Vince Wilfork: Hall of Fame Caliber Performance

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens 20-23. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

For eight years, Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has been known as a man eater. He was the classic nose tackle who occupied blockers, didn't make a lot of big plays, but was crucial to the Patriots' success. Wilfork never racked up the big stats or made the highlight reel plays.

In the 2011 season, Wilfork has completely shed the reputation. He has made big plays all year, picking up 52 tackles, a career high 3.5 sacks, and also came up with two interceptions. Against the Broncos in the Divisional Playoffs last week, Wilfork recorded 1.5 sacks. Still, Wilfork had yet to have that vintage performance that fans would refer back to for years to come.

Tonight, against the Baltimore Ravens, Vince Wilfork had that performance. Wilfork had six tackles and was in on two sacks. On a third and short with the Ravens driving deep in Patriots territory down 23-20, Wilfork had a huge run stuff on Ray Rice. On the ensuing fourth down, Wilfork pressured quarterback Joe Flacco and forced him to throw the ball away.

The Patriots then ran the ball down to less than two minutes, and ultimately a missed game tying field goal from Billy Cundiff helped give the Patriots the win and the Super Bowl birth.

Years from now, when voters look back at Wilfork's career and try to decipher whether or not he deserves Hall of Fame honors, they should look back at this tape. Eight years into his Patriots career, Vince Wilfork is still as important as any Patriots player not named Tom Brady.

Extra: Wilfork's post-game comments from the podium:

I think tonight was a big night for all of us. The fans, the organization, the coaches, the players. Everyone. It was a big, big night for us. We knew we had to come out here and play some good football to beat a good Ravens football team, and we did.

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