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Nevermore: Ravens Top Patriots 28-13 in AFC Title Game

Ray Rice touchdown (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Baltimore Ravens came, saw, and conquered the New England Patriots on Sunday night, asserting their will in the second half to advance to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans with a 28-13 triumph. The Ravens outscored New England 21-0 in the second half, sending Patriots fans home disappointed at AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Mass.

Thorough Dominance

The second half was all Baltimore, as their veteran defense forced three fourth-quarter turnovers, possessed the ball for 19 minutes in the second half, and simply dominated the tone to advance to their second Super Bowl in franchise history. Ravens QB Joe Flacco dissected the limited the New England secondary (Aquib Talib left in the first with a leg injury) to the tune of 240 yards on 21/35 passing, with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Baltimore’s ground game was equally effective, as Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce extended drives, killed the clock, and kept the potent New England offense off the field. Anquan Bolden continued his postseason resurgence with five receptions for 60 yards and a pair of scores to seal the victory. Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta contributed with 4/69 and 5/55/1 touchdown, respectively.

Out of Sync

Tom Brady and the entire offense looked out of rhythm throughout. The captain tossed for 320 yards on 29-54 passing with one TD and two fourth-quarter interceptions (although one was tipped). New England was able to get into gear early, with several drives marching into positive territory, but Baltimore’s defense stood the test, and held the potent Patriots attack to 13 points.

The ground game never got going either (108 yards on 28 carries), while the red zone offense stalled once it hit the 20 with just one TD in four opportunities. Also, Stevan Ridley’s (18 carries for 70 yards) fumble early in the fourth stanza broke the will of the New England team, as the Raven’s scored soon there after and extended their edge to the final margin.

Areas of Strength

Rush defense

Despite a few killer fourth-quarter conversions, the Patriots rush defense limited the dynamic duo of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. The All-Pro rusher Rice tallied 48 yards and a touchdown plunge on 19 carries, while Pierce contributed with nine carries for 52 yards.

Special Teams

A down spot in recent weeks, the New England special teams was effective in the field position battle. Zoltan Mesko averaged 35.8 yards on five boots (and limited Jacoby Jones to just one return for 11 yards), while Stephen Gostkowski drilled a pair of field goals in the blustery Foxborough conditions. Baltimore’s potent return game was limited to an average of 10.7 yards, while New England returned boasted returns of 22.3 yards.

Aaron Hernandez

The third-year TE from Florida was the lone bright spot in the New England offense. Hernandez hauled in nine receptions for 83 yards, while continuing to gain yards after the catch with some slick moves to spark the O.

Areas of Concern

Second-half performance

No individual group gets throws under the bus on this one, but rather the entire team. Whether it be being shutout, allowing three touchdown drives in the final 30, committing three turnovers, or questionable play-calling or execution, the entire team is to blame. It was a complete second half collapse, and that’s why New England stars will be playing in next week’s Pro Bowl rather than the Super Bowl two weeks from now.

Third-down conversion

The Patriots had several opportunities to continue drives, or punch it in for six, but simply were not up to the task. New England was a paltry 7-15 on third-down, including stuffed runs on third-and-shorts, key drops, and poor play calling. Baltimore went 5-12, but made enough plays in the second half to limit New England’s offense.

Red Zone opportunities

Another key factor leading to the demise of the New England season? The red zone. The usually efficient New England squad struggled inside the red area, scoring just one touchdown in four opportunities. The AFC Champions had a much higher rate of success; they were perfect with a stunning 4-4 performance.

Looking Ahead

Not much is scheduled for the New England organization until free agency and the NFL draft commences. Coach Bill Belichick will have to address key deficiencies, but will have plenty to spend. The Patriots have $18.6 million in cap space, and will improve their depth with the 29th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

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