Eisenberg: New England's Continued Dominance Makes Ravens' AFC Title Win Even More Amazing


Quick, what memories immediately pop into your head from the Ravens' Super Bowl run five years ago?

I'm guessing it's the "Mile High Miracle," the Superdome lights going out and the glee following the final defensive stand that brought home the Vince Lombardi Trophy – all indelible moments in Baltimore football lore.

For some reason – perhaps because the other events were so improbable – the Ravens' victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game doesn't get the same, reverential treatment.

But it should.

As things have developed, that triumph might be the most remarkable part of the run.

OK, maybe it doesn't beat a desperation touchdown heave in the final seconds. But make no mistake, a dominant victory at Gillette Stadium with a Super Bowl berth on the line ranks right with that as a long-odds proposition.

That was emphasized again over the weekend when the Patriots defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars in this year's AFC title game, 24-20. The Jags had the lead for most of the game until – stop me if you've heard this before – Tom Brady led a late rally and the Patriots advanced to play the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 4.

With the victory, New England improved to 7-1 in conference championship games played at home with Brady at quarterback. Since 2001, the Patriots have defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts twice apiece and the Ravens, Jaguars and San Diego Chargers once each when playing at home with the conference title on the line.

Over the 17 years that constitute their dynasty – and that's what it is, folks – the Patriots have only lost once at home when they were a win away from another Super Bowl appearance. The Ravens' 28-13 victory in the 2012 playoffs is the lone exception.

Though the result was surprising to many, it didn't seem like an impossible dream at the time. The same teams had played on the same field with the conference title on the line the year before, and the game had seemed destined for overtime until, well, you know what went wrong. Sorry to bring it up, but the point is the teams were evenly matched and either could win.

Five years later, though, the unlikelihood of beating the Patriots on such a stage has become more evident. No matter how far down they get, they always find a way to win. The fact that the Ravens didn't let them up that day, just dominated them, looks more and more improbable. But it really happened. I was there. I saw it.

For the longest time, it appeared the Jags would duplicate the feat Sunday. Borrowing straight from the Ravens' playbook five years earlier, they controlled the interior and the clock, disrupted Brady's timing with pressure and quieted the crowd. The only thing they failed to do was stay aggressive and try to put the Patriots away when they had a chance.

Big mistake.

"When we need it the most, that's when we played our best," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said after the game.

They always do, it seems, which makes it all the more remarkable in hindsight that the Ravens outscored them 21-0 in the second half to win. That just doesn't happen. Or, I should say, it doesn't happen anymore.

But it did happen once.

Granted, the Ravens put quite a team on the field that day, a defense led by multiple Hall of Famers, an offense loaded with playmakers. The youthful Jags, brimming with confidence, have a lot going for them, but they aren't quite the finished product those Ravens were. It made all the difference in the end.

Interestingly, the Patriots are just 1-3, eminently human, when playing on the road with Brady under center in conference title games. The lesson is clear. If you can get them away from Gillette Stadium, your chances rise appreciably.

But if you have to go into their den, you're probably wise to pack a concession speech when you make the trip.

The Ravens are the only ones to beat the odds, and given how New England keeps winning, Baltimore might go down as the only team that ever does it. Was it amazing? Absolutely.

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