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Patriots Beat Ravens to Reach First Super Bowl in 4 Seasons

The New England Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since they lost to the New York Giants in the National Football League title game four seasons ago.

The Patriots earned their fifth Super Bowl appearance in 11 seasons as Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left that would have tied the American Football Conference championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Tom Brady scored the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard run with 4:21 left for the Patriots, who will play the winner of today’s National Football Conference title game between the San Francisco 49ers and the visiting Giants on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis. New England won the Super Bowl after the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons.

“It wasn’t always perfect, but they fought to the final gun and we came out on top,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in the post-game ceremony after his team improved to 15-3 with its 10th straight win. “This is 15 of them now. You have to give the players all the credit.”

The Giants are seeking to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since they defeated the Patriots after the 2007 season. That year, they beat three division winners on the road on their way to the title. New York a week ago won 37-20 at the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to set up the meeting with the 49ers.

The Giants, who have never lost in four conference championship appearances, face a San Francisco team that’s seeking its first visit to the Super Bowl since it won the title after the 1994 season.

Patriots Hold On

The Patriots held on for the win as Baltimore, which last reached the Super Bowl after the 2000 season, blew two scoring opportunities in the closing seconds.

On second down from the New England 14-yard line with 22 seconds left, Joe Flacco threw a pass to Lee Evans in the end zone. The ball hit Evans in the chest but was stripped by Sterling Moore before he had possession. Two plays later, Cundiff, who made the Pro Bowl last season, pulled his kick wide to the left, setting off a celebration in Gillette Stadium as several Ravens players stood on the sideline with their hands on their heads.

Brady, who was intercepted twice and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 18 games this season, credited the Patriots’ defense for pulling out the win.

Tying Montana

“I sucked today, but our defense saved us,” Brady, who tied Joe Montana’s NFL record with his 16th career postseason victory, said in the post-game trophy ceremony. “I’m going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple weeks.”

The Patriots’ defense, which allowed the second-most yards in the NFL during the regular season, also had a fourth-down stop with 2:46 left. On 4th-and-6, the Ravens decided to forgo a 51-yard field goal attempt and Flacco threw incomplete after being pressured by the Patriots’ Vince Wilfork, who had one sack and three tackles for a loss.

“This was a big night for us,” Wilfork said. “We had to come out and play some good football against a good Ravens team, and we did.”

Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals and BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown for the Patriots, who avenged a 33-14 defeat to Baltimore in the first round of the postseason on Jan. 10, 2010.

New England led 13-10 at halftime and extended its advantage to 16-10 before the Ravens scored 10 points in a three-minute span to take their first lead. Flacco tossed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with 3:48 left in the third quarter and Cundiff, who earlier made a 20-yard field goal, kicked a 39-yard attempt 2:53 later.

The Patriots went back in front for good 23-20 on Brady’s 1-yard dive with 11:33 remaining. Brady returns to the Super Bowl for the fifth time, tying Hall of Famer John Elway for the most appearances by a quarterback.

The Ravens, who were the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind the Patriots, finish the season with a 13-5 record.

“We came up a little short,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a televised interview. “We didn’t quite get it done, but that doesn’t lessen it. Congratulations to them. They found a way to win the football game.”

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