Bill Belichick did not wear his emotions on his sleeve after the New England Patriots’ 35-31 win over the Baltimore Ravens Saturday evening. But he did say what he felt.
“Great football game today. First of all, I thought that the Ravens played really well. That’s a good football team. Coach [John] Harbaugh did a good job, and his staff. They’re tough to play against in all three phases of the game, and obviously it took us right down to the final play,” Belichick said in his postgame press conference.
The final play saw Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco heave a desperation pass into the end zone, where Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and eight others resided.
Though as the pass hit the turf, the four-point differential remained. And so did New England.
“Good to win, good to be moving on to the AFC Championship Game,” said Belichick, who moved on to tie Tom Landry as the winningest head coach in postseason history. “I thought our guys really hung in there, down by 14 to start the game, down by 14 in the third quarter.”
The Patriots found themselves down 14-0 after former teammate Kamar Aiken scored a 19-yard touchdown on the Ravens’ opening drive of the game, and fellow wideout Steve Smith Sr. scored another on a nine-yard touchdown on second drive of the game.
New England would answer with a four-yard touchdown run from quarterback Tom Brady to close the first quarter, followed by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brady to receiver Danny Amendola to reclaim the second.
The surge would not last, however, as Baltimore capitalized on an interception just before intermission. From there, control swung back to the sixth-seeded Ravens. Tight end Owen Daniels netted six points with 10 seconds to go before the half, then running back Justin Forsett netted another six to begin the second half.
It was suddenly back to 14-0.
“But they just battled back,” Belichick said of his Patriots team. “They hung in there. We made a couple big plays, obviously the turnovers were big.”
The turnovers were big for New England’s defense.
The two interceptions from safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon did not catapult the Patriots’ offense into scoring drives, but they did keep the Ravens’ offense from doing so. And touchdowns to Amendola and first-year Patriots target Brandon LaFell would arrive in due time.
“We just got a lot of plays from a lot of different people, and played good situational football right there at the end,” Belichick added.
The Patriots gave the Ravens one last chance at the end, after three kneel-downs and a punt by Ryan Allen handed the visitors one last shot with four seconds remaining. But ultimately, New England was prepared to face it.
They became the first NFL team in more than a decade to claw back from two 14-point defecits to win a game. And their reward is the chance to play another.
“My hat’s off to our team. They worked hard this week,” Belichick said. “It certainly wasn’t our best game. We need to play better next week whoever we play, but it’s good to win.”