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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after scoring a one yard touchdown during the second half of the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Patriots defeat Ravens to reach first Super Bowl since 2008
First Published Jan 22 2012 04:18 pm • Last Updated Jan 22 2012 09:07 pm

Foxborough, Mass. • Tom Brady waited out the final tense minutes on the sideline and somehow his fourth-quarter leap into the end zone held up, sending the New England Patriots back to the Super Bowl.

With New England leading by 3 points with 11 seconds left, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt and the Patriots escaped with a 23-20 win Sunday in the AFC championship game.

At a glance

Baltimore 20, New England 23

Baltimore 0 10 10 0 — 20

New England 3 10 3 7 — 23

First Quarter

NE » FG Gostkowski 29, 5:49.

Second Quarter

Bal » FG Cundiff 20, 14:21.

NE » Green-Ellis 7 run (Gostkowski kick), 10:35.

Bal » Pitta 6 pass from Flacco (Cundiff kick), 6:03.

NE » FG Gostkowski 35, 3:00.

Third Quarter

NE » FG Gostkowski 24, 9:06.

Bal » T.Smith 29 pass from Flacco (Cundiff kick), 3:38.

Bal » FG Cundiff 39, :50.

Fourth Quarter

NE » Brady 1 run (Gostkowski kick), 11:29.

Attendance » 68,756.

Bal NE

First downs 19 25

Total Net Yards 398 330

Rushes-yards 31-116 31-96

Passing 282 234

Punt Returns 1-4 3-7

Kickoff Returns 1-20 3-101

Interceptions Ret. 2-39 1-19

Comp-Att-Int 22-36-1 22-36-2

Sacked-Yards Lost 3-24 1-5

Punts 4-43.8 2-48.5

Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1

Penalties-yards 6-33 1-5

Time of Possession 33:33 26:27

Individual Statistics

Rushing » Baltimore, Rice 21-67, Flacco 4-27, R.Williams 6-22. New England, Green-Ellis 15-68, Woodhead 6-18, Hernandez 3-9, Brady 6-2, Edelman 1-(minus 1).

Passing » Baltimore, Flacco 22-36-1-306. New England, Brady 22-36-2-239.

Receiving » Baltimore, Boldin 6-101, Pitta 5-41, T.Smith 3-82, Evans 3-39, Dickson 2-23, Leach 2-9, Rice 1-11. New England, Hernandez 7-66, Welker 6-53, Gronkowski 5-87, Branch 2-18, Edelman 1-8, Woodhead 1-7.

Missed Field Goals » Baltimore, Cundiff 32 (WL).

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On his 1-yard scoring dive with 11:29 left, 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.

Next up as the Patriots chase their fourth Super Bowl trophy in Brady and coach Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England is the winner of Sunday’s NFC championship game between the Giants and 49ers. The Super Bowl is 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 had to the Sup Bowl with a 10-game winning streak.

Brady’s fifth trip to the Super Bowl will equal John Elway’s achievement with Denver.

"We’re going to try to go out and kick some butt in a couple of weeks," Brady said.

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 the lead 17-16.

Then Cundiff misfired, and the Patriots stormed off their sideline in celebration as the chilled crowd roared.

A three-time NFL champion, Brady didn’t throw for a touchdown for the first time in 36 games, although he did pass for 239 yards.

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"Well, I (stunk) pretty bad today, but our defense saved us," Brady said. "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 needed help not only from Cundiff’s botched kick in guiding the Patriots (15-3) to their fifth AFC title in 11 seasons, but from New England’s maligned defense.

"We stepped up," Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "We all stepped up big time. Being in this situation is a great moment. You have to cherish this moment."

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 (13-5) were threatening to score a late touchdown to win their first conference title in 11 years, New England clamped down.

"It’s two great football teams, two gladiators, I guess, just kind of going at each other at the end, and I’m proud of our guys," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You know, we’ve got 53 guys, mighty men, as we like to call them — and they fought, and we came up a little bit short, as 53. You know, 53 win and 53 lose."

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 6 yards to Dennis Pitta and 29 to rookie Torrey Smith.

The loss hardly could be blamed on Flacco.

Operating against a maligned 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.

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