By Mike Lowe
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Patriots have always stressed the "next-man-up" system. Someone goes down, the next guy has to step in and pick things up.
Sunday night, they simply couldn't do it again.
Cornerback Aqib Talib went down with a thigh injury with 5:10 left in the first quarter and the Patriots secondary was never really able to overcome his loss. The Baltimore Ravens scored three unanswered touchdowns in the second half, each on a pass from Joe Flacco, to defeat the Patriots 28-13 in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.
While Coach Bill Belichick simply said the Patriots had to make adjustments when Talib went out, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said his loss -- and that of defensive tackle Kyle Love on the first series -- made a difference.
"When you go into the game with three D tackles and you lose one (Love), that's kind of tough," said Wilfork. "And when you practice all week, a certain look and having a guy on a certain guy and doing different things, and when you lose that guy, it kind of changes the whole makeup of your defense.
"Those two losses were big losses for us. All year guys have stepped in and done a great job. I think even tonight, we stepped in and we had to change a few things. Who knows if it would have been different if it wouldn't have happened?"
Wilfork stressed that the Ravens won because they made more plays. "But at the same time, losing those two guys was key for us," he said. "It was."
Talib was expected to cover either of Baltimore's dangerous receivers -- Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith. He was injured while knocking down a pass for Boldin.
Without him, rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard moved to the left and Kyle Arrington moved to the right. Marquice Cole also got additional playing time.
In the second half, Smith and Boldin were able to use their physical advantages to beat the secondary.
Smith made three catches in the second half for 44 yards while Boldin made five for 60 yards and two touchdowns, victimizing safety Devin McCourty on the first and Cole on the second.
JOE FLACCO continues to impress on the big stage. And Tom Brady continues to struggle against the Ravens in the playoffs.
Flacco threw for 240 yards, completing 21 of 36 passes, with three touchdown passes and no interceptions, with a quarterback rating of 106.2.
"He's been unbelievable this whole year and in these playoffs," said tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught one of the three touchdown passes. "We have a ton of confidence in him. We know what he is capable of. It's just a matter of settling down and getting into a rhythm, which he was able to do in the second half."
Brady, meanwhile, had a quarterback rating of 62.3. He threw for 320 yards, completing 29 of 54 passes, with a touchdown. But he also threw two interceptions.
In three playoff games against the Ravens, Brady has thrown three touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Brady did go over 300 yards for the sixth time in his postseason career, tying Joe Montana and Kurt Warner for second behind Peyton Manning (eight). And he now has 5,949 career passing yards in the playoffs, an NFL record.
THIS WAS the first time all year that the Patriots lost when rushing for over 100 yards in a game. The Patriots had been 13-0 when doing that.
It was also the first time this year the Patriots did not force a turnover.
DEFENSIVE END Chandler Jones, who suffered an ankle injury at the end of the first half of last week's victory over Houston and didn't return, played very little.
Rookie Justin Francis got the start at left defensive end and Rob Ninkovich moved over to the right. Jones didn't get on the field until a goal-line situation in the second quarter.
Veteran Trevor Scott also saw considerable playing time.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: