Quote the Ravens never more.
The Patriots-Ravens rivalry has become a bona-fide star vehicle in NFL circles and the 35-31 Patriots comeback stands as one of the league's signature playoff thrillers (doubly amazing given the Wildcard round is the round that usually produces the crazy playoff games). There is naturally much to break down in this game. My own observations -
Tom Brady yet again proves it's quarterbacking and not defense or the run game - Tom Brady got next to nothing in run support and his defense was all but useless for extremely long stretches; even when the defense stood its ground better in the second half the ease with which the Ravens moved the ball was akin to watching another former AFC Central team, the old Warren Moon Houston Oilers. Brady was also in spots under outright siege from the Ravens defensive front.
But Brady is the best playoff quarterback in NFL history for a reason - he stepped up his game and as he did he made the rest of the team better; the offensive line got stronger as the game went on and the defense finally started making plays in the second half.
Brady in 2006 against San Diego became the first quarterback (in 27 tries to that point) to win a regulation-length playoff game by throwing over 50 passes; he matched that feat against the Ravens. He also broke Joe Montana's record for most touchdowns in playoff games.
Joe Cool and Tom Terrific can share a Papa Johns pizza while chatting up their playoff careers, since as the commercial notes Joe Montana shows up for the playoffs, Peyton.
When Brady engages more people in the offense, good things result - Attention was paid to how Rob Gronkowski would handle the Ravens defense, but in a sense the more dangerous tight end weapon was Michael Hoomanuwanui (four catches for 43 yards) while Danny Amendola, much criticized by some fans because of injuries, took over several drives. In all Brady completed 15 passes for 182 yards to the usual suspects, Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, but for a change they were not the focal point of the offense, especially when Edelman caught Brady's lateral and unloaded the touchdown bomb to Amendola - #11 throwing to #80 is so Drew Bledsoe to Irving Fryar of them.
This game showed how the Patriots do not miss Logan Mankins - Incredibly some local talk shows were resurrecting the trade of Mankins to Tampa Bay and how the Patriots may have made a colossal mistake doing so given the ostensible struggles of the offensive line late in the season. Not having Mankins, though, exposed how much tougher the line now is - the line lost Bryan Stork yet as the game went on the line played better, to where it finally wore out the Ravens front; notable is the Patriots line held the Ravens' trash-talking resident fatass Terrell Suggs to half a sack and one overall tackle.
For once the refs deserve some criticism - Normally I don't go after the refs for how they officiate a game, but the Ravens definitely benefitted from several dubious calls on the Patriots, notably the penalty where Steve Smith got away with a push-off while he drew a phantom holding call that wiped out a Patriots strip-sack of Flacco near the Ravens goalline. The Ravens also were engaged in the kind of after-the-play cheapshottery that teams at least borderline dirty need to succeed.
The Ravens really are a dirty team - Bill Belichick normally does not bring up an opponent's tactics and when he does it's because there's usually something there. The Ravens' employment of cut-blocking tactics has been controversial from the old Denver Broncos days, such as when Bryan Cox had his leg broken in 2001 in a game at Denver. It showed again in numerous skirmishes on the field (including a reported confrontation after the game between Steve Smith and former Patriot and Panther Jermaine Wiggins), but it also showed in John Harbaugh's meltdown and inability to handle the Patriots' O-line combos in the second half - when bullies get exposed, they vent impotently; such was John Harbaugh.
This game also showcased anew Joe Flacco's flaw as a quarterback - There is certainly no question Joe Flacco has proven himself as a real playoff quarterback and overall a pretty good one, but this game also showed how dependent he is on pass interference penalties to move the offense.
Justin Forsett is a stark Raven beast - He busted out 129 rushing yards and some five yards per carry, doubly amazing given he got no help in the ground game from anyone else.
The Ravens are better on fourth down than third - The Ravens converted all three fourth-down plays, as opposed to being 1 for 9 on third down.
Was that Roger Goodell going Bill France Jr. on us? - Back in the day NASCAR president Bill France Jr. famously bought his hotdogs during Daytona races from the regular food stands alongside regular fans. It was curious seeing NFL head honcho Roger Goodell shivering in the regular grandstands for this game.
Patriots win in an overlooked stat - The Patriots won the contest of average yards gained per offensive play - 6.4 YPP versus the Ravens' 5.9.
So the Patriots await the Indianapolis-Denver game while the Superbowl rematch with the Panthers will have to wait another year.