One down, two to go. After taking care of business against the Denver Broncos on Saturday, the New England Patriots can now prepare for the AFC Championship Game next Sunday, in which they will face the No. 2 seeded Baltimore Ravens.
New England, the top seed in the AFC, did not play Baltimore this season. The last time the two teams met in the regular season was in 2010, when the Patriots escaped with a 23-20 overtime victory. The Patriots trailed 20-10 entering the fourth quarter, but outscored the Ravens 10-3 in the quarter to force overtime.
Tom Brady, who threw for 292 yards and a touchdowns (along with two interceptions), found Deion Branch for a five-yard score with 11:02 left in the fourth, pulling the Pats within three at 20-17, before Stephen Gostkowski tied the game with a 24-yard field goal with 1:51 remaining. Gostkowski kicked the game-winning field goal from 35 yards out in overtime.
The last game between these two teams in the playoffs was in 2009, when the Ravens walked into Gillette Stadium and blew away the Patriots, 33-14, in the AFC Wild Card round. Brady threw for 154 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off three times. Ray Rice had 22 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns despite quarterback Joe Flacco throwing for only 34 yards on 4-of-10 passing. Willis McGahee rushed for 62 yards and a score on 20 carries.
Brady and the Patriots are coming off another successful regular season in which they went 13-3 and were tied for the second best record in the NFL. Brady threw for 5,235 yards and a league-leading 39 touchdowns this season, and was far and away the best quarterback in the AFC. New England was 0-1 against AFC North teams in the regular season.
In the Pats' playoff opened, Brady had a monster performance with six passing touchdowns to tie a playoff record as New England flattened Tim Tebow and the Broncos, 45-10, on Saturday night. The Broncos hung around in the game early, cutting the Pats' lead to 14-7. After that, it was all Brady and the Patriots. Rob Gronkowski finished with 145 receiving yards and three touchdowns and Aaron Hernandez had 61 rushing yards on five carries.
Baltimore completed a 12-4 regular season, finishing second in the conference to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs. Flacco had 3,610 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season, Rice rushed for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns while Boldin had 57 catches for 887 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Ravens' receiving attack.
The Ravens took care of rookie quarterback T.J. Yates and an injury-ridden Texans squad, 20-13, on Sunday to clinch a playoff date with the Pats. Flacco threw for 176 yards and two scores while Rice rushed for 60 yards and Boldin had four catches for 73 yards and one touchdown.
The winner of the Patriots and Ravens will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI.