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BOSTON (CBS) – For Patriots safety Sterling Moore, it has been one interesting year.
After starting the 2011 season on the Oakland Raiders practice squad, Moore had one of the biggest plays in Sunday’s 23-20 triumph over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship.
With the Patriots holding on to a 23-20 lead in the final minute of the game, the Ravens were poised to at least tie it. Baltimore had a fresh set of downs on the Patriots 23, and after a nine-yard pickup by Anquan Boldin, Joe Flacco went for the win.
The Ravens quarterback slung a pass to Lee Evans in the end zone. Evans caught the ball, but before he could get his second foot down, Moore swatted the ball out of his grasp and it fell for an incomplete.
Moore deflected the next pass as well, setting up Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard field goal miss to seal the game for the Patriots.
Without Moore’s deflection, Cundiff’s miss would never have happened and the Patriots wouldn’t be heading to their seventh Super Bowl in franchise history.
“It wasn’t in my mind to slap the ball out, it was just a split second decision and I’m glad it worked out,” Moore said after the game.
“We do that drill every day in practice but it was the first time I had to use it in a game and I just took what I learned from practice into the game.”
Listen: Sterling Moore Postgame
“That is why you have to play through the whistle. Sterling made an amazing play,” said safety James Ihedigbo. “Like I said, he didn’t see the ball coming and his back was turned and as the receiver caught it and before he could put two feet down he slapped it out of his hand, that’s just a split second. That is just great thinking, an amazing play there.”
When asked if he was relieved he had a chance to make the play in the end, Moore said his emotions changed pretty quickly in the span of a split second.
“Absolutely,” he said with a chuckle. “Especially after I thought he caught the ball – he did catch the ball. I got a chance to knock it away. When that happened I thought, ‘this loss is on me.’ So I had to do something to redeem myself.”
After the game, his teammates applauded the effort.
“You have to play through the whole play. His technique was – I’m not in the secondary, but throughout the week the coaches put a big emphasis on playing all the way through [the whistle],” said linebacker Brandon Spikes, who had his first career interception in the win. “[Evans] had the ball, but [Sterling] knocked it out. That was big.”
After the Patriots offense gave the Ravens the ball back, some of Moore’s teammates couldn’t even watch from the sidelines. Now they’re disappointed they missed a play that will go down in Patriots history.
“I didn’t see it. I turned my back on the last 10-15 plays. I couldn’t watch it because I felt like all the work that we put in, I felt like it’s the last thing we want to let it come down to – to put our defense in the position that we did,” said receiver Deion Branch.
“We’ve been working so hard all year long and for us, as an offensive member, for us to put our defense on the field and put their backs against the wall like that I felt bad. I couldn’t even watch it.”
Moore had an up-and-down year for New England.
An undrafted rookie free agent out of Southern Methodist University, he joined the Patriots practice squad after being cut by Oakland. But he found himself playing a much bigger role than anyone anticipated when a rash of injuries struck the Patriots secondary.
Moore played in his first NFL game in New England’s 20-16 win over the Cowboys on October 16, and made his first career start the following week against the Jets.
He was cut, but brought back in December, and was named AFC Rookie of the Week the final week of the regular season for his two interception-showing against the Buffalo Bills.
Despite his success with the team, he still got little notoriety.
In November, he tweeted about being mistaken for a Best Buy employee, twice, after the team’s 38-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, it will be hard not to recognize him.
“Sterling has done a good job or us here the last few weeks going back to the Buffalo game and then last week against Denver,” coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “He made some plays. Not perfect out there, but he competes hard and he’s a tough kid. He’s got good ball skills. He gets around the ball.”
The Patriots and Moore are now heading to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI. He was at the big game last year, but this time will be a little different.
“Last year, I was in the stands,” Moore said. “I sat way high up there and I was given the ticket from a teammate of mine (Ryan Walker) at SMU. His dad had an extra ticket and he gave it to me.”
Has it even sunk in that a once undrafted player, cut from the Raiders practice squad prior to the season, will be playing for a Super Bowl ring in two weeks?
“No I don’t think it has, I think it is going to take a little while before it all sets in,” he said. “When it does sink in I am going to enjoy the moment.”
Tune in to Super Bowl XLVI on 98.5 The Sports Hub on February 5, the only place you can hear the local call of the game!