The Game Balls
|Sterling Moore makes the play. (AP photo)|
* Sterling Moore: Few of you probably even knew Moore was on the Patriots roster, let alone the player who would make the biggest play of the AFC title game. With the Baltimore Ravens driving for the potential game-winning touchdown, quarterback Joe Flacco threw a perfect pass to Lee Evans in the end zone. The ball hit Evans right in the hands for what would have been the winning score in the final seconds. But after Evans corralled it, Moore swatted the ball right through his hands for an incomplete pass. Moore, who had his back turned to the pass, had just a split second to make the play, and he did. If he hesitates at all, Evans scores the game-winner and the Ravens are going to the Super Bowl. The Ravens, one play later, ended up missing a 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, giving the Patriots the victory. Moore wasn't the best player on the field, but he came up with the biggest play of the game at the biggest moment.
|Vince Wilfork. (AP)|
* Vince Wilfork: The Patriots defensive lineman had six total tackles, a sack and three tackles for a loss against the Ravens. It was one of those tackles for a loss that was one of the biggest plays of the game. On a third-and-three play from the Patriots' 30, the Ravens called a draw play to Ray Rice. Already in field goal range, Baltimore was trying to not only get the first down, but at least get closer for an easier kick. But Wilfork broke through the middle of the offensive line and dropped Rice for a three-yard loss with just under three minutes to play. The Ravens were then forced to go for it on fourth-and-six from the Patriots' 33 instead of kicking a potential game-tying 50-yard field goal. Flacco threw incomplete on fourth down to give the Patriots the ball back. Wilfork and the New England defense had to hold one more time, and thanks to the Cundiff miss, they did just that to win the AFC crown.
|Joe Flacco. (AP)|
* Joe Flacco: Shockingly, Flacco outplayed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Foxboro Sunday night. Unfortunately for him, the Ravens came up three points shy and will watch the Super Bowl from home. Flacco, however, played well enough to get Baltimore the win. Flacco has done a lot of talking about wanting credit for his team's success this season, but until today, he hadn't deserved to be singled out as a great player. Flacco was 22-of-36 passing for 306 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots. He had a passer rating of 95.4. Brady's passer rating was 57.5. Flacco, down a field goal, brought his team downfield and should have thrown the game-winning touchdown pass to Lee Evans, but the wide receiver got the ball knocked from his hands for an incomplete pass. Evans, even with the swat by Sterling Moore, should have held onto the ball. At the least, it would have been great to see what Flacco and Brady could have done in overtime, but Billy Cundiff didn't cooperate with his 32-yard miss at the end of the game. Still, Flacco finally backed up all his talk with a performance that deserved better.
|Tom Brady. (AP)|
* Tom Brady: I know, I know. Brady said he "sucked" after the game, and it's not hard to see why he would say that. He threw for just 239 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, good enough for a 57.5 passer rating. But he still accomplished plenty in Foxboro to get on this list. He tied former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana's record for postseason victories. This was Brady's 16th in the playoffs. He also passed Montana and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for second all-time in completions, trailing just Brett Favre. Finally, he passed former Broncos quarterback John Elway for fourth all-time in total passing yards in the postseason. Brady also, against the Ravens, scored the game-winning touchdown on a one-yard leap with 11:29 to go in the game. So, Brady may have "sucked" but he was still good enough to get the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
The Game Falls
|Billy Cundiff. (AP)|
* Bill Cundiff: The Ravens kicker will forever be remembered by both Baltimore and New England fans, as he could have sent the AFC Championship to overtime with a 32-yard field goal. Instead, Cundiff flat-out shanked a kick that had no chance of going through the uprights after contact was made. There wasn't even a moment where fans could have thought it was going to be good. It was ugly right from the start. The kick was so bad I don't see any way the seven-year player returns to the team next season. Missing a 50-yard kick is one thing, but missing badly on a chip-shot 32-yarder is a whole different set of circumstances. If your kicker can't handle pressure situations, there is no reason to keep him around.
|Julian Edelman. (AP)|
* Julian Edelman: The Patriots receiver played a lot as a defensive back Sunday, especially on the final drive of the game by the Ravens. Baltimore attacked Edelman several times during the drive, making him look like, well, a wide receiver playing cornerback. The worst part, however, was Edelman talking trash to Anquan Boldin after Flacco started that drive with an incompletion pass, with Edelman covering Boldin. That only made Edelman look foolish when he was continually beat thereafter. Boldin wouldn't be the guy to talk trash to either, as he caught six passes for 101 yards. Hopefully for the Patriots, they have someone else to step in at defensive back so Edelman can go back where he belongs.