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Patriots hold on to beat Ravens, reach fourth straight AFC Championship Game

Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola of the New

Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola of the New England Patriots react after a flea-flicker touchdown pass during the second half of the 2015 AFC Divisional Playoffs game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Mass. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jared Wickerham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - If you didn't know what had just happened in one of the most exciting playoff games you'll ever see, you might have thought Bill Belichick was describing the aftermath of a loss, not an epic 35-31 win over the Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

Speaking barely above a whisper, the Patriots' coach talked about how much better his team needs to play, how much better his staff needs to coach.

Uh, Bill, you just qualified for a fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game, thanks to the greatest playoff comeback in franchise history. In fact, the Patriots had to overcome a 14-point deficit twice -- beating the previous 11-point comeback in the 2007 playoffs -- to advance to the conference title game.

"Look, down 14 points twice, I don't think that's the formula to win a lot of playoff games," Belichick said. "I'm sure a lot of playoff games were lost when your team is down 14 points in the middle of the first quarter or the middle of the third quarter."

But the Patriots rallied behind another terrific performance by 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who passed for a franchise-playoff-record 367 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots also benefited from a trick play, with receiver Julian Edelman, a former college quarterback, throwing a perfect strike to Danny Amendola for a 51-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Perhaps Belichick's quasi-morose tone had more to do with next week's game against the winner of Sunday's Broncos-Colts divisional matchup in Denver. Said Belichick, "We're going to have to play a lot better no matter who we play."

But at least this was good enough against a stubborn Ravens team that had beaten the Steelers in last week's wild-card round in Pittsburgh.

Joe Flacco came in with a remarkable streak of throwing 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last five playoff games, and he threw four touchdown passes in a row against the Patriots before New England finally came up with two key interceptions in the second half, the last of which sealed the victory with 1:39 to play.

Brady accounted for the winning touchdown with a 23-yard strike to Brandon LaFell with 5:13 left in the fourth quarter. It was the Patriots' first lead of the entire game.

"Tom's a great clutch player. He's tremendous," Belichick said. "He's done it with a whole lot of different receivers, a lot of different situations, so that speaks to his greatness and his ability to be consistent under pressure."

This is the ninth time Brady has gotten the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game since he became the Patriots' starter in 2001. Belichick and Brady are a combined 8-1 in divisional-round playoff games. The only loss was to the Jets after the 2010 season.

Brady showed his resilience by rallying New England back to a 14-14 tie in the second quarter and then battling back from a 28-14 second-half deficit. The Patriots tied it at 28-28 with 4:20 left in the third quarter with a trick play they hadn't run in practice since training camp.

Brady threw to his left to wide receiver Edelman, who was several yards behind the line of scrimmage. Edelman, a former college quarterback at Kent State, then hit a wide-open Amendola, who was streaking down the left sideline. It was Edelman's first pass attempt in the NFL.

After Baltimore took a 31-28 lead on Justin Tucker's 25-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots took their only lead of the game with 5:13 to play on Brady's pinpoint touchdown pass to LaFell in the left corner of the end zone.

The touchdown pass was the 46th of Brady's playoff career, surpassing 49ers legend Joe Montana for the most in NFL playoff history.

"It was everything we thought it was going to be, plus more," LaFell said. "Bill has been preaching since last week, 'Just do your job.' That's what everybody did. Tom had faith in me, he threw a perfect ball, and we won the game."

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