The Patriots didn't play their best game on Sunday — especially on offense. Just ask Tom Brady.
But thanks to a strong defensive performance for a second week in a row, paired with a physical and mental toughness displayed late, the Pats escaped with a win to advance to the Super Bowl.
The Patriots may be best when they are marching downfield behind Brady's precision-passing, spread attack. But what makes the Pats so good is their ability to adapt to their opponent. Take a Week Five game against the ground-and-pound Jets, when New England rushed the ball 35 times for 152 yards in the win.
On Sunday, the Patriots matched the Ravens physically, especially in the trenches. On defense, Vince Wilfork's sensational effort led a front seven that held Ray Rice to 3.2 yards a carry. Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren and Kyle Love all got good penetration, winning the battles on the line. On offense, the O-line paved holes for RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (15-68-1) and allowed only one sack.
And now the Patriots get a chance at double revenge against the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI — once for their Week Nine loss but, more importantly, also for the Super Bowl loss four years ago that cost the Patriots a perfect season.
The PFW spin
In Week Nine, the Giants did something that's generally unheard of in the Bill Belichick era — handing the Patriots a second straight loss. The Giants' defensive backs were very physical all game long, making it difficult for Brady, who was off in his own game, to complete passes. Brady completed 57.1 percent of his passes and tossed two picks.
The Giants sacked Brady twice and hit him three times in the game, but the front line did enough to help alter his passes. On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots' pass defense couldn't stop Eli Manning late, giving up big pass plays.
With an extra week to prepare, the key will be how Belichick counters the Giants' air attack. Julian Edelman came in on defense and covered the slot receiver against the Ravens, and Joe Flacco targeted him with success, as Edelman could not cover Anquan Boldin. Edelman will have less of a shot against Victor Cruz.
DB Sterling Moore made two big plays late, but his missed tackle led to a Torrey Smith touchdown and he is still very inexperienced. It may be time to bring Devin McCourty back to corner and hope that he can find a bit of his rookie-year form to cover Cruz or Hakeem Nicks.
The three facets of the game that the Patriots have excelled at in the playoffs will come in handy against New York. The offensive line shut out the Broncos' pass rushers in terms of sacks and played well against Baltimore's aggressive group. Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and company are next, as the Giants try to harass Brady in the Super Bowl. A strong performance by the pass protectors will go a long way, and the Pats could get ORT Sebastian Vollmer back.
The success of the run game against the Ravens could also be an X-factor in Indy. If Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead can run well, it will keep the Giants' pass rushers back and open up more room for the passing game.
The run defense, which was stout against Baltimore, can bottle up Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs if it can repeat that performance.
What the Patriots continue to have on their side is the intangibles, showing resilience late in the season. The AFC title-game win wasn't perfect, and it wasn't always pretty, but the Patriots march on, continuing their inspired season dedicated to the late Myra Kraft.
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