Felger: The seven key plays in the Patriots' victory

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Felger: The seven key plays in the Patriots' victory

By Michael Felger

I could use this column to pound my chest over the Randy MossDeion Branch thing -- but that's a little too easy isn't it?

I mean, I've only told you for about two-and-a-half years running that for all of Moss' talent, the Patriots would have a better offense when it truly counts with Branch. And for the last two-and-a-half years, you've told me I'm a moron.

Well, whaddya know? In his first game back, Branch caught 7 balls for 75 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime (he finished the day with 9 catches for 98 yards) as the Pats came back from a late, 10-point deficit to beat one of the best teams in football for their best win since the 2007 AFC Championship Game.

Too.

Easy.

Instead, in a game that had around two dozen notable plays, I'll give you seven key ones in the fourth quarter and overtime that may have slipped through the cracks in the euphoria of victory. We'll go in inverse order:

Brady to Branch for 10 yards on third-and-2 on their final possesion

Hah! I guess I can't let it go. When the Pats offense HAD to have it, when an incomplete would have meant a risky, 49-yard field-goal attempt from Stephen Gostkowski with under four minutes remaining in overtime, Brady went with the trust factor and sent it to Branch, who fought his way open against tight coverage. Catch. First down. Game over. You think Moss would have battled to the finish despite having just two catches through three quarters as Branch had? Please. The turtle would have been well inside his shell by then.

Zoltan Mesko 65-yard punt with 7:26 left in overtime

What an insanely huge mistake by the Ravens' special teams, letting Mesko's punt hit the ground and roll deep into Baltimore territory when it looked like they would get the ball near midfield with a short-field opporunity for a game-winning field goal. Instead, the ball, which had been at the Pats' 16-yard line when it was snapped, came to rest at the Baltimore 19.

The ensuing punt back to the Pats resulted in Wes Welker getting tackled at his own 38, which put Brady in good position to finally put the game away.

Devin McCourty pass breakup at around the Pats' 35-yard line with 8:16 left in overtime

This is as close as the Pats came to losing the game. The Ravens had driven to the Pats' 48-yard line and were facing a third-and-5. A first down would have put them perilously close to field-goal range. The Pats, who owned the 32nd-ranked third-down defense in the league entering the day (54.7 percent), needed another stop.

They got one from the rookie corner, who rode Todd Heap down the sidelines as he mostly faced Flacco the whole way down the field. Having his head turned was the key, as it made the contact he put on the tight end legal. McCourty got called for a bad pass interference on a similar play in the first half when he failed to turn to the ball. That's called progress.

Three-and-out stop by the Pats' defense with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter

Really, how much confidence did you have in the Patriots to stop the Ravens at this point? I had very little. The Pats had just tied the game with a short Stephen Gostkowski field goal and it was time for the defense to step up. I know a lot of people had a lot of bad thoughts. But with Flacco suddenly jittery, the Pats did the job, forcing Flacco to throw three times to Rice, with the first sailing high, the second going for a measly four-yard gain, and the third bouncing off Rice's shoulder pads and to the ground.

To me, the defense getting stops in the fourth quarter and overtime was THE story of the game (not Branch, as much as I want him to be). Again, the Pats had the worst third-down defense in the entire NFL entering the day. They had allowed the Ravens to convert some big ones in the first half. But in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Pats held the Ravens to just 1-of-6 conversions (and that was a third-and-1).

Brady to Gronkowski for 24 yards on first-and-25 with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter

This is the play where Brady got throttled to the ground, cried for a flag, and then got up jawing with Terrell Suggs. It came with the Pats desperately needing points and with a Matt Light holding call and a delay-of-game penalty on Brady putting the offense in a deep hole. Brady and Rob Gronkowski promptly dug them out of it. It was Brady's best play of the day. It put the Pats on the way to tying the game.

Defensive stop on a Flacco QB sneak with 9:10 left in the fourth quarter

Hey, John Harbaugh, does your husband coach football, too? What a limp decision by the Baltimore coach to punt on the ensuing fourth-and-inches. It was, in fact, the second time Harbaugh did that, punting on another fourth-and-short near midfield late in the second quarter. Those two decisions came back to haunt Baltimore.

Brady to Branch for a five-yard touchdown catch with 11:02 remaining in the fourth quarter

Hah! I'm still not letting it go. Brady made another nice play on this one, buying time against a three-man rush while waiting for Branch to shake free on the back line. The play came on third down, so it was a big one. A field goal in that situation wouldn't have felt quite the same.

As for Branch, he simply got open and caught the ball.

Remember when that's all we wanted our receivers to do?

(I'll move on from this eventually . . . Okay, maybe not.)

Felger's report card will post on Tuesday morning. Email him HERE and read his mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio week days, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Belichick headlines big-name crowd in attendance at Ohio State pro day

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Belichick headlines big-name crowd in attendance at Ohio State pro day

Bill Belichick has counted both Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano among the list of coaches he trusts. On Thursday, the Patriots coach was in attendance at Ohio State's pro day to watch players who've been coached by both. 

Belichick has been closely tied to both Meyer and Schiano over the years, drafting multiple players from their programs when Meyer was at the University of Florida and Schiano was at Rutgers University. The Schiano connection has been particularly strong in recent years as Belichick's son, Steve, played for Schiano, and the Patriots had three key players in their secondary -- Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan -- for the last four seasons who studied under Schiano. 

Now the head coach and associate head coach/defensive coordinator, respectively, Meyer and Schiano have tutored some of this year's top draft prospects. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the top-tier talent hailing from Columbus this year . . . 

Malik Hooker, safety: The 6-foot-1, 206-pounder is expected to be the first true free safety off the board. His impressive ball skills made him a turnover waiting to happen in the Big Ten. 

Marshon Lattimore, corner: With a 38.5-inch vertical and a 4.36-second 40-yard dash time, Lattimore is one of the best draft-eligible athletes this year. He was hampered by hamstring injuries in college, but he's still projected to be one of the first defensive backs taken. 

Gareon Conley, corner: Among the draft's fastest risers after putting together a strong combine (4.44 40-yard dash, 6.68-second three-cone), Conley will give his next team good size (6-feet, 195 pounds) and length (33-inch arms). He may not be as polished as Lattimore, but still could very well be a first-round pick.

Pat Elflein, center: This smart, hard-working pivot may not have the world's best footwork, but he should be among the first players taken at his position. Elflein (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) is a former wrestler who has experience at both center and guard. 

Curtis Samuel, receiver: A true all-purpose threat in college (AP All-American, first-team All-Big Ten), he could have trouble adapting to life as a full-time receiver in the NFL. At 5-11, 196 pounds that's probably where he'll end up.

Raekwon McMillan, linebacker: At 6-2, 240 pounds McMillan was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some concern as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level. The Patriots, as we've noted, have been looking at the linebacker position throughout the pre-draft process.

FBI returns Brady Super Bowl jerseys to Gillette

FBI returns Brady Super Bowl jerseys to Gillette

The FBI returned Tom Brady’s Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI jerseys to Gillete Stadium Thursday, days after recovering the stolen items. 

After the FBI’s visit, Robert Kraft issued the following statement:  

"We want to thank the FBI, the Mexican authorities and the many different local agencies that were involved in the investigation and ultimate recovery of Tom Brady's Super Bowl LI jersey. Working along with the Patriots and NFL security, those agencies collectively coordinated an investigation that also led to the recovery of Tom’s missing Super Bowl XLIX jersey. It was great to have both jerseys returned to Gillette Stadium today. I don’t know that any agency could have accomplished this independently, but collectively multiple agencies -- both in the U.S. and in Mexico -- worked together to achieve the goal of retrieving the stolen property. It is another example of the importance of teamwork and what can be accomplished when everyone works together. We appreciate the effort of everyone involved and look forward to returning these jerseys to Tom when he gets back to New England."

Brady’s jersey was reported missing shortly after the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI victory over the Falcons, with it being learned in recent days that Martin Mauricio Ortega Camberos of Mexican newspaper La Prensa was the culprit. Video emerged Tuesday of Ortega illegally entering the Patriots’ locker room and leaving with the jersey.