Posted January 23, 2013

First Down/Fourth Down: Joe Flacco outplays a rattled Tom Brady

Baltimore Ravens, First Down/Fourth Down, New England Patriots, NFL Playoffs
Joe Flacco is set to be a free agent after the season, and should be in line for a massive contract. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Joe Flacco is set to be a free agent after the season, and should be in line for a massive contract. (Charles Krupa/AP)

How good has Joe Flacco been during the Baltimore Ravens’ playoff run?

Try this: He completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 106.3 QB rating in Sunday’s 28-13 AFC title game upset of the Patriots … and, statistically, it was his worst performance of the postseason.

Flacco threw for 282 yards and posted a 125.6 passer rating in a Round 1 win over the Colts, then put up 331 yards, three touchdowns and a 116.2 rating last week, in taking down Peyton Manning.

Sunday, he outdueled Tom Brady in Foxboro to help Baltimore to the Super Bowl.

Among talk of the “HarBowl” and Ray Lewis’ final game in the next two weeks, in the run up to Super Bowl XVII, there no doubt will be a lot of discussion about Flacco’s place among the league’s best quarterbacks.

There have been plenty of hiccups during Flacco’s career in Baltimore, and therefore plenty of ammunition for those who would argue against Flacco’s “elite” ability. Heck, as late as Week 15 of this season, when Baltimore took a 17-point thumping on the chin from Denver, Flacco appeared less ready than ever to take his game to the next level.

But he has been lights out in the playoffs. He took over Sunday night, throwing three touchdown passes in the second half — in the process, becoming the first QB to ever rally and beat Brady after trailing him at halftime in Foxboro, breaking Brady’s 67-game streak.

A win on Super Bowl Sunday would cement Flacco’s place in Ravens’ lore, if not as a top NFL QB. Aside from maybe San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, no one has played better football this playoff season.

More heroes and goats from the Ravens’ victory:

First Down: Anquan Boldin.

The Patriots’ defense appeared locked in early — until Aqib Talib broke up a third-down pass intended for Boldin, then hobbled off the field with an apparent hamstring injury.

With Talib out of the lineup and no other Patriots cornerback able to match Boldin physically, the Ravens turned Boldin into their go-to target in the second half. He came through in a big way, especially in the fourth quarter, when he hauled in a pair of touchdown catches to ice the game.

The first came off a play-action from the Patriots 3; Boldin soared over top of two defenders for a terrific grab. He then abused New England safety Marquice Cole in a one-on-situation 3:43 later to bury the reeling Patriots.

Fourth Down: Tom Brady.

The Ravens tend to bring out the worst in Brady and, quite frankly, this was about as badly as the future Hall of Famer can play.

Brady finished with 320 yards passing, but he had no magic in a scoreless second half — a downward spiral that included a pair of interceptions, one by Dannell Ellerbe, another by Cary Williams. Despite getting the Patriots out to an early lead, Brady seemed out of sorts early, as he misfired on a number of passes, both short and deep.

With the Patriots down 15 and less than nine minutes left, Brady scrambled out of the pocket but could not outrun massive defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Instead, he fired an aimless pass to no one in particular.

Perhaps never more than on that play, Brady appeared defeated.

First Down: Dennis Pitta.

One moment, Pitta was on the receiving end of one of the hardest hits we’ve seen all playoff season, courtesy of Jerod Mayo (Bernard Pollard’s scary, fumble-forcing smack of Stevan Ridley might be at the top of that list).

The next, Pitta was turning Steve Gregory inside-out for a 5-yard TD, which gave Baltimore a lead it never relinquished. On a day that saw tight ends from all four teams show up huge, Pitta delivered a massive moment for his team.

Fourth Down: New England’s missed opportunities.

The Patriots drove into Baltimore territory a whopping nine different times Sunday, and they made it to the red zone on five occasions. They came away with a grand total of 13 points.

On those red-zone trips, New England scored one touchdown, kicked two field goals, turned it over once and failed on a fourth-down attempt. Brady also threw a pick from the Baltimore 24, and the Patriots punted from Baltimore’s side of the field thrice. The Patriots also settled for a field goal just before halftime, after some shoddy clock management cost them a chance at the end zone.

First Down: Baltimore’s secondary.

The absence of Rob Gronkowski no doubt made the Ravens’ job easier, but they answered the call nonetheless. Baltimore had trouble with both Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, allowing that duo to combine for 200 yards receiving. Other than a 36-yard grab by Welker late, though, all of those yards came on completions of 17 yards or less.

Williams’ interception sealed the game, while Pollard’s demolition of Ridley turned a tight 21-13 contest clearly in Baltimore’s favor.

Brady had an off night, but the Ravens deserve plenty of credit for taking him out of his comfort zone and forcing New England’s to stick with small gains.

Fourth Down: Shane Vereen … or, the Patriots’ lack of creativity.

When Gronkowski left last week’s New England win over Houston, the Patriots picked the Texans apart by shifting Vereen around the field — he caught a pair of touchdown passes and, multiple times, lined up wide against a linebacker.

Sunday, even as Brady struggled and the Patriots sputtered, Vereen was virtually nonexistent. He saw the ball on three plays in the first quarter, then did not have another touch until New England trailed by 15 in the game’s closing minutes.

Once he did get back on the field, he quickly produced a 7-yard run, plus receptions of 9 and 13 yards. Which begs the question: Why didn’t New England utilize him more frequently?

First Down: Aaron Hernandez (and, for the most part, Wes Welker). 

Neither player broke loose (and Welker had a massive drop on 3rd-and-7 with the Patriots clinging to a 13-7 lead), but the Patriots’ top two weapons did what they could on Sunday, with 17 combined receptions. Both Hernandez and Welker had spectacular catches in traffic, too, with Hernandez drawing a 15-yard penalty on Ray Lewis and Welker doing the same to Bernard Pollard.

Fourth Down: Nate Solder.

Tough to hang a “Fourth Down” nomination on a player for one play, but … Solder’s third-quarter error might have been the real turning point of the game.

Right after Flacco and Pitta had connected to put Baltimore on top, Brady found Danny Woodhead for a first down on a key 3rd-and-short. Except, Solder was called for holding on the play, despite Baltimore using just a three-man rush.

The Patriots, instead of moving the chains, backed up into a 3rd-and-12. Brady’s subsequent pass for Hernandez fell incomplete, New England punted and Baltimore marched for another touchdown to extend its lead to eight.

10 comments
JasonMacBride
JasonMacBride

Second year in a row Flacco outplays Brady in the post season.

BruceAllan
BruceAllan

Stick that in your ear  CBS and Jim Nantz.. Hope your supper with bob kraft is crowpie, you pat chump!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

bbc
bbc

I am surprised Wes Welker is not "4th down". His drop was the biggest momentum changer of the game. Pats had the ball and were driving in Ravens territory to make it a 2 score game and Welker drops a gimme on Ravens 25 yard line forcing Pats to punt. If Welker had made the catch Pats wouldn't have had to go for 4th down in Ravens territory in the 2nd half. Welker has a knack f making crucial drops at most inopportune times and after yesterday's drop following SB where he dropped Vince Lombari trophy, I don't see Pats keeping him in the team.

 

Another 4th down should be Belichick/GM who have consistently failed to fortify defense and haven't been able to get a deep ball threat. At the moment Pats only have TEs and a short passing game and that's about it. When tough defenses like Ravens, 49ers, Giants etc. force the issue and dare them to beat them long, Pats have no answers. There's not even one decent receiver Pats have who is a deep ball threat and coupled with a leaky defense you have to wonder how New England management has manaed to waste one of the All Time Great QB.

geewhiz
geewhiz

I for one am happy that we won't be seeing the damn Patriots in the superbowl again.  That got old years ago.  Going to be some punishing football in XLVII; can't wait !

ARES
ARES

The Patriots are a great team. They are always up there in the league in points scored and everyone usually picks them to win it all every year. Had Brady, Bill and the Patriots not won 3 Super Bowls at the beginning of the last decade, how would the Patriots legacy be viewed? Would they be compared to other great teams that choked, or, "couldn't win the big one?" Would they be compared to teams like the Buffalo Bills that went to 4 consecutive Super Bowls in 4 years, all loses? Why is it that the Patriots were able to win almost all of the big games during the "Spygate era," only to lose so many big games after they were no longer allowed to do whatever it was that they did during the Spygate era? Why has a team that has been as great as the Patriots, not won a Super Bowl in 8 years? I think many could pick several of the Patriots previous 8 teams that were better than the Patriots teams that actually won the Super Bowl; what could be the difference between the Patriots teams that won the Super Bowl and the Patriots teams that did not? Is it coaching? Did Brady lose that "killer instinct?" Was Spygate a bigger factor than any of us could have realized? You type in "Spygate" into your search bar and, pending on your view of the topic, you can find hundreds of reports to support your argument of whether Spygate did or did not help the Patriots. Furthermore, it seems like no two people can agree on what exactly happened with Spygate in the first place. Can it be assumed that had the Patriots not "Spygate-d," they would not have won the Super Bowls that they did? If the answer to the previous question is "Yes," then can the Patriots simply be considered a great team that couldn't win the big games without violating NFL rules?

 

With all of this in mind, what can we draw from what we have seen during the Brady, Belichick era?

* The Patriots have dominated during the regular season.

* The Patriots won 3 Super Bowls (Pre-Spygate). 

* The League punished the Patriots for a scandal simply known as Spygate. A scandal of which a great debate can be had on whether or not it gave the Patriots an advantage or not. A scandal of which a debate can be made on what exactly it entailed.

* Some sort of violation of NFL rules prompted the NFL to punish the Patriots.

* The Patriots have NOT won a Super Bowl since Spygate, despite having what appeared to be vastly superior teams.

 

In conclusion, could it be coincidence that the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since Spygate. Yes it could be as simple as that, but if you walked up to someone with no bias and no preconceived notions on anything regarding the Patriots, Spygate or even football for that matter; then told them, "The Patriots of the early 2000's won three Super Bowls. After the fact, the league found out that the Patriots were violating NFL rules to the extent that their coach was fined the maximum amount a coach could be fined, the owner was fined $250,000 and the team had to forfeit a 1st Round Draft pick. Furthermore, the Patriots were no longer able to violate the rule(s) that they did when they won all of their Super Bowls. Since the time that they could no longer violate the rule(s), the Patriots have not won a single Super Bowl, dispite what many could argue were better teams. IN YOUR OPINION, WHY DO YOU THINK THE PATRIOTS HAVE NOT WON ANY MORE SUPERBOWLS?"

 

It could be assumed the response from this unbiased person would be something like the following:

"I don't know what Spygate is or what happened during Spygate, but based on known events, it's appears clear that some advantage was gained during the Spygate era. Otherwise, why would they have faired so poorly in big games since the fact that they violated NFL rules came to light and were no longer allowed to violate them? One could argue that teams could have simply "figured the Patriots out" but the fact that the Patriots have dominated the regular season like they have completely debunks this argument. The only logical reasoning that can be had regarding the Patriots' Brady/Belichick era is that Spygate gave them just enough of an advantage to win the big games when the rules were violated, and lose the big games when they no longer were."

 

As great as Brady, Belichick and the Patriots have been, what Belichick did during the Patriots Super Bowl winning years, forever tarnishes the amazing teams that Patriots have sent out on the field every Sunday. I feel sorry for Brady and the other members of those great teams. Belichick has put an undeniable asterisk next to the Patriots dynasty of the early 2000's. Unfortunately, the dynasty ended when Spygate came to light. Speculation and debates can be had on whether the dynasty would have even exsisted without the violations associated with Spygate.Shame on you Bill.

SNAKE2
SNAKE2

mr. drops(welker) is a bum. i always knew he was no good. We should have kept Moss yet we kept this guy?...i say cut him and lets get larry fitzjerald. one touchdown isn't good enough for a player that costs that kind of cheddar. he's too damn small potatoes.ship his miniature butt out fedex style and lets get a 6ft stud wide out. Damn munchkin cost us the game

James79
James79

 @ARES

 You ask more questions than give answers. They are a good team, don't play anyone in their division that is really tough, and when they play really tough teams they lose. Cheaters allways lose in the end.

outofbounds59
outofbounds59

 @SNAKE2

 or we can just throw huge money at "big studs" like Gronk or Hernandez and continue to watch how they can't stay on the field.

Wait a minute, we already did throw the money at them didn't we???

I understand that it could be just coincidence but in our most important games every year, either one of the "big studs" is out with a boo boo and Welker just goes out on the field and catches balls.

Yes he made some drops but "golden boy" Brady made some ass ugly passes as well.

I don't hear anyone wanting to run Brady out of town

Let's be real here;  you let Welker walk, and I guarantee that the Bronco's would pick him up before you could blink you eyes.

You don't think Manning wouldn't beg Elway to get Welker if he was available?

Snake2, go back to your mom's basement and keep quiet so people don't really figure out what an idiot you really are.

 

j7apple
j7apple

 @SNAKE2 Get a grip, Welker leads the league or at he top  every year with receptions and yards..NE has been more than happy to have him.

OldMensaGuy
OldMensaGuy

@j7apple @SNAKE2 Welker has the yards because he is targeted so many times. Pats will never win without a couple of stud receivers. Brady is like a dragster engine, problem is, the Pats have no wheels. Their receivers are undersized, slow and can't get separation. In addition, their defense is big but slow, so they can't tee-off on the opposition. Teams like the Ravens and 49ers can hammer the Pats without fear of reprisal. Pats are too soft, lack a pass rush, their back can't cover and their linebackers are too slow. Great to stuff the run, but it's a passing league. So much for the defensive genius.