Ravens beat Patriots, 28-13, for AFC championship

986027.jpg

Ravens beat Patriots, 28-13, for AFC championship

FOXBORO -- Stat of the day (courtesy of SI's Don Banks): Prior to Sunday, there had been 11 championship-game rematches in the National Football League over the last 60 years -- games in which the same two teams met for the title two years in a row -- and, amazingly, all 11 of them were won by the defending champ,

But the 12th time was the charm for the Baltimore Ravens.

Back at Gillette Stadium for their second consecutive try at the AFC championship, the Ravens broke the spell. Taking advantage of crucial injuries to cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Patrick Chung, Joe Flacco riddled the turned-back-into-Swiss-cheese Patriots secondary for 240 yards and three touchdowns and led the Ravens -- who trailed, 13-7, at the half -- to a 28-13 victory and their first trip to the Super Bowl since 2000.

For the Patriots, the loss -- only their second in an AFC Championship Game -- came in a game they dominated in the first two quarters. But unable to convert on numerous third-and-shorts, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, they were failed to put the game away when they had the chance . . . and the Ravens eventually made them pay.

"Look, we missed a lot of opportunities tonight," said coach Bill Belichick. "We were 1-for-3 in the red area (actually 1-for-4); we couldn't stop them (the Ravens were 4-for-4 in scoring touchdowns in the red area) . . . Nothing was really good enough."

The Patriots broke on top first, but it was a harbinger of things to come: Stephen Gostkowski kicking a 31-yard field goal with 6:25 to go in the first quarter after a 12-play drive stalled at the Baltimore 12.

"You've got to hold Tom Brady to threes and score sevens," said Baltimore running back Ray Rice (19 carries, 48 yards, 1 TD). "You've got to score touchdowns against Brady. If you're kicking field goals versus Brady, he's always going to have that opportunity to come back."

Compounding matters, the Patriots suffered a key injury when Talib, who was being counted on to stop the Ravens' explosive Torey Smith, pulledd a hamstring and had to leave the game. Flacco took advantage, hitting Smith with a 25-yard completion during a 13-play, 90-yard drive that was capped by Rice's two-yard TD run, giving Baltimore a 7-3 lead.

The Pats answered right back, going 79 yards in 11 plays of their own to move back in front, 10-7, on a one-yard scoring pass from Brady to Wes Welker. They nearly extended it further, reaching the Baltimore 4 late in the half, but with the clock winding down they -- again -- settled for a 25-yard Gostkowski field goal as time expired, making the score 13-7.

"I would have loved to get the touchdown there," said Brady.

And that field goals-instead-of-touchdowns inefficiency eventually bit them. The Ravens -- taking advantage of the depleted Pats secondary (Chung joined Talib on the sidelines when he went down on Rice's touchdown run) -- passed on all but one play as they went 87 yards in 10 plays and regained the lead, 14-13, on a five-yard pass from Flacco to Dennis Fitta with 6:14 to play in the third quarter.

Then they did it again on their next possession: 63 yards in 10 plays, with Flacco hitting Anquan Boldin -- who made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone -- from three yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 21-13.

Flacco, who had completed only 6 of his first 13 passes, had, by this time, hit 12 of his last 19 and had 207 yards with two touchdowns. He finished the night 21-of-36 for 240 yards.

"He's one of the elite quarterbacks," said Patriots safety Steve Gregory. "I know he gets a lot of flak for possibly not being that type of guy, but he is."

"I think he played phenomenal, all the way around," agreed linebacker Brandon Spikes.

The Pats' last chance evaporated when Stevan Ridley fumbled after a thunderous hit to the head by Bernard Pollard -- yes, the man who blew out Tom Brady's knee and was also the only opposing player in the vicinity when Wes Welker suffered his knee injury and Rob Gronkowski broke his ankle -- and the Ravens recovered on the Patriots' 47. Four plays later, Flacco had them in the end zone, moving ahead 28-13 on an 11-yard TD pass to Boldin.

The Pats were reduced to desperation attempts to pull out the game, but Brady -- who wound up attempting 54 passes (completing 29, for 320 yards) -- was intercepted twice, and they gave up the ball on downs on their other possession.

"We got behind there in the second half and became one-dimensional," said Brady. "We just couldn't string enough good plays together to get the ball in the end zone."

And when they couldn't, it ended . . . the game, the season, the chance at that elusive fourth Super Bowl championship in the BradyBelichick Era.

"It's hard," said Gregory. "After a loss like this, it's hard. This is just about as low as you feel . . . To get to this point is a great thing, but we fell a little short of our goal."

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

MORE:

But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."