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Patriots defeat Ravens, advance to AFC title game

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Tom Brady passed for 367 yards and accounted for four touchdowns to lead the New England Patriots to a thrilling 35-31 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in a back-and-forth Divisional Round contest that captivated football fans through the final tick of the clock.

1. This was an instant classic, with both teams seemingly trading game-changing haymakers throughout. Joe Flacco continued his playoff magic with a near-perfect performance through two-and-half quarters, only to stumble with a pair of interceptions in the final 16 minutes. After coughing up three points via an ill-timed sack and causing a 10-point swing going into halftime with an interception of his own, Brady came up huge down the stretch, putting the Patriots ahead for good with a perfect pitch-and-catch to Brandon LaFell for a 23-yard touchdown.

2. Rob Gronkowski was the most valuable player on the field on an afternoon in which the Patriots abandoned the run like a derelict shack in an overgrown forest. Beyond the seven receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown, Gronk drew extra coverage that allowed Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and even Michael Hoomanawanui to make key plays.

3. Speaking of Edelman and Amendola, they connected on an electrifying 51-yard touchdown that tied the game at 28 late in the third quarter. The trick play was six years in the making for Edelman, a former Kent State quarterback. Amendola's excellent performance, which included more touchdowns than he managed all regular season, was validation for a hard-luck player who lost his job to Edelman while playing through a torn groin last season.

4. Beyond reaching 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns for his postseason career, Steve Smith gave Darrelle Revis fits in the shutdown cornerback's worst game of the season. Smith drew a pass interference penalty to set up an Owen Daniels touchdown just before halftime. A later defensive holding penalty on Revis wiped away a Jamie Collins strip-sack that would have given the Patriots the ball on the doorstep of the goal line. Entering the game, Revis had allowed just two touchdowns, two holding penalties and one pass interference all year.

5. Collins was all over the field for New England, turning in an outstanding performance with 11 tackles, two passes defensed, one quarterback hit and the nullified strip-sack. One of the most athletic players in the league, Collins has the look of a perennial All-Pro.

6. The Patriots won despite losing the battle of the trenches on both sides of the ball. The Ravens' offensive line opened gaping holes for Justin Forsett and kept pressure off Flacco all afternoon. The defensive line, led by Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams, shut down the run and managed to frustrate Brady to the tune of two sacks, five knockdowns and a half-dozen poor throws in the first half. The Pats found success later in the game, experimenting at times with a four-man offensive line and an ineligible receiver.

7. On the same day that the Patriots pulled off the largest comeback playoff victory in franchise history, Brady passed Peyton Manning for the most yards in playoff history (6,791), topped Joe Montana for the most touchdowns (46) in postseason history and is now headed for his fourth consecutive and ninth (!) overall AFC title game.

8. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak called a great game, putting on a clinic in aggressiveness by converting three fourth-down conversions at key moments. It's almost as if Harbaugh and ultra-conservative Jim Caldwell of the Lions are coaching different sports. If the Ravens had managed to emerge with a victory, we might have had the good fortune to bear witness to a trail of NFL coaches embracing Harbaugh's religion on fourth downs.

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