Around the NFL  

 

Patriots' big comeback qualifies as instant classic

Print

The Patriots have won a lot of games in January under Bill Belichick, but there haven't been many like this one. New England outlasted Baltimore 35-31 in an instant classic between two AFC titans playing their best.

New England's first lead of the game was the final score. Tom Brady's go ahead touchdown to Brandon LaFell with just over five minutes left was one for his Canton highlight reel. And we believe this game will go down as one of Brady and Belichick's finest non-Super Bowl wins.

Just think about Brady and the Patriots' post-2004 era. They had the undefeated regular season in 2007 and earned a playoff bye the last five straight seasons. But there haven't been many great playoff moments or comebacks. The Patriots have usually won easily or they have been the hunted and played tight when pushed by a hungry team like the Ravens. That's why this was the best Patriots victory since their upset over San Diego after the 2006 season.

New England had every chance to fold Saturday after falling down by 14 points two different times, but Brady was at his best directing three touchdown drives in the final 25 minutes. (No team in NFL history has ever erased that big of a deficit twice in the playoffs.)

The Patriots disproved a lot of playoff maxims about "winning the battle up front." Baltimore was the tougher team on both sides of the ball, giving Joe Flacco a clean pocket, while the Ravens rushed for 136 yards. The Ravens' defensive line harassed Brady early and shut down the Patriots' run game. New England threw the ball 50 times and only rushed for 14 yards, which is less than half of the previous record low in a playoff victory.

You can get away with playing "finesse" football for a week when you have Tom Brady and a secondary that saved its best for last. Brady neutralized the Baltimore pass rush by getting rid of the ball quickly. And the Patriots held Baltimore to just three points on their final four drives to give Brady a chance to come back. Then again ...

"Overall, I don't think this is one of our all-time best games," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in his typically understated style. "We gave up a lot of yardage, a lot of points. Three fourth-down conversions. We gotta coach better, we gotta play better."

While Belichick's defense struggled, Brady came up with one of his signature games. He authored a 10-play, 74-yard touchdown drive capped by a game-winning touchdown thrown into a microscopic window. (LaFell deserves just as much credit for a great catch.) For all the winning the Patriots have done over the last decade, they have not had many games like this. This 2014 team in particular won their biggest games by huge margins.

This win was more reminiscent of the early era of Belichick-Brady teams; the ones where the other team seemed to do everything necessary to win, but the Patriots still found a way; the games where the opponent left Foxborough believing the better team lost. The Ravens were ready for this game, looking every bit like a squad that could make another four-game sprint through the playoffs.

Instead, the Patriots have survived and advanced. The way they won should do wonders for their ability to withstand tough situations in the AFC Championship game or Super Bowl. But even if New England falls short of a fourth title, the biggest comeback in Patriots postseason history will be remembered.

Brady returns to the postseason each January searching for the playoff magic that defined him as a young man. On a frigid Saturday evening in Foxborough, he found some.

The "Around The NFL Podcast" is now available on iTunes! Click here to listen and subscribe.

Print