- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing some thoughts at halftime of the AFC Championship Game, with the Patriots leading the Ravens 13-7:
The Patriots have run a lot of plays on offense, but only have 13 points to show for it. There were a lot of missed opportunities, but also credit the Ravens for rising up on third down and in the red zone.
A thigh injury to starting cornerback Aqib Talib is a major blow for the Patriots. Talib is a difference-maker, but he hobbled off after breaking up a pass to end the Ravens’ second drive. That has created some tough matchup situations for the Patriots, such as cornerback Kyle Arrington on receiver Torrey Smith.
Furthermore, starting right defensive end Chandler Jones has played only in the goal-line defense as his ankle injury has limited him. Rookie free agent Justin Francis was elevated to the starting lineup over Jermaine Cunningham and Trevor Scott, with Rob Ninkovich flipping to the right side. The Ravens had done a solid job keeping quarterback Joe Flacco clean until Ninkovich (6-2, 260) delivered a high-effort sack against mammoth left tackle Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 354). That’s a tough matchup for Ninkovich from a size perspective.
So personnel-wise, the Patriots are without two of their top players on D. They are hanging tough.
Bright spots for the Patriots on offense include receiver Wes Welker (both on offense and as a punt returner), tight end Aaron Hernandez (his only blip was failing to go out of bounds at the end of the second quarter) and receiver Brandon Lloyd. Quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t been able to find his customary rhythm, and on the Patriots’ second drive, it almost seemed as if the hurry-up approach worked against them on a running play to Stevan Ridley that was stopped short of the first down. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal.
The Ravens’ defense has lined up effectively against the hurry-up, so there haven’t been the same openings that we saw against the Texans last Sunday, but the Patriots have to hope it ultimately wears the Ravens down. The Patriots haven’t been able to get their running game going as much as they would like.
The Patriots have run 45 offensive snaps and the Ravens have run 28, with the time of possession favoring New England. If not for the Ravens winning more situations on third down and the red zone, the gap could be wider. The Patriots, Brady and coach Bill Belichick also mismanaged the end of the first half from a time perspective and were forced to settle for a field goal, which was surprising to see.
The Ravens, who won the opening toss, get the ball to start the second half.