Plain and simple, Tom Brady needs to outplay Joe Flacco, which he has not done in recent years when these two teams square off. Often lost in the dramatic victory last year is the fact that Brady was significantly outplayed by Flacco; and Brady’s mistakes (particularly an ill-advised deep pass to Matthew Slater in the fourth quarter, resulting in a momentum-shifting interception for the Ravens) nearly cost the Patriots the game.
In last year’s contest, Brady was 22-36 for 239 yards, with 2 interceptions and 1 rushing touchdown (the headfirst goal-line leap where he nearly broke his back) and 2 picks. Flacco was also 22-36, but threw for 306 yards, 2 touchdowns and just one interception. He also threw what was nearly a game winning touchdown to Lee Evans, but Sterling Moore was able to knock the ball free at the last moment. This was followed by Billy Cundiff shitting his pants and missing a 32 yard chip shot, sending the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
In order to not have a repeat of that performance, the key to Brady’s success is that he gets the ball out of his hand quickly.
In an obscure but interesting stat from this season, when holding the ball for less than three seconds before throwing, Brady has a completion percentage of 72%, along with 26 TD’s vs. 4 INTs. When he holds the ball for more than 3 seconds, his completion percentage is 41% with 8 TD’s to 4 INTs. I
In recent years, Brady has often been outplayed by opposing quarterbacks (Flacco, Sanchez, Eli). If Brady wants to end this season as the undisputed greatest of all time (which I think he will be if he earns another ring), he is going to have to outplay Flacco by a wide margin this week, and avoid making the mistakes he made in last year’s game. In terms of Brady cementing his legacy, along with that of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots organization, it doesn't get any bigger than this.