The Ravens came out of the gate on fire Saturday afternoon.
Baltimore started the game on offense and five plays later they were in the end zone. The Ravens then marched back down the field on the next drive to score another touchdown, and suddenly were up 14-0 to stun the Patriots and the crowd at Gillette Stadium.
It seemed like the perfect recipe to upset the AFC's top seed on the road.
But the Patriots came roaring back on the arm of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots tied the game before halftime, and then Baltimore's offense heated up again with back-to-back touchdowns to take another 14-point lead.
Early in the third quarter, the Ravens had a two-score lead and looked like they were headed to their third AFC championship in four seasons.
"We thought we had them – a couple times," veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "We just need to be able to finish."
Despite the big leads early and late, the defense couldn't stop Brady and Patriots' potent offense. New England went with a spread attack to move the ball down the field using dink-and-dunk passes.
Brady picked apart a Ravens secondary that has been hit hard with injuries this year, and he led three second-half touchdown drives to complete a comeback victory.
"They don't panic, they just play the game and keep at it, keep at it," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "The same kinds of things that we like to do and it worked out for them. They got themselves back in the game, tied it up, we pulled away, they were still in striking distance, and they made their plays."
The Patriots pulled out all the stops to come away with the second-half comeback. They introduced some offensive wrinkles where they would use only four offensive linemen, instead of the typical five. The strategy was meant to confuse the Ravens by making running backs or tight ends ineligible receiving targets. The Patriots even pulled out the trickery when wide receiver Julian Edelman threw a touchdown pass to fellow receiver Danny Amendola.
"They're led by two of the best in the business [Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick]," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "It's kind of a credit to them. You can't take anything away from what they were able to do. They were able to move the ball and make some plays."
The Ravens didn't help themselves when they struggled to defend the short passing game and had issues with missed tackles. Safety Matt Elam had a pair of missed tackles that led to big plays, including a touchdown by Amendola.
The Ravens also struggled to get pressure on Brady in the second half because he was getting rid of the ball so quickly.
"The offense scored 31 points. They held up their end of the bargain," defensive end Chris Canty said. "Defensively, we didn't do enough."
Brady finished the game 33-of-50 passing for 367 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He added another fourth-quarter comeback to his Hall of Fame resume, and sent the Ravens home with a season-ending loss for the second time in four years.
"I felt like we were the better team today, but they did a better job of finishing," Ngata said.
Check out all the best photos from Gillette Stadium as the Ravens battle the Patriots in the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs.