For the second year in a row, New England and Baltimore will play for the chance at a spot in the Super Bowl.

The lead up to last year’s game in Foxborough focused on the play of Joe Flacco. Ravens DB, and spiritual leader (they have a lot of those) Ed Reed voiced his concerns regarding Flacco’s lack of poise during a narrow 23-20 win over the Texans in the divisional round. “I think Joe was kind of rattled a little bit … it just didn’t look like he had a hold of the offense.”

In the end it wasn’t Flacco’s play that would be the story — he outplayed Tom Brady for most of the game. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff can no longer enjoy live music at Mick O’ Shea’s on North Charles street. I’m also assuming Cundiff has better things to do than hit up dive bars in Baltimore, but it’s always nice to have the option.

Thoughts on the game

  • I was blissfully unaware Skip Bayless, ESPN talking head and walking  obscenity, still wrote columns. Unfortunately I stumbled upon his Joe Flacco piece this morning. While the story included many cringe worthy sentences–my computer barely avoided death via dishwasher–Bayless did key on something noteworthy. Yes, that hail mary at the end of the Broncos game was ridiculous, but Flacco matched Peyton Manning throw for throw. Arguably the most impressive pass during a wild divisional weekend was his completion to Dennis Pitta on 3rd and 13 at the Ravens one yard line.
  • That wasn’t the first time he held his own against the best. Last year Flacco bested Brady for three and a half quarters. His numbers on the day: 22/36, 302 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a QB rating of 95.4. Conversely, Brady’s stat line was quite poor. Tom went 22/36 for  239 yards and two interceptions.
  • Alas, the numbers, at least not those ones, aren’t everything. Flacco went from hero to goat in the fourth quarter. After a Brady interception, the Ravens had a chance to seal the game. On 4th and 6 at the Patriots’ 33-yard line, Flacco was forced to throw the ball away after Vince Wilfork bull rushed Ravens center Matt Birk.
  • Brady & Co marched down the field. The Michigan alum finally breached the Ravens’ stout defensive line on 4th and goal for the go ahead score.
  • Cundiff’s game-tying miss made him a pariah in Baltimore. ESPN’s  Elizabeth Merrill wrote an excellent piece on what happened to Cundiff after the kick — why do they need Skip Bayless again? We forget Lee Evans had a game-winning touchdown catch slip out of his hands two plays before Cundiff would line up for the field goal. Merritt spoke to Evans, who surprisingly, still lives in Baltimore:
“Last year put a lot of things in perspective for me, being around all those guys and seeing the way that organization is and what they believe,” Evans said. “It was a tremendous challenge for me, mentally and physically, and I think I’ve been able to grow a ton. I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
  • So who won’t be back for the rematch on Sunday. For the Patriots, BenJarvus Green-Ellis played an important role in the victory, rushing for 68 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries. The Patriots have replaced him — they always do — with a trio of capable backs, including Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. They’re better off today with those two in the backfield.
  • The Ravens are missing Lardarius Webb, who picked off Brady in last year’s game. Also, Lee Evans isn’t there to drop any big passes.
Can Joe Flacco quiet the critics one more time? Will Tom Brady cement his status as the best playoff QB of all time? These are just two of the many storylines heading into Sunday’s clash. This is going to be a good one.