Every week, blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players, from that week’s game. This week he looks at Bernard Pollard’s momentum-turning tackle on Stevan Ridley.
The AFC championship game was already slipping away from the New England Patriots on Sunday after Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco found veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots still had plenty of time, though, when they began to inch back toward Ravens territory.
Starting at their 16-yard line, the Patriots picked up a first down with three carries by second-year running back Stevan Ridley and another with a 12-yard pass to receiver Brandon Lloyd. They then went back to Ridley, who was seventh in the NFL with 1,263 rushing yards during the regular season and ran for 12 touchdowns.
The complexion of the game would soon change in an instant.
The Patriots spread out the Ravens with a three-wide-receiver set, with two wide receivers and blocking tight end Daniel Fells on the left side of the formation. Lloyd lined up along the numbers on the right side of the field. Quarterback Tom Brady stood in the shotgun, with Ridley standing to his left, waiting for the handoff.
The Ravens responded with their nickel package and a four-man front with Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs putting their hands in the dirt. Suggs lined up over the right tackle and Kruger against left tackle Nate Solder.
After catching the snap, Brady quickly shoved it into the belly of Ridley, who ran across Brady’s face toward the right end. Leading the way was Solder, who pulled the whole way across the offensive line to eliminate both Suggs and inside linebacker Ray Lewis on the right edge. That created a crease for Ridley, who looked to break it outside before cutting up inside the block of Lloyd, who had trouble sealing off Ravens cornerback Chykie Brown.
Ridley appeared to be too busy reading Lloyd’s block to see the freight train that was barreling down on him.
Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard, who is among the team’s hardest hitters, tracked Ridley from the defensive backfield and launched himself legally at Ridley, stopping him in his tracks after an eight-yard gain.
As Ridley spun to the turf, likely knocked unconscious for an instant, the ball slipped out of his hands just before he touched down. As he lay flat on his back on the turf, a scrum for the ball ensued inches next to him.
“I love to play this game. I love to tackle. That’s what I do,” Pollard said Monday. “When you’ve got two guys running full-speed at each other and you have helmets and shoulder pads on, somebody’s going to go down. It’s not something I’m proud of. After the game, like I said, I really do hope he’s all right and we’ll see.”
The Ravens recovered, and with momentum now surging in their favor, it took Flacco just four plays to take the Ravens 47 yards for the game's final touchdown, which put them up, 28-13, a score that would hold up.
After the victory, Ravens coach John Harbaugh identified Pollard’s hit as the play that changed the game.
“It was just a tremendous hit. It was football at its finest,” Harbaugh said. “It was Bernard Pollard making a great physical tackle -- just as good a tackle as you’re ever going to see in football right there.”
Ridley did not return, but all indications out of Boston are that he is doing relatively well despite suffering a concussion. On Monday morning, Ridley tweeted that he was OK, and after Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith told Ridley that he was praying for him, Ridley didn’t seem to harbor any resentment toward Pollard.
He tweeted this: “appreciate your prayers and concerns! Ya boy caught me.. can't lie lol, but good luck to you and the Ravens in the bowl!”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun