FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Still they complained.

Driving back to Maine Sunday morning, listening to WEEI, it was stunning to hear some fans found something wrong with the New England Patriots 45-10 victory over the Denver Broncos Saturday night in the AFC Divisional playoff game.

Yet … the Patriots should have run the ball more … the Broncos were just another inferior opponent … what was that interception Tom Brady threw?

And so it went.

Funny thing, though, the Patriots weren’t complaining at all. Nor should they.

They put together one of their most complete games of the season Saturday night, both offensively and defensively. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a big step in the right direction after an uneven regular season.

And now they’re back in the AFC championship game, next Sunday, against the Baltimore Ravens at 3 p.m.

It’ll be New England’s eighth trip to the conference championship game, the fourth at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have never lost a title game.

The Patriots, 6-1 in their previous seven trips to the AFC championship game, hope to keep the momentum going.

“In the postseason, everything is elevated,” said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who had 1.5 of the Patriots five sacks of Tim Tebow on Saturday. “We don’t want to be good; we want to be great, especially at this time. You want to be able to make the game-changing plays and great situational plays. All that comes in, but this team won’t go away.

“Whatever the outcome is, we are going to fight so it’s great to come out as a team and put it all together. It’s something we have been striving for all year; that is to play 60 minutes of football and we have finally done it so hopefully we can do it again this week and maybe the week after that. Who knows?”

It won’t be easy. The Patriots will be facing a team that can physically dominate a game. The Ravens ended the regular season as the NFL’s third-best defense, allowing just 288.9 yards per game.

Baltimore was second against the run (92.6 yards) and fourth against the pass (196.3). In safety Ed Reed, who secured Baltimore’s 20-13 playoff win Sunday with his eighth career postseason interception, and linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens have two first-ballot Hall of Famers.

And the Ravens have been tough against the Patriots.

While New England is 6-1 against the Ravens all-time, that one loss was the dagger that ended the 2009 season, a 33-14 win at Gillette in the AFC wild-card round.

And New England’s last three wins over the Ravens have been by three, six and three.

So the Patriots know they are going to have to play their very best next week. This time of year, said wide receiver Deion Branch, “it’s just all about: the best team is going to win that day. Whoever plays the best, made the least mistakes, didn’t turn the ball over and executed in the red area … that’s who’s going to win.”

Moments after the Ravens beat the Houston Texans, linebacker Ray Lewis said the celebration will end Monday. The Patriots’ win on Saturday night was very impressive.

“We know what we’ve got to do,” Lewis said. “Tom is playing excellent. What they did to the Broncos last night, they sent a message to whoever they were playing.”

The message, said Brady, is pretty simple.

“Well, everyone is here for one reason and that’s to win,” he said after Saturday’s victory. “That’s the reason why guys are here — to win.”

At this time of year, nothing else matters.


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