Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship Game:
Protecting Brady: One of the most underrated aspects of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's record-tying performance last week was his stellar pass protection. Brady was barely touched in a divisional-round win over the Denver Broncos. He threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns with zero sacks. Brady was hit only twice in 34 pass attempts. Pass protection once again will be key against an aggressive Ravens’ defense. Baltimore didn’t register a sack last week but traditionally has success getting to Brady, particularly with outside linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs.
Wes Welker, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards during the regular season, had 55 yards and a score against Denver.
Forgetting Wes: Much of the Patriots talk this week has focused on their talented tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. (We now call them the “Boston TE Party.”) The pair combined for 261 total yards and four touchdowns in the divisional round. But are people forgetting about Wes Welker? He led the NFL in receptions (122) by a wide margin this season and also led the Patriots in receiving yards (1,569). Welker quietly had six catches for 55 yards and a touchdown against Denver. The Ravens will be doing all they can to slow New England’s tight ends. That could create a lot of opportunities for Welker. He could see a lot of Ravens corner Lardarius Webb, who had two big interceptions last week against the Houston Texans.
The Ninkovich factor: One of the surprise stars in New England's win over Denver was linebacker Rob Ninkovich. The sixth-year player recorded five tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. But when you go deeper into the statistics, you discover Ninkovich is one of the tone-setters for the Patriots’ defense. Including the postseason, Ninkovich has all eight sacks in New England victories. In three Patriots’ losses, Ninkovich was a non-factor with 13 tackles and zero sacks.