FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –Tom Brady launched four passes that were stolen away by the Baltimore Ravens’ secondary.
Although two interceptions were nullified by penalties, the New England Patriots’ star quarterback was stymied at nearly every turn by the Ravens’ defense.
Under normal circumstances, a pair of interceptions and no touchdown passes by Brady translates into a winning performance for his opponent. That wasn’t the case, though, for the Ravens during a losing cause Sunday as they fell, 23-20, in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.
"It wasn’t good enough," said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who intercepted Brady once and had another taken away due to his illegal contact penalty. "Brady did what it took for them to win that game. I’ll take my hat off to him. We had to finish the game. We didn’t."
Brady completed 22 of 36 passes for 239 yards and was sacked once. He finished with an uncharacteristic 57.5 quarterback rating after passing for over 5,000 yards during the regular season with 39 touchdown passes.
"It was the biggest game of my career, so it’s the biggest loss of my career," said strong safety Bernard Pollard, who deflected an end-zone pass by Brady to rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith for an interception in the fourth quarter. "It hurts. Losing sucks."
Brady scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter on a one-yard dive over the top of the Ravens’ defense.
Brady usually connects on several big plays per contest, but his long completion Sunday was a 23-yarder to Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"Well, I sucked pretty bad, but our defense saved us," Brady said. "I’m going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I’m proud of this team and my teammates."
Gronkowski caught 17 touchdowns during the regular season, but was limited to five receptions for 87 yards and kept out of the end zone. Likewise for tight end Aaron Hernandez, who caught seven passes for 66 yards.
Wide receiver Wes Welker led the NFL with 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season, but was limited to six catches for 53 yards.
"I thought we played good, but I think a couple of times we could’ve been a little more disciplined with the underneath routes and the receivers," Pollard said. "For the most part, it was dink and dunk. We held them to three a lot of drives. It was just a lot of mistakes.
"With the mistakes we were still in the game When you’re playing a team like this, it’s one of those things where you’ve got to be on your P’s and Q’s because they can fire back quick. They showed that."
Webb intercepted five passes during the regular season to lead the team and three during the playoffs.
When asked about his performance, Webb replied: "It wasn’t good enough."
WILFORK DOMINATES: The Ravens had a lot of trouble blocking Pro Bowl nose guard Vince Wilfork.
Wilfork was constantly in the Ravens’ backfield, recording six tackles with one sack and three tackles for losses.
"He’s a great player," Birk said. "He’s a strong, explosive guy. He’s been a good player for a long time."
INJURY UPDATES: Offensive tackle Michael Oher briefly left the game with a right ankle injury.
He was replaced by rookie Jah Reid, but came back in and toughed it out to finish the game.
"Yeah, I messed my ankle up," said Oher, who suffered a minor knee injury against the Houston Texans the previous week. "AFC championship, you don’t want to miss. You had to pull through."
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe sprained his right foot and was in a walking boot after the game.
Although it wasn’t listed on the injury report, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata acknowledged that he played through a painful thigh injury that slowed him down.
"Yeah, but you play through it," Ngata said. "You don’t think of it. No excuses, I try to do whatever I can."
STONEWALLED: Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice didn’t replicate his playoff performance from two years ago when he rumbled for 159 yards and two touchdowns, including an 83-yard jaunt on the first play from scrimmage.
He was held to 67 yards on 21 carries and no scores. He caught one pass for 11 yards while being targeted three times.
"They did a great job," Rice said. "We didn’t execute."
QUICK HITS: Retired Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken was the Ravens’ honorary game captain. … The Ravens had several game captains, including quarterback Joe Flacco, linebackers Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jarret Johnson and Ray Lewis, punter Sam Koch and Rice. … The Ravens deactivated rookie wide receiver Tandon Doss, rookie cornerback Chykie Brown, rookie running back Anthony Allen, rookie linebacker Josh Bynes, rookie center-guard Justin Boren, outside linebacker Sergio Kindle and nose guard Brandon McKinney. … The Patriots scratched rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett, running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, linebacker Gary Guyton, offensive guard Donald Thomas, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Ochocinco returned to New England shortly after attending his father’s funeral. … Center Matt Birk was named as one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. A former finalist when he was with the Minnesota Vikings, Birk is vying against San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.