The Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XLVI, the team's fifth Super Bowl trip under Bill Belichick since 2001, with a game that many didn't think the team could play. The 23-20 win pushed the AFC's No. 1 seed to a matchup with the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
While New England certainly needed some good fortune to advance - Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds to play that would have sent the game into overtime, that play a snap after Joe Flacco appeared to hit Lee Evans for a touchdown that was knocked away at the last second - the team also put forth another in a line of resilient efforts this season.
On paper the Patriots look like an offense first, finesse football team that's had to outscore each opponent on the way to the Super Bowl thanks to a defense that ranked 31st in the NFL during the regular season.
But Sunday's AFC title win in Foxborough showed a Patriots team that played a tough, physical-style game that in many ways was played on the Ravens terms, yet New England came away with the tight victory.
The Patriots defense has taken its lumps over the course of the year, but it's confidence is at a high point heading into the biggest game of the year.
|Patriots LB Spikes holds his interception of Joe Flacco vs Ravens 1/22/12 (Elsa/Getty Images)|
Quarterback Tom Brady, owner of three Super Bowl rings, knows a little something about championship caliber teams and he's feeling pretty good about the makeup the Patriots have shown on the road to the biggest game on the sporting landscape.
"We won 10 straight games and they haven't all been pretty," Brady said. "We've started slow, we've started fast. The offense has played really well at times; the defense has played really well at times. It's a pretty mentally tough team. There's really some resiliency, we've shown that all season. Even in the games we've lost, the three games we lost, we fought until the end.
"We're always going to fight to the end. It's great to be a part of a team like this. It's tough to get here, man. It's hard to win these games. It's hard to win games in the NFL because every team is very talented. We did enough here the last 10 weeks to win these games. I'm sure this next game is going to come down to the end and hopefully we have enough plays."
LINEUP WATCH: It's hard to say that wide receiver Julian Edelman playing slot corner is an experiment considering it's been going on for nearly two months. Edelman saw significant reps at the spot lined up opposite Anquan Boldin in the AFC title game. While Boldin led the Ravens with six catches for 101 yards, New England's patchwork secondary did enough to come away victorious. And the college quarterback-turned NFL wide receiver-turned defensive back Edelman was a part of the collective effort.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 - The number of Super Bowls Tom Brady has led the Patriots to in his 12-year career, joining John Elway as the only other quarterback in NFL history to lead a team to five Super Bowls.
|HOT TOPIC: Game Thread|
ever called the deep pass in the end zone in double coverage, that
resulted in a int, please dont call any plays in the super
"Sterling Moore just saved the game. Amazing back-to-back plays."
--WR Chad Ochocinco was a healthy scratchg for the AFC title game against the Ravens. Ochocinco reportedly returned to the Patriots on Sunday after flying to Florida to attend the funeral of his father earlier in the week.
--RB Stevan Ridley was a healthy scratch against Baltimore, the first time the rookie was inactive in 2011. The third-round pick lost a fumble to the Broncos in the divisional round after also fumbling in the regular-season finale.
--OT Sebastian Vollmer was inactive for the seventh straight game with back and foot injuries. Vollmer was inactive for 10 of the 16 regular-season games and both playoff contests.
--CB Kyle Arrington left the first half of Sunday's game against the Ravens with an eye injury, but returned in the second half.
--TE Rob Gronkowski limped off with an ankle injury against the Ravens, but returned later in the game to help New England to victory. The All Pro did leave Gillette Stadium in a walking boot.
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