Patriots advance to Super Bowl XLVI with 23-20 win over Ravens

I’m guessing the Patriots are willing to buy Billy Cundiff a drink.

Nobody in Baltimore is certainly ready to give anything to the Ravens kicker, except maybe some rough physical contact.

Cundiff missed the game-tying field goal in the final seconds, clinching a 23-20 win for the top-seeded Patriots. New England moves on to face the winner of the NFC championship between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVI.

It was a conference championship that will go down among the all-time greats. Tom Brady, who at times looked pedestrian against the Ravens defense, led the Patriots’ offense on the game-winning drive and scored the key 1-yard touchdown run to lift his team to its fifth Super Bowl appearance in the last 11 seasons. He finished 22-of-36 for 239 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass, instead tossing a pair of interceptions. In the end, however, it’s the Patriots, not the Ravens, heading to Indianapolis.

With Brady seemingly out of sorts Sunday, New England’s running game picked up the slack. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a great day, rushing for 68 yards and a touchdown on only 15 carries. Danny Woodhead, even with the fumble on special teams, added timely bursts to keep the chains moving, part of a great day on the ground.

Defensively, the Patriots held Ravens running back Ray Rice in check, but struggled in the passing game as Joe Flacco had a career day. Rice managed just 67 yards on the ground, a poor day by Rice’s standards, but Flacco threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Spikes did snag an impressive interception on Flacco during a key drive late in the final quarter, but that was Flacco’s only blemish in an otherwise terrific outing.

Statistics aside, Sunday’s game saw both teams trade blows throughout, starting with a field goal from each team, followed by a touchdown for both. Green-Ellis scored on a 7-yard scamper but the Ravens responded with a touchdown strike to tight end Dennis Pitta.

After two more field goals by Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski gave New England a 16-10 lead, Baltimore responded with 10 unanswered points, highlighted by capitalizing on Woodhead’s fumble in the third quarter. But Brady led the Patriots on what proved to be the winning drive. The 11-play, 63-yard drive ended with Brady reaching over the goal line on fourth down to put the Patriots ahead for the final time.

It was far from a perfect day for the Patriots, but today perfection wasn’t needed. We’ll see who they take on in the Super Bowl, while the Ravens are left with plenty of questions heading into next season.