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Stock Watch: Resilient Patriots comeback to beat Baltimore

New England advances to its fourth straight AFC Championship with a hard-fought win over the Ravens.

Prior to Saturday evening, the Patriots and Ravens had played a trio of postseason games that were marked by physicality.

The playoffs rivalry continued through 60 minutes in this year's divisional round battle, New England mounting multiple comebacks from 14-point deficits and holding on through a last-second Hail Mary attempt for a heart-testing, entertaining 35-31 victory.

The win pushed Bill Belichick's team to a fourth-straight AFC Championship Game, set for next Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium. New England will find out tomorrow whether it will face Peyton Manning's Broncos in an AFC title game rematch from a year ago or get another go-round with Andrew Luck's upstart Colts.

New England battled through, showed grit and advanced. But it certainly wasn't easy.

The New England Patriots take on the Baltimore Ravens in a Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, January 10, 2015.

John Harbaugh's team rolled confidently into Foxborough and rolled out to an early 14-0 advantage. Tom Brady got things going late in the first quarter to cut the lead in half and tied it later, but Baltimore added a score just before the half to lead 21-14 at the break.

Break is exactly what the Ravens pass rushers appeared to be trying to do to Brady, hitting the New England passer early and often throughout the first half. That situation became worse when rookie center Bryan Stork had to leave with a knee injury. Ryan Wendell moved to center with Josh Kline coming on at right guard, and the pressure continued.

And the Patriots running game was essentially non-existent, both by design and by the will of the Ravens front. New England had just nine carries for 17 yards in the first half, though that included a Brady touchdown scramble.

Despite the deficit, the pounding and the fact that the Ravens continued to make plays, Belichick's team never stopped grinding ahead. In the end a New England team that had never overcome more than an 11-point deficit in the postseason took care of business.

There were unique schemes – a four lineman-look that included either Shane Vereen or Michael Hoomanawanui as an ineligible player as essentially a flared out right tackle – and a trick play that the team has worked on for years with Brady throwing to Edelman who then threw down the left sideline to a wide open Danny Amendola for a 51-yard touchdown.

It was by no means an easy win. It kept fans and media alike on the edge of their seats. It was nothing like the team's 40-point bursts to blowouts in the last three divisional round games.

But as Belichick himself said to open his postgame press conference, "It was a great football game. It was good to win. We just battled back and they hung in there."

Brady certainly hung in there. Gronkowski made his plays. Amendola had maybe his best, biggest game in two years as a Patriot. Duron Harmon came on for the key interception to help seal the deal.

It was a team win. It was a resilient win.

"That's what I like about this team," Belichick said. "They're a tough group and they never give up."

And it was a game that sends New England to within one game of the Super Bowl yet again.

With a day to enjoy the victory prior to beginning preparations for the AFC title game, here's a look at some of the personnel highs and lows from the hard-fought, heavyweight fight win over the Ravens:

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Rob Gronkowski** – New England's tight end may have made the play of the game for New England with a key third-and-eight grab for the first down. He then hauled in a 46 yarder down the left seam on the next snap to set up the Patriots first touchdown. Without those plays the Patriots may have had to punt already down 14-0. It may have been too much to overcome. Gronkowski finished with seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. He also was on the field playing defensive back trying to knock down Flacco's last-second Hail Mary attempt.

Julian Edelman/Danny Amendola – Both diminutive slot receiver/return men were fortunate to recover early fumbles. Then they combined on the play of the day with a double-pass that saw Tom Brady throw to Edelman on the left side only to have the receiver throw to a wide-open Amendola down the sideline for the 51-yard touchdown to tie the game at 28 late in the third quarter. Edelman also had a 19-yard punt return to go along with his touchdown throw and his game-high eight catches for 74. Amendola had five catches for 81 yards and a pair of scores.

Tom Brady – Hard to question No. 12 after this huge playoff comeback and victory. He ran for a touchdown, capped by a big spike. He was the only Patriots player to run in the second half, a short conversion run. He finished completing 33 of 50 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns with one interception on a play he tried to force it to Gronkowski. This was a classic Brady gritty postseason effort to carry an offense that wasn't exactly rolling. It wasn't perfect but it sure was impressive.

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Offensive line – New England's perceived weakness coming in was indeed exposed by the Ravens. Bryan Stork struggled early and then left with a right knee injury. Ryan Wendell moved to center with Josh Kline coming on at right guard. Brady was beaten and battered throughout the first half, getting hit on seemingly every throw. Brady was hit nine times and sacked twice. New England averaged barely 1 yard per carry on the ground. The offensive line remains a concern and could be a bigger issue with Stork hurt.

Brandon Browner/Darrelle Revis – New England's veteran cornerback duo helped transform the defense this season into an impressive unit. But the pair struggled against the Ravens. Revis gave up an early touchdown to Steve Smith Sr. on a slant and drew a late key penalty that negated a strip sack. Browner was beaten a few times by Torrey Smith, including on a 35 yarder that set up a touchdown. Browner then left the game with a knee injury after also drawing a penalty. It was a tough day for the Patriots star cornerback tandem, even though Revis was confident he shut down Smith Sr. after the sketchy start.

Defensive front – The Patriots didn't stop the run and didn't put enough consistent pressure on Flacco. New England had been stout against the run for the entire second half of the season. But Baltimore ran well early and that set up the boot-leg passing game. Justin Forsett ran it 24 times for 129 yards, matching the 5.4-yard average he had for the season. Baltimore ran 28 times for 136 yards as a team. The Patriots never seemed to get after the offensive line that included an undrafted rookie at left tackle in front of Chandler Jones. Flacco was not sacked once and was hit just four times. Not much pressure came from the edge or from the inside blitzes that have worked for the linebackers at times this year. The defensive front that's been so good most of the season has plenty to work on this week.

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