Despite losing 23-20 to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, the Baltimore Ravens can still say that their defense shut down the Patriots high-flying offense. Led by QB Tom Brady, New England's offense was the 2nd ranked unit in the entire league during the 2011 regular season, averaging over 419 total yards per game. Yesterday, the Ravens "held" the Pats to 330 total yards.
Understandably, holding a team to 330 total yards may not normally fal into the category of shutting down an opponent, but given how prolific that opponent had been all season changes the limits of that definition. The Ravens held New England to almost 100 yards below their average, mostly using an always-moving, difficult to figure out, confusing scheme led by LB Ray Lewis and FS Ed Reed, who played the classic "chess match" with Brady as he stood over center looking for some sign that would expose whatever the Ravens had planned for his offense.
More often than not, Brady had no idea what the Ravens were going to do and while he put up decent stats, they certainly weren't "Tom Brady" numbers, to whom the credit for this goes to Ravens Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano's game-planning and the execution of the eleven guys on the field at one time. Even Brady knew this would be happening as he said so in his interviews all week leading up to the game.
Brady got what he expected all game long. At times, he looked solid, but the Ravens defense rose to the occasion when he did make his completions, limiting the all-important YAC (yards after the catch), especially from his pass-catching TE duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Surprisingly, the Pats run game provided the initial spark to the offense, accounting for their first TD and the run game actually scoring both of New England's TD's on the game as Brady had the six-inch QB sneak for the other TD.
Of the Patriots 330 yards offense yesterday, 239 of them came off the arm of Brady, almost 100 less than he averaged during the regular season (330 yards/game). His 57.5 QB Rating on Sunday was virtually half of his 105.6 regular season average.
The Ravens defense pretty much did everything right. Ray LEwis and Bernard Pollard each had 12 total tackles to lead the defense. Lardarius Webb continued his great play in the secondary, picking off Tom Brady on an acrobatic catch, his third of the post season to go along with his team leading five in the regular season, leaving Ravens fans scratching their collective skulls wondering how in the world could he have been bypassed for Pro Bowl honors. Webb also had six tackles and one pass defensed in what was a great individual effort.
Speaking of acrobatics, the tip and pick of Brady by rookie CB Jimmy Smith, off of the assist by Pollard was a thing of beauty, as well as the rookie's grasp of the moment to get up and return the ball almost to midfield from his initial spot in the end zone.
While the defense played as good a game as could have been expected, certainly good enough to win, LB Dannell Ellerbe had a visibly poor game. Missing tackles all over the field, trailing receivers after the catch and being nailed with an unsportsmanlike penalty for grabbing and ripping off New England RB Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis' helmet that cost the team dearly with the 15-yard penalty, leading to the Pats' first TD on the very next play.
The Ravens defense also kept the Patriots off the field as much as the Ravens offense did the same thing, with Baltimore winning the time-of-possession battle, 33:33 to 26:27, and the Ravens offense even ran two more plays than the Patriots did, 70 plays to 68 for New England.
All-in-all, a solid defensive effort, but as we know all too well in Baltimore, there are three parts of the game (offense, defense, special teams) and any one of the three can be the reason a team wins,....or loses.