As I continue my trip down memory lane to check out Tom Brady’s greatest performances over the last decade or so, we make our next stop following the big comeback against the Jacksonville Jaguars. For that, we rewind the clock to January of 2015 in the cold confines of Foxboro.
The Baltimore Ravens marched down the field with ease, going up 7-0 in the first 2:39 of the game, going 71 yards on five plays. Quarterback Joe Flacco found wide receiver Kamar Aiken for the nineteen yard catch-and-run for the score. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Danny Amendola fumbled the ball which was luckily recovered by the Patriots.
On third-and-four, Amendola had another misstep as he wasn’t able to secure the wide open pass as he fell to the ground, forcing New England to punt after just four plays. The Ravens would make the most of the opportunity.
On the eleventh play of the drive, Flacco found receiver Steve Smith Sr. - who had problems his entire career against cornerback Darrelle Revis - for the nine yard strike and a 14-0 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The Patriots would have an answer.
Starting from their own 22-yard line, the Patriots would orchestrate an eight play drive in under four minutes - anchored by a 46-yard pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski - and capped off by a four yard touchdown run by Brady. It was only Brady’s fifth rushing touchdown of his career to that point and the Patriots were able to cut the lead to 14-7 just before the end of the opening quarter.
After trading punts, the Patriots retook possession with just over seven minutes left in the half. The Pats took ten plays and just 3:36 off the clock to go 67 yards, tying the game on a fifteen yard touchdown pass from Brady to Amendola. The Patriots then forced Baltimore to go three-and-out and it appeared that momentum had completely shifted.
That is, until it didn’t.
In a rare mistake, Brady under-threw Gronkowski deep and the ball was easily intercepted by Daryl Smith with 1:11 remaining in the half. More than enough time for the Ravens to try and break the 14-point deadlock.
Flacco did exactly that, going 57 yards in 53 seconds. The key play here was Smith yet again beating Revis, resulting in Revis grabbing the receiver and being flagged for defensive pass interference. That put the ball on the Patriots’ 44-yard line. From there, Flacco went three-for-three and hit tight end Owen Daniels for the eleven yard touchdown, giving the Ravens a 21-14 lead with ten seconds left in the half.
From there, it got worse for the Pats.
New England would go three-and-out on their opening drive and the momentum for Baltimore wasn’t lost in the fifteen minute break between the second and third quarters. The Ravens faced a fourth-and-six from the Patriots’ 36-yard line. What would’ve been a 53-yard field goal attempt by Justin Tucker was nixed in favor of going for the killshot by John Harbaugh. Flacco would find Torrey Smith for 35 yards while being interfered with. The defensive pass interference was obviously declined, however Smith would be flagged fifteen yards for taunting after the play. That was deemed irrelevant as Flacco would dump the ball off to Justin Forsett and Forsett did all the rest, scampering the sixteen yards to the end zone and a 28-14 lead.
In true Tom Brady form, he would not go away. Brady would go 7-for-9 and the infamous “Baltimore Formation” was born. Running back Shane Vereen lined up, but declared himself ineligible to the official prior to the play. In doing so, Baltimore’s defense was lost as to how to run their coverage and Brady would hit Michael Hoomanawanui for fourteen yards. On top of that, the Baltimore bench was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, tacking five more yards on to the end of the catch.
Brady capped things off with a five yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski, in the process of tying Joe Montana for most postseason touchdowns in NFL history with 45.
The Patriots weren’t done there
Following a three-and-out by Baltimore, the Pats ran a little trickery on first-and-ten from their own 49. Brady threw a backwards pass to receiver Juilan Edelmen who hits Amendola in stride for a 51-yard touchdown to tie the game at 28 a piece.
With the wheels apparently falling off, Flacco threw an interception to Devin McCourty just two plays later. Lucky for Baltimore, the defense was able to force a three-and-out by the red hot Patriots.
In his chance for redemption, Flacco orchestrated a long, grueling drive. The Ravens’ signal caller chewed up nearly eight minutes of game clock on the sixteen play drive. Unfortunately, Flacco missed passes intended for Steve Smith and Owen Daniels on second and third-and-goal, forcing Baltimore to settle for a field goal.
Brady would get his chance at heroics yet again.
The Patriots started off at their own 26-yard line with 10:10 remaining in the game, trailing 31-28. There was a scary situation for New England early in the drive. Brady hit Vereen for an eight yard pass on first-and-ten, who then fumbled the ball. Daryl Smith recovered - his second takeaway of the game - but the call was overturned following an official review.
Brady scrambled for a two yard gain on second-and-one, gaining the first down. He then threw an incomplete pass on first down followed by five consecutive completions for a total of 48 yards, the fifth being a 23-yard strike to Brandon Lafell for the go-ahead touchdown as well as the NFL record for most touchdown passes in postseason history.
Up 35-31, the Ravens got the ball back with 5:08 on the clock. Flacco and the Ravens faced a fourth-and-three from their own 42-yard line and Flacco was able to find ol’ reliable Owen Daniels for a 17-yard gain to the Patriots’ 41-yard line at the two minute warning. Two plays later, Duron Harmon intercepted a Flacco pass in the end zone to give New England possession with 1:39 remaining and seal the game.
Brady would finish the game with 33 completions on 50 attempts for 367 yards and three touchdowns as well as a rushing touchdown. Being down two touchdowns at two different points in the game and still finding the ability to come back and win - the first time in NFL postseason history that’s ever been done - is an instant classic as well as vintage Tom Brady. In the go-ahead drive, Brady was 8-of-9 passing and rushed for a first down putting to bed any doubt that he could pull off another masterful comeback and send the Patriots to the AFC Championship game.
In the process, he set tied and set the NFL record for touchdown passes in the postseason, surpassing Hall of Famer Joe Montana and etching his name in the record books yet again.
For those taking full advantage of the NFL’s free access to game pass, you can watch the full or condensed versions of the game here.
Check out game number eight next week as we continue to count down Tom Brady’s top ten games since 2009!