Quarterback Joe Flacco tossed the first 300-yard game of his postseason career and wide receiver Anquan Boldin surpassed the 100-yard mark, but for all of the offense’s positive gains in the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC championship game, the unit had its share of struggles with Vince Wilfork.
The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Wilfork made six tackles (three for losses) and sacked Flacco once. The four-time Pro Bowler frequently penetrated the line of scrimmage and changed running back Ray Rice’s initial moves in the running game.
“Although he makes the Pro Bowl and stuff, he’s probably underrated,” center Matt Birk said. “We knew what we were in for, and inside, they’re physical guys, and they just tried to push us back. They were trying to dent us, and we were trying to dent them. You win some, you lose some. But yeah, he’s a great player – no question.”
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Wilfork – who was drafted by the Patriots in the first round in 2004 as part of the deal for the Ravens to select quarterback Kyle Boller in the first round in 2003 – was especially critical on the Ravens’ penultimate drive of the contest.
With the offense facing third down-and-3 from New England’s 30-yard line, Rice tried to shoot through the middle of the line, but was stopped for a three-yard loss by Wilfork. On the next play, Wilfork pressured Flacco enough to force him to throw the ball away and end the drive on fourth down.
Wilfork said he was able to influence Flacco because of his reputation for staying in the pocket.
“I knew going into this game, Flacco was a pocket passer,” Wilfork said. “He’ll stand in there, he’ll take hits and will deliver a good football. I knew he really wasn’t going anywhere and just like I said, everything around me worked well and it was just a great defensive play from all eleven – not just myself.”
“I think to be honest with you, on the run, I think they just cut me loose,” Wilfork said. “I don’t know. I’m always taught when someone [doesn’t] block you, it’s a set up and all. I don’t know if they just missed a block or it was a setup block and I just beat it. I don’t know. I’m going to have to watch the film and see it. Critical plays like that, you just have to take advantage. At that split second, the only thing I saw was: did he have the ball? If it was a setup block, they got me. They didn’t get me.”
The Patriots had success moving Wilfork around. A defensive tackle, Wilfork lined up against every Ravens offensive lineman during the game.
Left guard Ben Grubbs perhaps summed it up best when asked his opinion of Wilfork
“I think everybody would have him at the top of their list,” Grubbs said. “He’s a good player.”