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Sunday, January 20, 2013
Updated: January 21, 11:39 AM ET
Tables turned on Pats' defense

By Mike Reiss
ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The tables were turned on the New England Patriots in their 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

Known for their up-tempo, turbo offense that puts overwhelming stress on the opposition, the Patriots experienced what it's like to be on the opposite end of such an approach. The Ravens turned to their own version of an up-tempo, pass-first approach in the second half, and the Patriots' defense wilted.

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"They came up kind of up-tempo a little bit with different personnel, and we struggled with it," defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. "That's basically what it was."

When looking deeper at the Patriots' shocking second-half collapse, that was half of the problem. The offense, with quarterback Tom Brady not at his best, was the other half as it missed countless opportunities.

The result was a promising season coming to an unexpected end.

While the Patriots sputtered, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was telling his offense that the plan was to keep the foot on the gas pedal in the second half. After throwing just 12 times in the first 30 minutes, the Ravens went to the air 24 times in the second. The idea was to exploit a secondary without No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib, who left the game after the second series with a thigh injury and never returned.

The Ravens, who trailed 13-7 at the half but scored 21 unanswered points in the second half, saw vulnerability and attacked with force. Just like the Patriots usually do.

"It was obviously a hurry-up, fast-tempo offense and it's not like we don't see it almost every day [at practice]," said Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, who was thrust into a key role when Talib exited. "Kudos to them for making in-game adjustments and getting to that '11' personnel, hurry-up offense [and] fast tempo. We just couldn't get off the field."

By going to "11" personnel -- which is one running back, one tight end and three receivers -- the Ravens forced the Patriots to counter by mostly putting five and six defensive backs on the field. The loss of Talib hit at the Patriots' depth at cornerback and lightened the box up front, where the Ravens wanted to get away from challenging New England's stout front in the running game.

Anquan Boldin
Anquan Boldin proved clutch in the Ravens' run to the Super Bowl, catching four touchdown passes in the postseason.

In the end, the Ravens used three receivers on 79.5 percent of Flacco's dropbacks, which marked their third-highest percentage of the season, according to ESPN's Stats & Information tracking. All 16 of Flacco's completions with three receivers on the field came after Talib exited the game, totaling 176 yards and three touchdowns.

Is Talib that much of a difference-maker for the Patriots? Yes, he is, but a team that prides itself on "next man up" still needed to play better. Last week when tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Danny Woodhead were knocked out with injuries on the first two series, the team was praised for having the depth to fill in. Not so this time around.

The loss of Talib, coupled with having starting defensive tackle Kyle Love leave with a knee injury after the first series and never return, forced the defense to adjust against the Ravens. Also, starting right defensive end Chandler Jones only played two snaps, in the goal-line package, because of an ankle injury.

"It was big, it changed the whole makeup of your defense," said Wilfork, who had dominated Ravens center Matt Birk in last year's title game but wasn't as much of a factor Sunday. "We had to change a few things. Who knows if it would have been different if it wouldn't have happened? [But] I just think the Ravens played better and made more plays than we did [and] that was the bottom line."

The Ravens outcoached the Patriots, too. Bill Belichick is regarded a master of in-game adjustments, but Harbaugh seemed a step ahead. Harbaugh said the decision was made in the second half to "cut it loose a little bit more and give Joe a chance to make some plays." Flacco did, hurting the Patriots outside and in the middle of the field, where safeties and linebackers struggled with tight end Dennis Pitta.

Flacco's pace was different in the final 30 minutes, and it sparked a Ravens offense that was lackluster for most of the first half when the Patriots had several opportunities to build a bigger lead.

"It was just speed up a little bit -- getting on the ball, calling their plays and basically getting it going -- Flacco getting the ball out quicker and not allowing the rush to get to him," explained Wilfork, who felt the Patriots didn't hit Flacco enough.

The Patriots couldn't stem the tide and the Ravens controlled the third quarter, which is when the game swung, by holding the ball for 10:49. Overall in their dominant second half, the Ravens won the time of possession battle 20:18 to 10:42.

Not all of that is on the Patriots' defense. Had receiver Wes Welker not dropped a third-down pass that would have extended one third-quarter drive, and left tackle Nate Solder not had a holding penalty that negated a first down on the team's next drive, the defense would have had more time to recover on the sideline.

That reflected the Patriots' overall disjointed effort. They often talk about playing complementary football -- offense, defense and special teams -- but the three phases weren't working in concert.

As for where the defense is held accountable, it all came crashing down in the second half when the Ravens upped the tempo, beating the Patriots at their own game.