Tom Brady, Patriots overcome Ravens 23-20 to secure Super Bowl rematch with Giants

January 24, 2012

The Baltimore Ravens were on the cusp of a Super Bowl trip as they drove towards the New England end zone. However a dropped pass and a missed field goal allowed Tom Brady and the Patriots another trip to the Super Bowl. As Mark Maske reported:

The New England Patriots ended the Baltimore Ravens’ season one agonizing step shy of the Super Bowl on Sunday and continued to carve a place in history as one of the NFL’s most enduring dynasties with a 23-20 victory in the AFC championship game.

The Patriots triumphed at Gillette Stadium when Ravens place kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds remaining that could have sent the game into overtime.

“It’s a kick I’ve kicked 1,000 times in my career,” Cundiff said. “I just went out there and didn’t convert. . . . There’s really no excuse for it.”

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady failed to put on his typical display of passing wizardry. But he and the Patriots made the big plays when it mattered, surviving when a potential game-winning touchdown catch was knocked from the hands of wide receiver Lee Evans before Cundiff’s miss.

The Patriots secured their fifth Super Bowl appearance with Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as coach. They’ll seek their fourth Super Bowl title with that pair leading the team when they play the New York Giants in two weeks in Indianapolis.

“Anything that’s associated with winning, I’m proud of,” Belichick said. “There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady. He’s the best. . . . It’s nice to be able to win with him and the rest of our team.”

Brady threw two interceptions and didn’t have a touchdown pass. But he put the Patriots ahead in the fourth quarter with a touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak, and they held on from there.

“It’s incredible,” Brady said. “You watch this game. I was a kid growing up — I was a 49er fan, so I got to watch a lot of Super Bowls. You pinch yourself to get this opportunity.”

For the Ravens, the agonizing loss could signal the end of an era in Baltimore, one which was highlighted by defensive veterans Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. As Mike Wise explained :

Wide left? Wide left.

The game that had everything left the Ravens with nothing.

Gillette Stadium goes berserk. The Ravens go home — for good.

The misfire that handed the New England Patriots their fifth trip to the Super Bowl in 11 seasons with 11 seconds left Sunday, Cundiff said, would at least teach his young children about adversity. He’s right.

He spoke of Coach John Harbaugh telling him he still believed in him, how he never felt prouder about the Ravens organization than at the worst moment of his NFL career. That, too, was a heartfelt, genuine sentiment.

But all I really heard perfectly was Cundiff’s remorse about letting his teammates down, about Lewis. “You know Ray has poured his heart out, and he’s had a long career, and you don’t know how many years he has left, and to let him down is pretty tough.”

That’s it. It’s over.

Oh, Lewis has another two years on his contract. But Ed Reed is 33 years old. Flacco still has this bizarre identity crisis, worried he will never get the adulation and acceptance he says he’s not worried about receiving but keeps on talking about it as if it’s more important than any Lombardi Trophy he hopes to one day raise.

The Ravens may be good for several more years, but this was their last opportunity to be great in the Ray Lewis era — and they couldn’t do it on a day they had everything going for them.

Flacco outperformed Brady, who tied Joe Montana for the most postseason victories in NFL history and surpassed John Elway for No. 4 on the postseason yardage list.

In fact, in one of those fine-line-in-sports moments, Flacco was a millisecond from hitting Lee Evans for the game-winning touchdown. If he does, and the Ravens hang on in the final 30 seconds, the perception of Flacco changes overnight. He goes from a guy who played well enough not to throw the game away to the quarterback who ran a two-minute drill like the best in the business en route to taking his team to the Super Bowl.

But Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore made the defensive play of the game, swatting the ball away after Evans all but had it in his grasp for six points that would have won the game.

More from Washington Post Sports:

Patriots defeat Ravens 23-20 to advance to Super Bowl

Giants beat 49ers 20-17 in overtime to advance to Super Bowl rematch with Patriots

Mike Wise: Cundiff’s missed field goal is a horrible end to a game that had everything

Lee Evans shoulders the blame for Ravens’ loss after dropping go-ahead touchdown

Patriots are early 3-point favorites for Super Bowl

Early Lead: Who will win Super Bowl XLVI?

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