It came down to one field goal. Three points would tie the game for Baltimore, sending an already exciting game into overtime. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff aims, not wanting to miss this 32 yarder. In the playoffs, there is small margin for error, even less so when playing in the AFC Championship game. In this case, an error would keep the Ravens out of the Super Bowl once again. Finally, the ball is snapped, Cundiff makes contact, and sends the ball flying into the air. It appears like it may go in, but suddenly, the football creeps towards the left post, until a large gust sends it wide left. He had missed. The game was over. The New England Patriots did extremely well in the regular season, with a final record of 13-3. Once in the playoffs, Tom Brady dismantled Tim Tebow's Broncos, leading his team to an easy 45-10 win at home. After beating the Ravens in a nail-biting 23-20 victory, the Patriots will play the Giants in the Super Bowl once again. With one week left before Super Bowl Sunday, The NFL Report will break down the Patriots as a team, and how they have been able to do so well this year.
Offense: Everyone knows that, when it comes to the playoffs, the quarterback position is the most important role. Luckily, Tom Brady knows how to win games. Though things have not gone his way of late in the playoffs, Brady has been great during this years Super Bowl run. In a traditional football season, Brady's outstanding statistics would have won him the MVP Award in a land slide. Unfortunately for the Patriots quarterback, he will likely finish third in the MVP voting. This does not mean his 5,235 passing yards and 42 total touchdowns is a terrible thing, because obviously it helped him get back to the Super Bowl. In my opinion, Brady is the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, and a 4th Super Bowl win would only solidify my confidence. As a team, the Patriots offense is ranked among the top 5 in nearly every major passing statistic. The Welker-Gronkowski tandem has combined for a league leading 2,896 receiving yards, the most out of any WR-TE duo in the NFL. Last weekend, Gronk suffered a severe ankle sprain against Baltimore, and has yet to participate in practice. Though the Pats have 2nd string tight end Aaron Hernandez to fill that role, Gronkowski's power and size creates serious problems for opposing team's defenses. When it comes to running the ball, the Patriots were disappointed with their running backs Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Instead of ranking among the top 10 in terms of rushing yards per game (ranked 9th in 2010), the Patriots dropped down to 20th in 2011 (110.2 rushing yards per game). Not only did the team's rushing yards go down, but running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis rushed for just 667 yards compared to 1,008 in 2010. Surprisingly, rookie running back Steven Ridley has been clutch for the Patriots; though he rushed for 441 yards, he was only given 87 attempts, resulting in a 5.1 yards per carry. Sadly, Ridley did not play against the Ravens due to a fumble in the Divisional Round, and it is not likely he will play much in the Super Bowl as well. In this years playoffs, the Patriots' offensive line has been extraordinary. In two postseason games, Brady has been sacked just once, coming against the notorious Ravens D. The offensive line will be extremely important next weekend against a team who has a total of 7 sacks in the playoffs. If there is anything the Patriots can do, it is scoring points. The Ravens did a great job of containing Tom Brady, but he will look for revenge against New York in Indianapolis.
Defense: Atrocious. That is the best way to describe the Patriots defense this season. Ranked close to last in nearly every defensive statistic. When it comes to the Patriots pass defense, New England allows close to 300 yards in the air each game. Along with yards allowed, New England is tied for last in 1st down percentage each passing attempt (39.6%). However, things weren't all bad for New England; the Patriots were tied for second in interceptions with 23 (only behind Green Bay). Clearly, the Pats did a great job forcing turnovers, for they also tied for second in fumbles recovered with 10. The defensive line did a great job in 2011, allowing 117.1 yards per game, ranked 16th overall. Sadly, the Patriots are not exactly the same status as the 49ers rush defense, with 13 rushing touchdowns allowed during the regular season. The pass rush gradually improved as the season progressed, and they finished 14th overall with 40 total sacks. Considering they were without players like Jerard Mayo (2 missed games) and Patrick Chung (missed 8 games) for several weeks, the defense was still able to contain great teams. So, when you add all of this up, who would have thought the defense was the main reason they were able to conquer Baltimore in Foxborough. The Ravens are not known for passing the ball, but what the Patriots did a spectacular job of was shutting down star running back Ray Rice, limiting him to 78 total yards and no touchdowns. If the momentum on defense can carry over into the Super Bowl, the Patriots do not have much to worry about. Like I said, the playoffs are all about consistency, and that is what New England's defense needs most.