Okay, so it's not mixed martial arts, but if there's one thing MMA Maniacs love to discuss as much as their beloved sport, it's definitely the NFL playoffs.
Today's (Sun., Jan. 22, 2012) early game on CBS features the Baltimore Ravens traveling to Foxborough to play the New England Patriots. It's a battle of the number one and two seeds in the AFC and it's an intriguing match-up. The Ravens defense has had plenty of success stopping this Patriots offense recently, knocking them out of the playoffs two years ago but Tom Brady leads an offense that no one has been able to stop all year.
On the flip side, the Pats defense has been better as of late but is still vulnerable to a well-oiled offense. Fortunately for New England, the Ravens aren't exactly lighting the NFL on fire. Indeed, they managed to squeak by Houston last week on the backs of Ed Reed and company, not Joe Flacco and his rag-tag bunch on offense. If Ray Rice can get rolling early, that should give Baltimore its best chance to win.
So here it is, Maniacs; an open thread and discussion to keep your fellow gridiron guys and gals abreast of the Ravens vs. Patriots score, as well as a sounding board for any and all football trash talk. Pics, videos, links -- it's all fair game today.
Score updates as they happen after the jump.
BALTIMORE RAVENS VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Patriots-3, Ravens-0: It took some time -- two three-and-outs from Baltimore and one from the Pats -- but New England was finally able to put together a decent drive with a dink and dunk game plan that both took away the Raven's pass rush and kept them on the field for an extended period. It also helped that the Patriots were in the hurry up for the entire drive. They stalled in the red zone and settled for a field goal but accomplished their goal of tiring out the defense early.
The first quarter comes to a close with the Ravens having finally put together a drive off a rare Tom Brady interception. Up to that point, Baltimore had -6 yards of offense. So they came out with a play-action pass and went deep to Torrey Smith for 42 yards on first down. They will start the second quarter with a 3rd and 5.
END OF FIRST QUARTER
Patriots-3, Ravens-3: Baltimore failed to convert that 3rd and 5, coming just inches short. They initially acted as though they would go for it on 4th down but elected instead to knock in the short field goal to tie this game. It was a sound decision, considering the momentum has swung decidedly in their favor. If they go for it and don't get it, all the momentum goes back to the Patriots. This way they get points and keep the momentum for when the defense is next on the field.
Patriots-10, Ravens-3: New England answered back with a drive that consisted of BenJarvus Green-Ellis just running the ball straight down the Ravens throats. He picked up 36 yards on the drive, including the eight-yard touchdown to give the Pats the seven point lead. He also had his helmet ripped off, which accounted for 15 penalty yards to put New England in position to score with first and goal from the eight. This is how a veteran team responds to a solid drive from Baltimore. Momentum? What momentum?
Patriots-10, Ravens-10: Speaking of how to properly answer back, I give you Joe Flacco silencing his critics with some seriously clutch throws, including a six-yard touchdown to Dennis Pita. Flacco is now 8/10 for 129 yards and a touchdown in the first half here. Sure, the Ravens were getting shut down in their first three drives but they've finally found their groove and are going blow-for-blow with the high octane Patriots offense. It's unlikely both teams can keep this pace up. Who will blink first?
Patriots-13, Ravens-10: Let's get one thing straight -- New England has a scary good offense. It's impossible for Baltimore to match up against the two big tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and it shows. The Patriots used them both liberally to go 63 yards in 10 plays but had to settle for a field goal after Gronkowski failed to get both feet in a bounds on a third down catch that would have given his team first and goal. The Ravens will have three minutes exactly to respond before halftime.
Baltimore was unable to move the ball down field and punted away to New England. In a surprising move, the Patriots decided to down it and run the clock out with one minute remaining and two timeouts still in their pocket. It's understandable when considering field position -- they were at their own 10 yard line -- but with an offense like this and the way they were able to move the ball, announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms couldn't help but wonder why Coach Bill Belicheck elected to play conservatively when that's simply not in his nature. Then again, he has great respect for the ball-hawking skills of Ed Reed and the Baltimore defense, not to mention the fact that New England has been playing short instead of taking deep shots. Either way, it's halftime and the Pats will get the ball to open the third quarter.
END OF SECOND QUARTER
Patriots-16, Ravens-10: Once again, New England showed how dominant their offense can be by marching down the field en route to yet another trip to the Baltimore red zone. But, once again, the Ravens defense held firm and forced a Stephen Gostkowski field goal from 24 yards out. Still, they went 74 yards on 14 plays and ate up six minutes worth of clock. Save for the touchdown, that's about as good as they could ask for.
Ravens-17, Patriots-16: Baltimore takes its first lead of the game thanks to an 11 play, 78-yard drive of their own that culminated in a Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith hook up for a 29-yard touchdown on a screen pass on 3rd and 3. New England brought a blitz and to give Raven's offensive coordinator Cam Cameron some rare credit here, they had a blitz beater dialed up. Smith caught the ball, made a man miss and sprinted up the sidelines before diving into the end zone. The play was reviewed and it was determined he did, in fact, stay in bounds to score the touchdown. The Patriots are going to have to score touchdowns if they want to win this game.
Ravens-20, Patriots-16: Danny Woodhead fumbled on the ensuing kickoff after the Ravens touchdown and Baltimore recovered to set them up with solid field position. They advanced the ball with a big run from Flacco on a scramble but he was sacked on third down just a few plays later to lose 12 yards and Billy Cundiff was called on to knock in another field goal, which he did from 39 yards out.
The third quarter came to a close on a somber note for the Patriots, who not only find themselves trailing by four heading into what could be the final quarter of their season but they will do so, at least at first, without the services of Rob Gronkowski, who had his ankle rolled up on by Bernard Pollard, the same man who injured by Wes Welker and Tom Brady in separate seasons, both times serious injuries. Gronk's looked fairly serious as well. He did walk on his own power to the locker room, so stay tuned for updates on his status going forward.
END OF THIRD QUARTER
Patriots-23, Ravens-20: The Pats were driving when Gronkowski got hurt and they didn't stop once he was out of the game. They once again dink, dunked and ran the ball downfield until they got to the one yard line, where Baltimore held firm to force a 4th and goal from the half inch line. Tom Brady finally took it in himself with a sneak that gives New England the three point lead with 11:29 to play. Here we go, folks.
FINAL SCORE -- Patriots-23, Ravens-20: Baltimore got the ball with roughly two minutes to play and Joe Flacco marched his team down the field to set them up to tie it with 15 seconds on the clock. But Billy Cundiff came out and hooked the ensuing field goal attempt, giving the Patriots the win and sending them to the Super Bowl to await the winner of the New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers game coming up next. Unbelievable.