FOXBOROUGH — NFL teams don’t get style points for wins. That’s not the case in the regular season, and it’s certainly not the case in the postseason.
At this time of year, there’s one rule: survive and advance.
The Patriots’ 35-31 win over the Ravens Saturday epitomizes that rule. New England did not play its best game — the defense was on its heels early, the run game on offense was nonexistent, and the game wasn’t decided until the last play, a Hail Mary heave.
But Sunday morning, coaches and players gathered at Gillette Stadium for another day of work.
They’d survived, and they’d advanced, and they’ll be hosting the AFC Championship game against Indianapolis in seven days.
“We’re fortunate enough to still be playing; at this time of year, that’s always good. Learn from our mistakes, try to improve upon those, and see who we’ve got coming this week,” cornerback Kyle Arrington said after the players had met with coaches for film breakdown of the game.
“Like I said, just glad to still be able, fortunate enough to still be playing this time of year. No, it wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but it’s a good team we played. They gave us their best shot and all we could handle. That’s a pretty good outfit down there [in Baltimore].”
As others noted Saturday night, Arrington praised the mettle of the Patriots as they became the first team in NFL postseason history to come back from a 14-point deficit twice.
“Character. Character on our team, you know, not just defensively but as a whole,” he said. “Down 14 points through two stretches of the game, and to be able to overcome that kind of obstacle, it speaks a lot about the character and the guys on this team. They’re proud to strap it up week in and week out with those guys and go to battle.”
In video of the postgame locker room scene posted on the team website, there were lots of hugs, and a palpable sense of elation at having gotten past the Ravens, a team that had traveled to Foxborough three times before in the playoffs and left with a victory twice.
Coach Bill Belichick gathered everyone in the center of the room.
“That’s a hell of a job,” Belichick said. “It was everything we talked about — situational football, all kinds of it . . . talk about bombs going off all around us and hanging in there, just having good execution when we needed it the most.”
New England was able to execute in key moments, from Danny Amendola stretching for both a first-half touchdown and a second-half first down, to Julian Edelman completing his first-ever NFL pass for a TD on a trick play, to Duron Harmon picking off Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco in the end zone with 90 seconds to play.
The Ravens had 428 yards of offense, including 136 rushing yards. Flacco threw for nearly 300 yards, with four touchdowns, though he threw his first two playoff interceptions since 2011, a span of five-plus games.
Patriots defensive players knew there would be a not-so-pretty examination of their performance, but they knew they’d done the most important thing.
“Right now it’s all about giving ourselves a chance to come to work again,” Devin McCourty, who pulled in the other interception, said Saturday night. “I remember my first year in the playoffs, I didn’t think about that at all, and we lost in the first game we played in the playoffs [against the Jets]. Now every time I play in the playoffs, all I think about is giving ourselves a chance to come to work the next day.”
Quarterback Tom Brady, who has experienced the exhilaration of lifting the Lombardi Trophy and the disappointment of losing in the early rounds, like McCourty knew to appreciate the accomplishment, while acknowledging there’s more to do.
“After this weekend there will be four teams standing. Every team starts the year with great hope and we were one of those teams, and we’re still standing, so it feels good,” Brady said. “We have a great opportunity ahead of us to play a championship game at home. We’ve certainly earned it and we’re proud of it, but we have bigger goals ahead.”
Survive and advance.