Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

The Force Awakens: Patriots' Win Over Ravens Is Reminiscent of Old-School Will

tom brady patriots ravens.jpg
Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

There are two takeaways that stand first and foremost in the wake of the New England Patriotsí 35-31 win over the Baltimore Ravens, an instant classic that sends the Patriots back to the AFC Championship game for a fourth-straight season.

1. That was without a doubt one of the best games in Patriotsí postseason history.

2. Itís also a game this team would have lost 9 1/2 times out of 10 over the last decade.

Aside from the Snow Bowl, and Super Bowl wins over St. Louis and Carolina, Saturday nightís divisional playoff win over the hated Ravens was the most tautly-contested comeback win that any of us can certainly remember. As far as comebacks are concerned, the 14-point deficit that New England faced (twice) was greater than the 11 during the Troy Brown strip game in San Diego. In terms of intensity, it was right up there with the AFC title game during the í01 run against Pittsburgh.

Hell, it might have been the best game ever to be played on the turf at Gillette Stadium, a place where the Patriots have become accustomed to simply walking past opponents in January.

Unless youíre the Baltimore Ravens.

Thatís four times that Baltimore has come to Foxborough in January, leaving victorious twice, even though Joe Flacco and Co. made its most recent, compelling case that they should be an unprecedented 4-0. Flacco was outstanding, throwing four touchdowns on the night. But he also delivered an interception in the gameís final moments, and to be honest, nearly cost his team long before that, fumbling a ball that was recovered by the Patriotsí defense just shy of the goal line, all after Darrelle Revis was called for holding.

Meanwhile, all Tom Brady did was throw for three touchdowns and ramble for another, shaking off a slow start and helping lead his team to a rousing comeback win, even in the absence of any semblance of running game whatsoever (Brandon Bolden led the way with seven yards on three carries). Danny Amendola (yes) scored a pair of touchdowns, one thrown his way by Julian Edelman. Rob Gronkowski was healthy for a playoff game for the first time since 1983, and provided stability for Brady. Brandon LaFell came up with the game-winning catch, an absolute beauty of a throw by Brady for New Englandís first - and only - lead of the game. The defense, so shaky in the first quarter, made key plays when it needed to in the second half, stopping the soaring Flacco from, once and for all, snatching the big game playoff label from his counterpart on the other sideline at Gillette.

There were so many layers to this beauty, weíre going to be talking about it for some time, even with the AFC Championship set to invade Route One next Sunday evening. Itíll be either the Denver Broncos or Indianapolis Colts coming to Foxborough, and any fans all set with drama and having their heart somewhere ready to start seeping out of their nostrils, might want to root for Andrew Luck when the Colts-Broncos divisional showdown takes place Sunday afternoon. Not that weíd turn down a good olí fashioned Brady-Manning game, but this one against the Ravens was seemingly more than we could have handled.

If itís the Colts, while we donít recommend making hotel reservations a week before a title game out of respect for the opponentÖI mean, you can at least look, right?

But you know what it was that we loved most about this stress-filled New England win? We felt it.

Down 14-0 in the first quarter, this all seemed like it was for naught. The first-round bye. Home-field advantage. All of it. Against the Ravens. The freaking Ravens. Yet again.

But unlike the Tom Brady who had Matthew Slater a year ago in Denver, this one had a dependable Edelman and a force in Gronkowski,. He had a guy reduced to a punch line further emerge as secret weapon in Amendola. He got emotional (some might argue too emotional) on the field, and opened the path to a light that we havenít seen in quite some time.

Bradyís playoff aura, always present, yet dimmed somewhat over the years, was blinding on Saturday against Baltimore. The Patriots quarterback is now 19-8 in his postseason career, one during which he was at one point long ago, a perfect 10-0.

Itís not out of line to call this his best since the Super Bowl win over the Eagles.

And it wasnít just Brady. There was a competitive fire that spread throughout this team, from Brady to Amendola to Jamie Collins and Vince Wilfork. The Patriots, as they did in the days of yore, willed themselves to victory and onward to the AFC title game. There was no quit, only hardened desire to move on, to deny seasonís end at Gillette for at least one more week.

Thatís the sort of playoff game theyíve lost all too often over the last few years; tight heart-breakers when the cards fall in the other direction. The AFC title game last January. Both Super Bowl loses against the New York Giants. The AFC Championship game in Indianapolis a football life ago.

How many times over the last decade have the Patriots lost the same type of game they pulled out at Gillette Saturday night?

This was a throwback both in the way the Patriots approached the deficit and the way that it didnít rattle them. It was a reminder of the ways they used to win games in the Super Bowl era, and is perhaps the most convincing suggestion that a new dawn in that regard is but a few weeks away.

These were the Belichick-Brady Patriots as you remembered them, not a serviceable facsimile hoping to catch lightning when the opportunity arose.

Hope has always been here. Itís faith that has filtered in and out over the years.

It was back on Saturday.

The Patriotsí playoff aura is alive, well, and has emerged from hibernation.

Give the Ravens credit, they very nearly took it as their own and left Gillette peppered with questions -- and doubts -- about the Patriotsí future under Belichick and with Brady at the helm.

But the fact that the Patriots won says a lot about who they are as much as it does where they are going. On Saturday, they reminded you of the greatness of their past, adding an epilogue to their long list of playoff achievements.

There's been an awakening. Have you felt it?

Ah, hell, how long until Sunday?

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