Manning's performance highlighted by New York Life Protection Index

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (STATS) - Tom Brady didn't spend much time on the ground Sunday during the New England Patriots' nail-bitting victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game.

Eli Manning wasn't as lucky.

Manning continually picked himself up from the Candlestick Park turf against a ferocious San Francisco 49ers' pass rush. In the process, he also lifted the New York Giants to a Super Bowl rematch.

The Patriots' offensive line continued a season's worth of strong pass protection, grading out with an impressive 90.6 in the conference championship week's New York Life Protection Index, while the Giants struggled handling arguably the NFL's most dominant front seven with a score of 57.7.

Of course, all that did was make the performance of Manning all the more remarkable - and set up a New York-New England title game for the second time in four years.

The NYLPI is a proprietary formula created by STATS LLC which measures pass protection by using metrics such as length of passes, penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

Despite being sacked six times, hurried another six and knocked down 12 overall, Manning managed to go 32 of 58 for 316 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the 20-17 overtime win.

"He stood in there loud and proud today, even when times were tough," center David Baas said. "We had some difficulties up front protecting him with some stunts and picking up stuff. We should have done a much better job."

"There wasn't much variety in what we were doing," coach Tom Coughlin added. "Our screens didn't seem to work especially well but Eli just hung in there, hung in there, hung in there and made plays when we needed him to make them and displayed the kind of leadership he's shown all year long."

The Giants also got some leadership from their vaunted D-line. Despite giving San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith enough time to complete scoring passes of 73 and 28 yards to tight end Vernon Davis, it did a solid job overall of containing Smith. The Niners' front five graded out lowest for the week with a 43.3 rating.

Smith, who threw for 299 yards with three passing touchdowns and one on the ground in the 49ers' 36-32 shootout win over New Orleans one week earlier, was just 12 of 26 for 196 yards against New York. He was sacked three times, knocked down four and hurried five.

But perhaps most damaging was the fact that San Francisco was just 1 for 13 on third down.

"We lost (the game) across the board offensively," Smith said. "We just couldn't get it done."

Though San Francisco went 13-3 to win the NFC West, it ranked near the bottom of the league with a 47.0 NYLPI rating during the regular season.

New England had no such problems - either Sunday or throughout the regular season. The Patriots posted a 73.6 mark over the first 16 weeks, ranking them seventh for the year, but less than three points from second place.

Against Baltimore, Brady's line was again up to the task, and because of it he will have the opportunity to avenge a 17-14 loss to New York in Super Bowl XLII as well as the chance to join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to win four titles.

If he gets the same protection he did over the weekend in the 23-20 win, odds are those things will happen.

Though quick to rip himself after throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns, Brady did score the eventual winning TD on a 1-yard dive over the top with 11:29 left in the fourth quarter.

The score was made possible because of a strong surge from an offensive line that allowed just one sack and didn't commit a false start or holding penalty - all against a Ravens' D that tied for third during the regular season with 48 sacks.

That unit also helped the Patriots to a 10th consecutive victory while improving to 4-0 in AFC title games at home.

"I'm proud of this team, my teammates," said Brady, who was knocked down four times and hurried once while throwing for 239 yards and no touchdowns for the first time in 36 games.

"I sucked pretty bad. I'm going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks."

Joe Flacco won't have that opportunity, but it won't be due to a lack of effort.

The much-criticized Flacco outplayed Brady, completing 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He completed five of seven passes before New England's Sterling Moore knocked the ball out of the hands of Baltimore receiver Lee Evans, who could not hold on long enough in the end zone.

That came two plays before Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying 32-yard field goal in the final seconds of regulation.

"(Flacco) played his tail off," Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard said, "and for the people who keep dogging him, man, if you never played this game, shut up."

Flacco was sacked three times, knocked down six and hurried on five occasions as the Ravens posted a 60.7 rating to rank second in the NYLPI for the week.

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