Risers and Fallers: Defense puts the team on their back

We’re back in the big dance again.

And in the unlikeliest of circumstances, it wasn’t because of Tom Brady.

Stifled by the Ravens defense, Brady threw two picks and didn’t throw a touchdown.

Instead, it was the unheralded Sterling Moore, second-year linebacker Brandon Spikes and the 325-pound Vince Wilfork (I want an official weigh-in) who made the plays of the day.

Despite losing every statistical area, the Pats etched out the 23-20 win and will face the Giants in the Revenge Bowl in two weeks.

Let’s take a look at the risers and fallers from the AFC Championship win.

Risers

1. Vince Wilfork: Who said a nose tackle couldn’t rush the passer? Despite playing the highest percentage of snaps in his career, Big Vince has become a dominant force, particularly in the second half of the season. The veteran leader on defense played his best game in a Patriot uniform. Despite facing off against a strong trio of Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda, Wilfork lived in the Ravens backfield. The big man made a game-changing tackle for loss on Ray Rice, recorded a sack and anchored a run defense that limited Baltimore to only 3.7 yards per carry. The biggest guy on the defense played the biggest role in the biggest game of the season.

2. Brandon Spikes: Call me biased. I’m a Gator and Spikes was one of the best players in school history. When his head is on right, he can be a man amongst boys. Number 55 recorded a team-high nine tackles and made perhaps the second-biggest play of the game with a fantastic one-handed interception one play after getting pancaked by Vonta Leach. Spikes’ return to the lineup has inspired the run defense and I absolutely love his violent style of play.

3. Sterling Moore: I was ready to vilify the guy when he whiffed on the tackle on Torrey Smith. But the little-known safety/corner out of SMU made THE play to save the Patriots season when he slapped the ball out of Lee Evans hands on what should have been the game-winning touchdown. He followed that up with another pass break up and may have earned immortal status in New England if the Pats end up winning it all. His story has been incredible, and the play he made on Evans was an example of why you should never quit.

4. Matt Light: Offensive linemen do the dirty work and never get the credit. Well props to Light who never had his name mentioned during the whole game. That’s because he completely neutralized Terrell Suggs and the Ravens vaunted pass rush. Baltimore got its only sack from Paul Kruger who made a nice move to beat Nate Solder. Meanwhile, Light kept Brady upright and keyed a run game that was effective when it needed to be.

Fallers

1. Tom Brady: It’s hard to be critical of the guy who got us this far, but Brady played well below his typically excellent standards. Considering how good the Ravens defense is, it was expected that Brady wouldn’t put up six touchdowns, but he made some poor decisions with the football and wasn’t as accurate as he normally is. He’ll need to step up and carry the team against the Giants who can score points on this defense.

2. Receivers: The Ravens got physical with the Patriots wideouts and mixed up their coverages and it worked. Wes Welker moved the chains with six catches, but he didn’t stand out. The depth behind Mustache Wes was invisible. Deion Branch failed to get any separation and only made two receptions for 18 yards. Matt Slater failed to reel in his only target and Julian Edelman wasn’t very effective as a receiver, although you have to give him credit for playing 27 snaps on defense. Overall, a disappointing day on offense.

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