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ALEX SPEIER

Despite comeback, there’s cause for concern for Patriots

In the latter part of Saturday’s game, the Patriots held Joe Flacco to 6 completions for 61 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions.
In the latter part of Saturday’s game, the Patriots held Joe Flacco to 6 completions for 61 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions.Charles Krupa/AP

The Patriots’ comeback from a pair of 14-point deficits against the Ravens and the Colts’ one-sided victory over the Broncos offered grounds for brimming confidence in New England. After all, not only did the Patriots eke past the team identified by many as their most difficult matchup in the AFC, but they now face an Indianapolis team that they’ve dominated by an average of 26 points in their three meetings during the Andrew Luck era.

But while the odds of a sixth Super Bowl trip for the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick tandem seem good, an easily ignored cautionary note hangs in the air. The frenzy of the Saturday comeback obscured the reason why it was necessary — chiefly, the fact that the Patriots defense got shredded by Joe Flacco and Baltimore in a fashion that rarely sustains Super Bowl ambitions.

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Flacco passed for four touchdowns, the most ever permitted in a playoff game by the Patriots. The 31 points posted by Baltimore represented the third-largest postseason yield in 27 playoff games under Belichick.

At a time of year when every display of defensive vulnerability offers a template to future opponents, the struggles of the Patriots pass defense (which, in fairness, occurred almost entirely in the first 35 minutes of the game before a relative lockdown in the final 25) represented the stuff of January dead ends.

The Patriots became just the 10th team in NFL history to win a playoff game while permitting four touchdowns passes. (No team has won while permitting more than four.) Of the previous nine, seven (78 percent) lost the following week.

Air It Out
Teams that won playoff games while allowing 4 or more passing TDs.
Year Team Round Opponent Additional wins Advanced to
2015 Patriots Div Ravens ? ?
2014 Colts WC Chiefs 0 Div
2012 49ers Div Saints 0 Conf
2010 Cardinals WC Packers 0 Div
2003 49ers WC Giants 0 Div
2000 Rams Div Vikings 2 Won SB
1995 Eagles WC Lions 0 Div
1993 Bills WC Oilers 2 SB
1990 Browns Div Bills 0 Conf
1982 Chargers Div Dolphins 0 Conf
DATA: pro-football-reference.com
Globe Staff

Just 21 teams before Saturday had won a playoff game in which they allowed 30 points. Of the 19 that had at least one more game (two of the wins came in the Super Bowl), 13 (68 percent) were bounced in the next game.

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That history presents a portrait of a Patriots team that would now have to travel an atypical path to a Lombardi Trophy. Still, it’s not a hopeless one.

Of the teams that won while giving up four passing TDs, the Bills (after a historic comeback over the Oilers) went on to win two more games in 1993 as part of their sullen march to the third of four straight Super Bowl defeats, and the Rams recovered in 2000 to submit a pair of strong defensive efforts against the Bucs and Titans en route to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.

As for teams that allowed 30 or more points, in addition to the 1993 Bills and 2000 Rams, just two years ago, the Ravens bounced back after getting torched for 35 points by the Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs to beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship game and to outlast the 49ers for a 34-31 win in the Super Bowl.

Points of No Return
Teams that won playoff games while allowing 30 or more points.
Year Team Round Opponent Additional wins Advanced to
2015 Patriots Div Ravens ? ?
2014 Colts WC Chiefs 0 Div
2013 Ravens SB 49ers N/A Won SB
2013 Ravens Div Broncos 2 Won SB
2013 49ers Div Packers 1 SB
2012 49ers Div Saints 0 Conf
2011 Seahawks WC Saints 0 Div
2010 Cardinals WC Packers 0 Div
2007 Colts Conf Patriots 1 Won SB
2004 Colts Div Chiefs 0 Conf
2003 Titans Div Steelers 0 Conf
2003 Steelers WC Browns 0 Div
2003 49ers WC Giants 0 Div
2000 Rams Div Vikings 2 Won SB
1995 Eagles WC Lions 0 Div
1993 Bills WC Oilers 2 SB
1991 Bills Div Dolphins 1 SB
1990 Browns Div Bills 0 Conf
1988 Broncos Conf Browns 0 SB
1982 Chargers Div Dolphins 0 Conf
1979 Steelers SB Cowboys N/A Won SB
1977 Raiders Div Broncos 0 Conf
DATA: pro-football-reference.com
Globe Staff

Meanwhile, the drastic nature of the Patriots’ reversal against Flacco and the Ravens also demands consideration.

While Flacco torched the pass defense by completing 22 of 29 passes for 231 yards, four touchdowns, no picks, and a 138.0 passer rating while guiding Baltimore to a 28-14 advantage, he connected on just 6 of 16 passes for 61 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions thereafter, good for a 9.6 passer rating that opened the door to the Patriots’ comeback.

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If that game-ending defense proves sustainable, the view of New England’s championship chances becomes radically different.

Still, the fact that Flacco spent just over half the game picking apart the secondary in such startling fashion serves as at least a warning light. Few teams have endured a game in January where they advanced despite a period of such porous pass defense.

Now, the Patriots’ hopes likely will hinge on proving that the stretch represented nothing more than an aberration rather than a vulnerability that the Colts, Seahawks, or Packers might exploit.