondary by forging his way into the Ravens' backfield on his way to quarterback Joe Flacco.

    Wilfork totaled six tackles, three for a loss, and latched onto Flacco for a pivotal sack.

    Although Wilfork is a pro bowler, he doesn't always get the credit he deserves. All season, he has been the glue that kept this 31st ranked defense together. 

Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Running Back

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    The Patriots' offense met their match against the intimidating defense of the Baltimore Ravens. With Tom Brady struggling and throwing two interceptions, the running game needed to step up.

    The ground attack led by Benjarvus Green-Ellis was ready to give the Patriots a more balanced offense.

    The Law Firm proved why he is an invaluable member of the Patriots on Sunday. The undrafted back out of Ole Miss ran the ball 15 times for 68 yards and scored a much-needed touchdown.

    The Pats relied on Green-Ellis to keep drives moving. No. 42's 15 carries is the most he has had in a game since week 11 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Brandon Spikes, Linebacker

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    Brandon Spikes played a key role in the game when he intercepted a Joe Flacco pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 19 yards to midfield.

    The former Florida Gator's pick ended what would have been a devastating Ravens' drive. His one-handed grab helped change the momentum of the game and gave the Patriots a chance to take a dent out of the clock.

    "I'm about wins," said Spikes. "It doesn't matter if I made that play. As long as we got the win, I'm happy."

    Spikes missed seven straight games during the regular season, but has shown why the Patriots selected him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

    There's nothing coach Belichick loves more than a guy whose only mission is to win.