As the New England Patriots celebrate yet another Super Bowl berth during a remarkable 10-plus year run of dominance and the Baltimore Ravens lament a dropped touchdown pass and a missed field goal to end the Patriots' hopes, it's time to take a look at the performance by New England's defense.
The Patriots were ranked 31st in total defense for the regular season, which was one of the reasons why many gave the Ravens a chance to outscore the explosive New England offense.
But once the playoffs started, the Patriots quickly showed why their defense is still a force to be reckoned with, smothering this year's Cinderella team, the Denver Broncos, in the divisional round. They came after Tim Tebow the whole night and held them to just 10 points, seven of which came on a very short field following an uncharacteristic Tom Brady interception.
Still, as mediocre as the Ravens have been offensively this year, they are far more talented than the Broncos and presented a bigger challenge.
The Patriots ended up giving up almost 400 yards of total offense, including 306 yards and two touchdowns through the air to quarterback Joe Flacco, but it was the clutch plays they made down the stretch that will get them recognition in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVI.
The Patriots certainly got lucky on occasion, one instance being in the first half when Joe Flacco had Torrey Smith incredibly wide open and severely under-threw him for a 40-yard gain rather than a touchdown. The Pats ended up holding the Ravens to a field goal.
Two more examples were the dropped touchdown pass and missed field goal on Baltimore's last drive that would have won/tied the game for the Ravens.
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However, the Pats made some plays themselves that should be recognized. The first was a Brandon Spikes interception of Flacco. The Pats ended up giving it right back, but it did take some time off the clock and ultimately move the Ravens back.
Later on that same drive, the Patriots held the Ravens on fourth down with an outstanding pass rush that forced Flacco to make a desperation heave, which ultimately could have decided the outcome.
New England's defense has struggled all year and has been the subject of a lot of criticism, but how many times do you see Tom Brady throw for zero touchdowns and two picks, and the Patriots still win the game?
They can thank the defense for that.