1. Sterling Moore - Was well on track for his fourth straight "no-show" — tying a team mark set by Jerod Mayo and Ellis Hobbs III on multiple occasions — and then the final 30 seconds happened. Still not sure if his strip was really a Lee Evans TD. And I think his yank down of Dennis Pitta at the five was definitely interference, but it went uncalled. Sterling Moore, welcome to your 15 minutes of fame.
2. Vince Wilfork — To do what he does, playing all those plays at his size (One Patriot asked aloud if Wilfork was "batting 400"), is flat-out amazing. Those of us who wondered how much of a play-maker a nose guard could be, had it answered in Wilfork's 3-solo, 3-assist, 1-sack performance yesterday. An absolute monster of epic proportions. He closed every hole on Ray Rice.
3. Rob Gronkowski - Looked like the ankle was twisted into a pretzel. And he's back about five plays later, blocking on Tom Brady's game-winning sneak. Seriously, he grabs this one — with a special nod to his compatriots Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez — for a professional effort against ridiculously tight thick coverage by the Ravens. Together, the big three caught 18 balls for 196 yards.
Note: Only a true curmudgeon could come up with "No Shows" in an epic win like this.
1. Danny Woodhead - Son, you can't fumble on a kick return and expect to stick around here. Gained only 18 yards on six tries on a day when the holes were definitely there.
2. Pat Chung — Kid, the idea is to actually try and cover someone, not just let him run by, when the QB goes back to pass.
3. Julian Edelman — I know it's a tall task to play Anquan Boldin, but you gave up six catches for 101 yards to a guy who has seen better days. Much better days.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (B+) — The way Baltimore played, with six men in the box, dropping into a four-man pass rush, the running game should have been there and was. These guys blocked it well. These guys had to block a four-man pass rush and Brady was clean most of the night. Only Nate Solder got beat. A solid, typical performance from the heart of this football team.
Running backs (C+) — BJG-E (15-68) ran hard, and I would have liked to see him get the call a bit more with the chance to ice the game. Tough night for Danny Woodhead (6-18), who also fumbled away a kickoff. Stevan Ridley was inactive and Kevin Faulk dressed but didn't play.
Wide Receivers (C+) — Courageous effort by Wes Welker, who got folded, spindled and mutilated off the line by press coverage but still managed six grabs for 53 yards. Deion Branch caught two balls, being singled all day. Julian Edelman, again singled up, had one catch. Chad "Secret Weapon come Playoff Time" Ochocinco was inactive. Tiquan Underwood might as well have been.
Tight ends (B+) — Again, they took every bump, grind and forearm shiver Baltimore could muster, yet Rock and Hard Place still managed a productive day moving the chains. Define a solid day's work against this defense? Well, 13 for 119 sounds about right.
Quarterback (B) — He said he "sucked." I said he made enough plays to win another day. The guy has no real threat in the run game and has very, very limited resources outside. Yet, he's got your Patriots in the Super Bowl, despite the two interceptions.
Line (A) — Paced by Vince Wilfork, they owned the action up front and dictated terms to the usually physical Ravens. Kyle Love, Mark Anderson, Gerard Warren, Brandon Deaderick - they all pitched in. As John Harbaugh said, "Good front, good defense, good team."
Linebackers (C+) — Brandon Spikes had one heck of an interception, but I just don't get where these guys disappear to for long stretches at a time. Two solos for Spikes, two for Jerod Mayo. That's it. These guys are supposed to be tackling machines.
Secondary (A+) — At the 59:30 mark of the game they were headed for a "D." Then, Sterling Moore stepped in to make two of the biggest plays in team history, stripping Lee Evans and hauling down Dennis Pitta. Forget the "D," folks. These guys are heading to the Super Bowl!
Special teams (C ) — So many tiny little good things, all Stephen Gostkowski's touchbacks, his 3 for 3 field goal day, etc., get washed away when kick returner Danny Woodhead loses a fumble. Overall solid, if not unspectacular.
Coaching (B-) — Not a great day here. Chuck Pagano came up with a great defensive scheme that basically gave the Pats free reign to run, and New England never really took advantage of it. Pagano was a one-man mountain in a land of mole-hills on the Baltimore sideline. Just not crisp play-calling on offense. And if the plan is to throw Julian Edelman head up on Anquan Boldin 1 on 1 and live to talk about it, then it might be time to send this defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, where you sent the last one, Dean Pees.
Why Belichick is better
Bad things happen to bad coaches. And here we bring you Mr. Conservative, John Harbaugh.
What did playing, "not to lose" get Harbaugh yesterday? A trip home. No Super Bowl for the guy who settles for field goals on fourth-and-1, instead of going for the jugular.
Harbaugh was asked about the non-review on Lee Evans' catch/drop late in the game.
Yeah, he wanted one, too. But the play had to go on. He didn't think about throwing the red flag on the field out of disgust. "It's a penalty," he said.
Obviously, so would using that time out there have been a penalty, too, big guy?
Harbaugh's postgame press conference seemed like a trip to la-la land.
"I like our football team, and I like where we are going." ... So your happy going home, are you, instead of the Super Bowl?
On the Evans play, he "tried to get him to get their attention." ... So calling a timeout, there. Might it have gotten their attention?
As for his QB Joe Flacco, "I thought Joe played a great game." Twenty points, and he's headed to the Hall of Fame? The guy's QB rating against the 31st-rated pass defense in the game was 95.4, hardly Canton material.
On his kicker, the guy who shanked a game-tying chip shot of 32 yards, he said, "He is a great kicker, and you know, everyone has a tough moment. All of us do, so Billy will be fine." If I owned the Ravens, kicker Billy Cundiff would have had to find his own flight home.
Finally, he summed things up with a tear of joy in his eyes, noting:
"I am proud of this defense. I am proud of this team. I am proud of the offense. Proud of the special teams. That's what we do, that's how we play. The team, the team, the team, it's not going to change. I love our guys, I love the way they fight."
A loser coach is proud of his loser team.
Give me Bill Belichick's nondescript grunts over this cumquat any day.
The turning point
Lee Evans chooses to not secure the easy TD pass he caught from Joe Flacco.
He nonchalants an easy TD, and Sterling Moore strips - just a split-second before Evans' second foot completely hits the turf.
Honestly, that play should have been reviewed. But the officials did get it right. Evans' second foot has to be "completely down" for the catch to remain. It was not.
But it should have been. As one blogger noted, Evans should be ashamed of himself for that.
But I'm sure John Harbaugh was just fine with it, and he is very proud of his boys.
Good For The Old Bucks
You look around the Pats locker room after a game like this, and you have to feel happy for the class acts that still hang out in this home room.
Guys like Kevin Faulk, Deion Branch, Brian Waters, Gerard Warren and Shaun Ellis, all of whom appreciate this stuff.
"It's why I came back here to this place," said Branch.
Not for anything, but ...
I laid out five key matchups in the Sunday Eagle-Tribune, and your Super Bowl-bound Pats knocked it out of the park on all five.
1. All 11 Patriots defenders on Ray Rice - The NFL's best "yards gained from scrimmage" player was held to 67 yards rushing and one catch for 11 yards. Advantage Pats.
2. Matt Light vs. Terrell Suggs - Baltimore's sack machine didn't sniff Tom Brady's cologne and finished with two solo tackles. Advantage Pats
3.Billy Cundiff and Stephen Gostkowski vs. the weather and pressure - Gostkowski was 3 for 3, and Cundiff spent the night on a Samaritans hotline. Advantage Pats.
4. Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans vs. Bill Belichick's choices for the day at starting corner - Devin McCourty got help, as did Kyle Arrington. They held things together until Arrington was hurt. Advantage nobody.
5. Michael Oher vs. Rob Ninkovich - You couldn't run at Ninkovich. He had a Vrabel-esque effort setting the edge. Advantage and victory Pats.
Five final thoughts
1. Watching Tom Brady's body contort on his goal-line sneak with a helmet to the back from Ray Lewis ensures that I will never, ever doubt his toughness. Not that I ever have, but I never will.
2. Bernard Pollard was immense for the Ravens, a great villain, especially after sending Gronk to the locker room. His tip on the Jimmy Smith interception was one of the great plays you will ever see a DB make.
3. The Pats' defensive gameplan called for 50-plus passes by the Ravens, including 10 to Ray Rice alone. Awful, awful gameplan by Cam Cameron.
4. Two weeks for Brady and Bill O'Brien to come up with a gameplan. Coming off a game in which Brady said he, "Sucked," I love the Pats' chances.
5. This has been an incredible ride. All I can say about this season of coaching by Bill Belichick is, "Wow!"