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ExtremeRavens: The Sanctuary

Patriots defense stands up to critics


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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A New England Patriots defense that was ripped on the field and off finally stood tall.


A unit that ranked 31st in total defense and was gashed for 4,703 passing yards during the regular season, the second-highest total in NFL history, made critical fourth-quarter stops in Sunday's 23-20 AFC Championship Game victory against the Baltimore Ravens.

New England linebacker Brandon Spikes said he and his teammates were keenly aware of the criticism, especially in the week leading up to the clash with Baltimore and its vaunted "D."

"We took it personally, all the talk about the Ravens defense," Spikes said. "But we have some guys who can make plays also."

The game will be remembered for Billy Cundiff's inability to convert an attempt at a tying 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left, sending New England to Super Bowl XLVI as the ball fluttered outside the left upright.


But keep in mind the handiwork of Patriots rookie cornerback Sterling Moore, who made two huge stops to force a botched kick that already is infamous.

The 5-10, 205-pounder was signed by the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted prospect out of Southern Methodist University and eventually landed on their practice squad before he was released.

New England, desperate for help for an injury-depleted secondary, signed Moore and added him to its practice squad Oct. 5. He twice was released by the Patriots before joining their 53-man roster Dec. 23.

Moore said of the wild start to his career, "It's incentive to work hard and prove to everybody I should be out there."

He felt like a beaten man when Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, on second-and-1 at the New England 14-yard line with 27 seconds remaining, found wide receiver Lee Evans in the left side of the end zone for what appeared to be the winning touchdown.

"I thought it was over," Moore said. "We lost, and that's on me."

Then it wasn't. With Evans having his back to Moore and seemingly ready to break into a touchdown celebration, Moore stuck in his right hand and pounded the ball loose.

"It was instinct," he said. "… You don't have time to think. I just reacted."

Baltimore tested Moore on the next play. He again came up big, batting away a pass intended for tight end Dennis Pitta.

Midway through that bend-but-don't-break fourth quarter, it was Spikes stepping in front of a ball intended for tight end Ed Dickson at the Patriots 31.

Spikes said Patriots defenders have spent months propping each other up. "As a man, you are measured by how you respond after you get knocked down," he said.

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