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.

Affleck offers passionate Brady defense when asked about Deflategate

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Affleck offers passionate Brady defense when asked about Deflategate

When the topic of Deflategate was broached on HBO's Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons, which debuted this week, Ben Affleck became all kinds of fired up.

"What they did was suspend Tom Brady for four days for not giving them his [expletive] cellphone," Affleck said. "I would never give an organization as leak-prone as the NFL my [expletive] cellphone . . . so you can just look through my emails and listen to my voicemails?"

Affleck grew up in Cambridge, Mass. and is a passionate Patriots fan. He made no attempts to hide his fandom, and his appreciation for Brady, as he and Simmons (also a Patriots fan) discussed the football-deflation controversy that has now lasted well over a year. 

Affleck, who said he would want to cast himself as Brady if ever a Deflategate movie was made, harped on the fact that the league wanted Brady to turn over his phone. 

"Maybe Tom Brady is so [expletive] classy and such a [expletive] gentleman," Affleck said, "that he doesn’t want people to know that he may have reflected on his real opinion on some of his co-workers."

Brady is waiting for the Second Circuit to make a decision as to whether or not it will rehear his case against the NFL. Earlier this offseason, the Second Circuit reinstated Brady's four-game suspension issued by the league when a three-judge panel ruled in favor of the NFL, 2-1. 

Pro Football Talk wrote on Thursday that a decision from the Second Circuit could come at any time. If the rehearding request is denied, Brady could then take the case to the Supreme Court. Should the Second Circuit grant Brady a rehearing, his suspension would be delaed until the court reached a decision. In that case, Brady could potentially play the entire 2016 season before a decision came to pass. 

Brady posts high school essay to Facebook on living in his sisters' shadow

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Brady posts high school essay to Facebook on living in his sisters' shadow

Tom Brady wasn't always the most famous person in his family. Growing up, his sisters were the accomplished athletes in the household. 

For his latest Throwback Thursday style Facebook post, Brady published a pair of photos of an old high school essay that he wrote in the fall of his senior year in 1994. It was titled "The way my sisters influenced me."

I found an essay I wrote in 1994... I love my big sisters! #tbt. Thanks for the good grade Mr Stark!

Posted by Tom Brady on Thursday, June 23, 2016

In it, he discusses some of the difficulties of growing up with three older sisters and no brothers. Because Maureen, Julie and Nancy Brady had achieved so much in softball, basketball and soccer, Brady -- or "Tommy," as he signed his paper -- had trouble getting noticed. 

Of course, it wouldn't be long before Brady was headed from San Mateo, California to Ann Arbor, Michigan in order to play football for the Wolverines. He probably had no trouble garnering attention by then. Still, it's funny to read about how he felt overlooked in his youth. 

He closed the essay explaining that he knew his sisters would always provide him support throughout his life, adding, "hopefully, just maybe, one day people will walk up to them and say, 'Aren't you Tommy's sister?' or 'Hey where is your brother?' Maybe . . . "

If the Brady sisters didn't get those kinds of comments by the time the baby of the family was given an 'A' for his English assignment, it probably didn't take long before they did. About seven years later, he took over as the starting quarterback of the Patriots.