Joe Flacco was unquestionably the best quarterback on the field during the AFC Championship Game, but he also seemed to be the only quarterback with time and space to throw the football -- although not sacked, Brady was hit seven times.
The Patriots pass rush couldn’t muster a sack of Flacco when the teams first met this season all the way back in Week 3, an area they needed to improve upon with a shot at the Super Bowl on the line.
Two sacks on Sunday weren’t enough, however, as Flacco still felt comfortable in the pocket, standing tall on his way to a three-touchdown performance.
“I don’t think anything was really as good as it needed to be tonight,” coach Bill Belichick said when asked about the pass rush. “We gave up too many points, didn’t score enough. I’d say we probably came up a little short in every area.”
After suffering an ankle injury in last Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones made a speedy recovery to be active against the Ravens, but he played a minimal role, logging two snaps as a part of the Patriots’ goal-line defense.
Rather than Jones, it was fellow rookie Justin Francis called upon to take on a starting role at defensive end, and while he showed up with five tackles, he too was unable to put any pressure on Flacco.
Simply put, New England couldn’t generate a consistent pass rush with their front four, and Flacco made enough critical throws when the Patriots attempted to blitz the fifth-year player.
“I think at times we had a pretty decent rush and at times we didn’t,” nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “I don’t think we hit him enough, I don’t think we pressured him enough.”
The Patriots finished the regular season with 37 sacks, good for 15th in the NFL. No Patriot finished with more than eight sacks, however, and though Jones raced out to a hot start, he didn’t manage a single sack after the Patriots' bye in Week 8.
Belichick often has talked about how players typically make their biggest strides in development from their first to second seasons, and the Patriots will count on both Jones and Francis doing exactly that this offseason.
But upgrading the pass rush is an area that the Patriots may look to address either via the draft or free agency.
On Sunday, it came up short.