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Published: Monday, 1/23/2012

Patriots get win after missed FG

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff (7) walks off the field as New England Patriots outside linebacker Niko Koutouvides (90) celebrates after Cundiff missed a 32 yard field goal in the closing seconds of the AFC Championship NFL football game Sunday. Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff (7) walks off the field as New England Patriots outside linebacker Niko Koutouvides (90) celebrates after Cundiff missed a 32 yard field goal in the closing seconds of the AFC Championship NFL football game Sunday.
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady's one-yard touchdown dive held up after the Ravens missed a chance to win, then tie the game in the final seconds, and the New England Patriots are on their way to the Super Bowl.

With New England leading by three points and 11 seconds left, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt, and the Patriots escaped with a 23-20 win over Baltimore in the AFC championship game on Sunday.

Two plays earlier, Joe Flacco's pass to wide receiver Lee Evans in the end zone was stripped by backup cornerback Sterling Moore.

Next up as the Patriots chase their fourth Super Bowl trophy in Brady and coach Bill Belichick's tenure in New England is the the Giants and 49ers. The Super Bowl is Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.

In their last trip to the big game, the Patriots had an 18-0 record when they were stunned by the Giants four years ago. They won the NFL championship for the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons. This time, they head to the Super Bowl with a 10-game winning streak. Brady's fifth trip to the Super Bowl will equal John Elway's achievement with Denver.

"We're going to try to go out and kick some butt in a couple of weeks," Brady said.

Moore's big play made up for getting victimized for a touchdown that gave Baltimore the lead 17-16. After Cundiff's kick hooked left, the Patriots stormed off their sideline in celebration as the chilled crowd roared. The Ravens looked on in disbelief.

A three-time NFL champion, Brady didn't throw for a touchdown for the first time in 36 games, although he did pass for 239 yards.

"Well, I [stunk] pretty bad today, but our defense saved us," Brady said. "I'm going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I'm proud of this team, my teammates."

Brady needed help not only from Cundiff's botched kick in guiding the Patriots (15-3) to their fifth AFC title in 11 seasons, but from New England's maligned defense.

"We stepped up," Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "We all stepped up big time. Being in this situation is a great moment. You have to cherish this moment."

The Patriots shut down Ray Rice, the league's total yardage leader, who was limited to 78 yards. Brandon Spikes made a fourth-quarter interception of Flacco, who played well before that and threw for two touchdowns. When the Ravens (13-5) were threatening to score a late touchdown to win their first conference title in 11 years, New England clamped down.

"It's two great football teams, two gladiators, I guess, just kind of going at each other at the end, and I'm proud of our guys," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You know, we've got 53 guys, mighty men, as we like to call them -- and they fought, and we came up a little bit short, as 53. You know, 53 win and 53 lose."

With Rice a nonfactor, Baltimore had to rely on Flacco, and he delivered one of his best performances. Flacco has led the Ravens into the playoffs in all four of his pro seasons, but not to the Super Bowl. He was 22 for 36 for 306 yards and touchdowns of six yards to Dennis Pitta and 29 to rookie Torrey Smith.

Brady took the Patriots 63 yards in 11 plays, and seemed to score on a 1-yard run. The call was overruled by replay, though, and on fourth-down, he dived just high enough over the line for the winning points.

"Those guys fought all year, and just like today, it wasn't always perfect, but they fought to the final gun and we came out on top," Belichick said.

Defense was particularly dominant early on -- New England's 31st-ranked defense. The Patriots held Baltimore to minus-4 yards on its first three first-down runs and forced the Ravens to go three-and-out each time.

Meanwhile, the Patriots put together a methodical 13-play, 50-yard drive helped greatly by an illegal contact penalty on Lardarius Webb that negated a tipped interception by Bernard Pollard.

Brady was sacked for the first time by Paul Kruger and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 29-yard field goal.



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