AFC North: 2012 AFC Championship Game Rapid Reaction


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts on today's AFC Championship Game between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots:

What it means: The Ravens lost in the AFC Championship Game for the second time in four seasons, but few predicted it would happen in this manner. After a last-minute rally, Billy Cundiff missed wide left on a 32-yard field goal. A Pro Bowl kicker last season, this was his 10th miss on the road this year. This also followed a dropped game-winning pass in the end zone by wide receiver Lee Evans two plays earlier. This is a painful loss because the window of opportunity is starting to close for aging defensive stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

Flacco flinches: Joe Flacco was outplaying Tom Brady for 3 1/2 quarters until he made a poor pass over the middle that resulted in an interception. Getting the ball back after a Brady interception, Flacco led the Ravens to the New England 33-yard line. On fourth-and-6 with less than three minutes left, Flacco had to throw the ball away after Vince Wilfork ran over center Matt Birk and grabbed ahold of the quarterback. Ravens coach John Harbaugh will get second-guessed for not going for the game-tying 50-yard field goal.

Can't make goal-line stand: With the Ravens holding a four-point lead (20-16) early in the fourth quarter, the defense stopped the Patriots at the goal line on second and third downs. But Brady leapt over the top on fourth-and-goal as Lewis and Jameel McClain were late to hit him.

Pollard continues to hurt Patriots: When New England tight end Rob Gronkowski injured his ankle late in the third quarter, it wasn't a surprise that Ravens safety Bernard Pollard made the tackle. Pollard has a history of hurting the Patriots, including those that led to Brady's ACL injury in the 2008 season opener and Wes Welker's knee injury in the 2009 regular-season finale. Gronkowski returned in the fourth quarter, though.

Pollard hurting Patriots, Part 2: One play after Flacco's fourth-quarter interception, Pollard deflected Brady's deep pass to the end zone. It went into the hands of rookie Jimmy Smith, who ran it to the Ravens' 38-yard line. It was the Ravens' third forced turnover of the game.

Costly penalty early: Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is known for being an undisciplined player and showed why in the second quarter. He ripped off the helmet of BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the red zone, which became a costly penalty. On the next play, Green-Ellis scored on a 7-yard run. That put the Patriots up 10-3.

What's next: The Ravens head into the offseason with issues to address on offense. Running back Ray Rice and left guard Ben Grubbs are free agents, and Flacco is looking for a contract extension.

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