Every Tuesday, blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players, from that week’s game. Today he looks at the critical fourth-quarter sack of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
For much of Sunday night’s game against the New England Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady was one step ahead of the Ravens. They would overload one side of the line or try to surprise him with a cornerback blitz, but he would quickly identify an open receiver in the vacated space to make the Ravens pay for the pressure.
But late in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots clinging to a 30-28 lead, the Ravens were finally able to overwhelm Brady and blow up their attempt at a clock-killing drive at midfield. The key play came when defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe teamed up to sandwich Brady on second down.
On 2nd and 9 with 2:12 left in the game, Brady lined up in the shotgun. Besides the three-time Super Bowl champion, the New England backfield was empty. Three receivers, including game-breaking Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, were flanked to Brady’s left. Two, including shifty slot receiver Wes Welker, were off to his right. The Ravens showed blitz, pushing nine defenders up to within three yards of the line of scrimmage.
By the time the shotgun snap reached Brady’s hands, Ngata had already engaged the Patriots offensive line. When right guard Dan Connolly leaned into Ngata, the 340-pound defensive tackle did his best Elvis Dumervil or Dwight Freeney impersonation, spinning around Connolly, who had just lost his leverage and his balance.
“He came down on me hard and I felt him, so I just spun around him and Brady was there when I turned around,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the line, Ellerbe benefited from a blown assignment by the Patriots. Left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Logan Mankins double-teamed defensive end Pernell McPhee. No one picked up Ellerbe, giving the blitzing linebacker an unimpeded path to the quarterback. He and Ngata reached Brady simultaneously, bringing the Patriots quarterback down for the sack on the Ravens crest at midfield.
“They let me come free, but that’s all that matters,” said Ellerbe, who also recorded a sack in the first half of the game.
Not that Brady had much of a chance to get the ball out of his hands -- I counted two seconds -- but the Ravens had tight man coverage behind their five-man rush. Jimmy Smith was stuck on Brandon Lloyd on the right and Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis took away potential throws to Welker and Gronkowski, respectively.
On the following play, a 3rd and long situation, the Ravens pressured Brady into an incompletion to get the ball back. Then quarterback Joe Flacco marched them down the field in seven plays to set up Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal.
“We just went out there and played. We weren’t worried about how many points we were down, when we were down," safety Bernard Pollard said. "We just went out and played and I think for us, we played [the] Raven way towards the end of the game. We kind of got some miscues and everything else at the beginning of the game, but no one’s going to be perfect."