Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead (39) runs between Baltimore Ravens cornerback Corey Graham (24) and inside linebacker Ray Lewis (52) during the second quarter of the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

AFC Championship Game: First Half notes

A few things that we noticed in the first half of the AFC Championship game:

It didn’t take Bill Belichicklong to start the head games with Baltimore.  On 4th & 2 Belichick messes with the Ravens, forcing them to call a time out when he lined up like he was going to go for it from his own 45.  After the time out, the Patriots punted.

It was clear from the outset that McDaniels’ plan is to up-tempo to wear down the Baltimore defense.  Seems that the idea is not so much to just sustain a drive, but rather to wear down the defense by making them stay in position for a long time, and other times with a quick snap to catch them off guard…the hope is that it wears down Baltimore’s defense to the point that the Patriots can just grind out first downs.

Aqib Talib seemed to tweak a Hamstring on a 3rd and 13 play while covering Anquan Boldin.  He went to the locker room for treatment.  In his stead, Kyle Arrington slides into Talib’s spot.  Before Talib went down, he seemed to have Boldin exclusively in coverage while Dennard had Torry Smith with help over the top from McCourty.

The injury to Talib puts the Patriots in survival mode, and it showed on the Ravens’ touchdown drive in the 2nd quarter, but Talib returned from the locker room after the Ravens’ touchdown but stayed on the sidelines – it may be one of those situations where Talib could return if needed, and Belichick is just going to wait and gauge how things are going in the secondary.

Steve Gregory had man coverage on Tight End Dennis Pitta when Flacco caught the Patriots in a corner blitz…just overthrowing what would have been a big gainer.  It’s clear that Gregory ca not stay with Pitta.  Hightower had coverage on Pitta on a fade route in the end zone in the second quarter.

The Ravens are attacking the edges with their superior speed on offense, utilizing the delayed screens and off tackle bounces.  Along the same lines, on plays where the running back releases into the flat on a delay, the Patriots always seem to give up big yardage…bears watching if Harbaugh calls more of those screen plays.

After the long touchdown drive by the Ravens, the Patriots came right back with a touchdown drive of their own to take the lead back.  Very balanced drive with Ridley ripping off good yardage.  One thing about both Ridley and Vereen is that they tend to hesitate if they don’t see a hole immediately, and try to bounce it outside, more often than not losing yardage.

When the Patriots are successful running the ball the backs hit the line hard.

The stop on the Ravens on their last possession of the 1st half was huge for New England.  The Ravens deferred to the second half after winning the coin toss and elected to receive the ball to start the second half.  The stop gave the Patriots offense the ball back with just over 2 minutes left in the first half in great field position from which to try and score and eliminate the Ravens’ piggybacking advantage.

On that drive, New England faced a fourth and short on the Baltimore 35 and McDaniels called a direct snap to Woodhead that picked up the 1st and a bunch more.  Toward the end of the drive with the Patriots in the red zone, clock management issues caused the Patriots to settle for a field goal, when a called time out after a Brady scramble with 14 seconds left would have given New England at least one shot for the end zone.

Instead the Patriots settle for a Gostkowski field goal and lead by six, 13-7 at the half.  Big mistake, but it is what it is…more after the game…

Tags: Baltimore Ravens New England Patriots San Francisco 49ers

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