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WIDE LEFT: Patriots Outlast Ravens in AFC Championship Game, 23-20

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(Credits: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady waited out the final stressful minutes on the sideline and somehow, someway, his fourth-quarter leap into the end zone held up, sending the Patriots back to the Super Bowl, while ending the Baltimore Ravens’ season in agile disappoint.

With New England leading leading by three points with 11 ticks remaining in the game, kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal wide to the left, and the Patriots escaped with a 23-20 victory in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

On his one-yard scoring dive with 11:29 left in regulation, Brady took a shot from linebacker Ray Lewis, then forcefully spiked the ball as he walked away. Earlier, Brady showed his his passion by barking at Lewis following a hard hit on a four-yard run where Brady tried to slide.

Before Cundiff missed, Baltimore had a chance for a go ahead touchdown two plays earlier, but wide receiver Lee Evans was stripped of the ball in the end zone by backup cornerback Sterling Moore, who earlier was victimized for a Torrey Smith touchdown that gave the Ravens a slim 17-16 advantage.

Then Cundiff misfired, and the Patriots stormed the field in celebration as the sell out crowd of 68,756 at Gillette Stadium roared in awe.

The Patriots did slow down Ravens running back Ray Rice–the NFL’s total yardage leader–who was limited to 78 yards. New England linebacker Brandon Spikes made a fourth-quarter interception of Joe Flacco, who played his best postseason game to date, as he completed 22-of-36 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns and the one aforementioned interception.

With Rice a non-factor, Baltimore relied on the right arm of Flacco, and he delivered. Flacco has led the Ravens into the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, but has yet to reach the Super Bowl.

The loss should hardly be put on Flacco’s shoulders.

Operating against a beleaguered secondary that was minus its best cornerback, Kyle Arrington, who was forced to leave the game in the second quarter with an eye injury, Flacco took advantage and gave the Ravens its first lead. His short, quick screen pass to Smith turned into a 29-yard scamper down the right sideline after Smith freed his ankle from Moore’s grasp.

(Credits: AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

On the ensuing kickoff, Danny Woodhead’s fumble set Baltimore up with favorable field position at the New England 28-yard line, but a third-down sack forced a Cundiff 39-yard field goal, making it a 20-16 score.

However, New England would fight back.

Brady led the Patriots on an 11-play, 63-yard drive, and appeared to score on a one-yard touchdown run. The call was overruled by replay, but on fourth-down, he dived just high enough over the goal-line for the game’s final score.

New England’s 31st-ranked defense was dominant in the first-quarter. The Patriots stymied the Baltimore offense to minus-four yards on its three first-down runs and forced the Ravens to go three-and-out each time. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots put a long, 13-play, 50-yard drive together, which was aided by an illegal contact penalty on cornerback Lardarius Webb that negated a Bernard Pollard interception.

But the drive would stall as Paul Kruger sacked Brady, forcing a 29-yard field goal in the form of Stephen Gostkowski.

Late in the first quarter, Baltimore changed strategies after Webb picked off a pass intended for Julian Edelman at the Baltimore 30-yard line. On the following play, Flacco rolled to his right and threw deep down the sideline to a wide-open Smith. Had Flacco led Smith, he probably would have sprinted to the end zone for a touchdown. Instead, the play went for 42-yards, not bad at all when you consider the Ravens’ previous struggles to move the ball on its first three possessions.

Cundiff’s 20-yard field goal tied the score at 3-3.

(Credits: JUSTIN LANE/EPA)

Brady, perhaps irked by his throw that Webb picked off, connected on two passes for 29 yards on a 75-yard drive to make it 10-3. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 36 yards on that series, and also drew a personal foul penalty against linebacker Dannel Ellerbee, who ripped off the running back’s helmet on a short rush.

From there, Green-Ellis chugged into the end zone from inside the Baltimore 10-yard line.

Going back to the aerial attack, the Ravens knotted up the score at 10-10 on a six-yard throw from Flacco to Pitta, which concluded an 80-yard surge. Flacco began the drive with a 20-yard completion to Evans and then Anquan Boldin escaped Arrington’s missed tackle to gain 37 yards on a reception.

Throughout the course of the game, Flacco found holes in the New England coverage–predominately when he was flushed from the pocket.