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They had it covered
One of the focus points for the Patriots all week was improving their effort on kickoff coverage, after the Texans’ Danieal Manning averaged 54 yards on four returns in the playoff opener, including a 94-yarder to begin the game.
Jacoby Jones, Baltimore’s primary return man, averaged 30.7 yards per kickoff return in the regular season, and brought two back for touchdowns.
The Patriots completely neutralized Jones, who averaged just 10.7 yards on his three returns. Jones had a 9-yard return after the Patriots took a 3-0 lead; coupled with an illegal block on the Ravens, they began the drive at their 10-yard-line. His only other return in the first half, following a Wes Welker touchdown also went for 9 yards.
The inability of Jones to get going — or the ability of the Patriots to slow him down — had a lot to do with the field-position battle in the first half. The Ravens had five possessions, and started drives inside their 15-yard-line every time: 13, 10, 8, 10, 14. The Patriots had it six times in the first half, starting at their 20, 21, 33, 47, 21, and Baltimore’s 43.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, they only kicked off once in the second half — to start the third quarter — because they never scored. Jones returned the second-half kickoff 14 yards.
Fells gets the call
Marcus Forston was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Saturday, and with the Patriots not missing anybody from Friday’s practice and all five players on the injury report listed as probable, chances were good the rookie defensive lineman would be a healthy scratch.
He was, with the Patriots dressing tight end Daniel Fells, who had been inactive last week. Not a surprise, considering the season-ending injury last week to Rob Gronkowski. The team’s other six inactives were identical from last week: defensive end Jake Bequette, defensive backs Malcolm Williams and Derrick Martin, offensive linemen Nick McDonald and Markus Zusevics, and receiver Kamar Aiken.
With Gronkowski out, the Patriots would be forced to alter their offensive starting lineup, and had Michael Hoomanawanui in there to begin the game at tight end, in addition to regular starter Hernandez. Ridley got the start at tailback. He was inactive for last season’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens — he had fumbled the previous two games, losing one. He also didn’t get the start against the Texans in the divisional-round game a week ago, with Danny Woodhead getting the call. Woodhead was injured on the first play against Houston, though, and Ridley, the Patriots’ leading rusher this season, carried 15 times for 82 yards . . . Brandon Lloyd had one of his best games of the season in the regular-season meeting against the Ravens, catching nine balls for 108 yards. It was a matchup the Patriots obviously liked, because Brady threw Lloyd’s way eight times in the first half, and 14 for the game. He caught seven passes for 70 yards . . . Brady set a record in defeat, becoming the NFL’s career leader in postseason passing yardage. Brady came in with 5,629 yards, behind Peyton Manning (5,679), Joe Montana (5,772), and Brett Favre (5,855). With 320 yards, Brady now has 5,949 . . . The Patriots will get another crack at the Ravens next season. The AFC East members will face each team from the NFC South and AFC North. For the second season in a row, the Patriots will play a regular-season game in Baltimore . . . Rob Ninkovich had the only two sacks in the game . . . Gronkowski watched the game from team owner Robert Kraft’s luxury suite.