BALTIMORE RAVENS kicker Billy Cundiff (7) and holder Sam Koch watch after Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of their AFC Championship NFL football game Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots defeated the Ravens 23-20 to win the AFC Championship and will face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

BALTIMORE RAVENS kicker Billy Cundiff (7) and holder Sam Koch watch after Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of their AFC Championship NFL football game Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots defeated the Ravens 23-20 to win the AFC Championship and will face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.

Tom Brady got all the help he needed to get the New England Patriots into the Super Bowl.

Thank you, Billy Cundiff.

The Baltimore Ravens kicker shanked a 32- yard field goal with 11 seconds left and the Patriots escaped with a 23- 20 victory in the AFC championship game on Sunday.

Usually, vintage Brady doesn’t need much assistance in championship settings, but the Patriots much-maligned defense came through, and Brady’s 1- yard touchdown dive with 11:29 left proved to be the winning points.

“Well, I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us,” Brady said after throwing for 239 yards, with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. “I’m going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I’m proud of this team, my teammates.”

Brady waited out the final tense minutes on the sideline, and then celebrated with the rest of his team when Cundiff ’s attempt went wide left. The Ravens looked on in stunned horror.

Cundiff had no excuse.

“It’s a kick I’ve kicked probably a thousand times in my career,” Cundiff said. “I went out there and didn’t convert. That’s the way things go.”

Next up as the Patriots chase their fourth Super Bowl trophy in Brady and coach Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England is the New York Giants, who beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in overtime Sunday night.

The Patriots were installed as 3- point favorites for the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.

In their last trip to the big game, the Patriots had an 18-0 record when they were stunned by the Giants four years ago. They won the NFL championship for the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons. This time, they head to the Super Bowl with a 10-game winning streak.

Before Cundiff missed, the Ravens had a chance to go ahead two plays earlier, but wide receiver Lee Evans was stripped of the ball in the end zone by backup cornerback Sterling Moore, who earlier was victimized for a touchdown that gave Baltimore (13- 5) the lead 17-16.

On his touchdown, Brady took a huge hit from Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis, then emphatically spiked the ball as he walked away. Earlier, Brady showed his fire by barking at Lewis following a hard tackle on a 4-yard run.

Baltimore had the touted defense in this matchup, but New England’s unit, ranked 31st overall, was just as powerful.

The Patriots shut down Ray Rice, the league’s total yardage leader, who was limited to 78 yards. Brandon Spikes made a fourth-quarter interception of Joe Flacco, who played well before that and threw for two touchdowns. And when the Ravens were threatening to score a late touchdown to win their first conference title in 11 years, New England clamped down.

With Rice a nonfactor, Baltimore had to rely on Flacco, and he delivered one of his best performances. Flacco has led the Ravens into the playoffs in all four of his pro seasons, but not to the Super Bowl. He was 22 for 36 for 306 yards and touchdowns of six yards to Dennis Pitta and 29 to rookie Torrey Smith.

Operating against a porous secondary missing its top cornerback, Kyle Arrington, who left in the second quarter with an eye injury, Flacco gave Baltimore its first lead. His short pass on third down to explosive receiver Smith turned into a 29-yard scamper down the right sideline after Moore completely whiffed on the tackle.

Danny Woodhead’s fumble on the ensuing kickoff set up Baltimore at the Patriots 28, but a third-down sack forced Cundiff to kick a 39-yard field goal, making it 20-16.

New England didn’t flinch.

Brady took the Patriots 63 yards in 11 plays, and seemed to score on a 1-yard run. The call was overruled by replay, though, and on fourth-down, he dived just high enough over the line for the winning points.

Defense was particularly dominant early on. The Patriots held Baltimore to minus-4 yards on its first three firstdown runs and forced the Ravens to go three- and- out each time. Meanwhile, the Patriots put together a methodical 13-play, 50-yard drive helped greatly by an illegal contact penalty on Lardarius Webb that negated a tipped interception by Bernard Pollard.

But Brady was sacked for the first time by Paul Kruger and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 29-yard field goal.

Late in the first quarter, the Ravens changed tactics after Webb picked off a pass intended for Julian Edelman at the Baltimore 30. Flacco rolled right on first down and threw deep down the sideline to a wide-open Smith. Had the pass not been short, Smith likely would have sprinted into the end zone. Instead, it was a 42-yard gain, not bad at all given Baltimore’s previous ineptitude with the ball.

Cundiff ’s 20-yard field goal momentarily tied it.


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