FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady wasn’t going to lose a playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens in his home stadium.
And, thanks to three touchdown passes by Brady and one by college quarterback turned receiver Julian Edelman, the resilient New England Patriots are headed to the AFC championship game for the fourth straight year.
The Patriots overcame two 14-point deficits and Brady led a masterful march to his decisive 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell with just over five minutes left for a 35-31 win Saturday.
“I don’t think we played as well as we would’ve liked,” said Brady, who completed eight of nine passes for 72 yards on the winning drive. We “showed a lot of toughness coming back from those two deficits.”
The top-seeded Patriots (13-4) will face the winner of Sunday’s game between the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts in the conference title game next Sunday. The sixth-seeded Ravens (11-7) had won two of three playoff games in Foxborough over the past five seasons.
It was a thrilling game of shifting momentum — two touchdowns by the Ravens, the next two by the Patriots, two more by the Ravens and another two by the Patriots.
“We had two separate 14-point leads. Those guys did a good job getting it back to seven as quickly as they could,” said Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw four touchdown passes but also his first two interceptions in six playoff games. “They don’t panic.”
Flacco completed his first eight passes, two for touchdowns of 19 yards to Kamar Aiken and 9 yards to Steve Smith, to give the Ravens a 14-0 lead. Then the Patriots tied it on a 4-yard run by Brady and his 15-yard pass to Danny Amendola late in the first half.
The Patriots were driving again — until Daryl Smith intercepted Brady’s pass. Brady’s reaction: Grasp both sides of his helmet with his hands then bend over in frustration. Flacco capitalized with an 11-yard scoring pass to Owen Daniels with 10 seconds left for a 21-14 halftime lead.
And when New England punted on the first series of the third quarter, Baltimore added to its lead on Flacco’s fourth scoring pass, a 16-yarder to Justin Forsett, who was wide open in the flat and scored easily.
Then fortunes turned again.
Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski, and the Patriots got the ball back after a punt. This time, another strong arm lifted the Patriots into a tie.
With the ball at the New England 49, Brady threw behind the line of scrimmage to Edelman on the left side. The Kent State quarterback then lofted a deep pass to a wide-open Amendola after a defender came up toward Edelman. It was the first postseason pass by a wide receiver since Pittsburgh’s Antwaan Randle-El threw one in the 2006 Super Bowl.
“We’ve had it in for 10 weeks, and the coaches finally got to call it,” Edelman said. “I had to loosen up the arm a little bit.”
After Justin Tucker’s 25-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 31-28 lead five minutes into the fourth quarter, the Ravens nearly stopped the Patriots drive. Brady threw a 9-yard completion to Shane Vereen and officials ruled he fumbled and Baltimore recovered. The call was reversed when replays showed Vereen was down by contact. Seven plays later, LaFell scored. Baltimore had two more possessions. The first ended when Duron Harmon intercepted Flacco’s deep pass in the end zone with 1:39 left. On the final series, Flacco’s desperation pass into the end zone was knocked down as time expired.
Brady completed 33 of 50 passes for 367 yards, while Flacco was 28 for 44 for 292 yards and two interceptions. Forsett gained 129 yards on 24 carries.