A workout by Vince Wilfork

FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork [stats] walked across the Gillette Stadium locker room yesterday, the slowest man in the building. With plodding steps, the mountainous Wilfork made his way to the door, barely, then inched through it.

It was as if he had been through a war, and in reality, the perennial Pro Bowler had fought through football’s equivalent. Playing roughly 70 plays in Sunday’s 23-20 win against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, Wilfork had a right to be tired.

Wilfork has a right to want to use the next two weeks to recharge before playing the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. He does so having turned in one of the most memorable performances for a defensive tackle in recent memory.

“It was great technique and being fundamentally sound,” said defensive tackle Gerard Warren, who called Wilfork’s performance the best he’s ever watched by a player at their position. “It was that extra oomph (Wilfork) was born with. He was blessed with something special.”

There was a lot of oomph. Six tackles, three for a loss, one sack and one big paw grabbing Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s jersey to force a late fourth-down incompletion.

Blowing up the interior offensive line on third down to stop running back Ray Rice for a 3-yard loss with 3:36 left to play, and then ruining Flacco’s pass attempt on fourth down were the highlights. But they were not the only times the 6-foot-2, 325(ish)-pounder was disruptive.

Wilfork embarrassed Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda before crushing running back Ricky Williams for a 5-yard loss in the first quarter. He tossed aside veteran center Matt Birk for a sack two plays later.

While the much-maligned defense was limiting Rice to just 3.2 yards per carry and sacking Flacco three times, Wilfork was asserting his dominance.

“He leads the way for us on defense — he and (linebacker) Jerod (Mayo),” coach Bill Belichick said. “Vince is obviously our most experienced player and he’s been a great leader, great captain all year. They’ve set the pace and the rest of the guys have fallen in step. It’s been awesome — certainly a lot better than some other years I can think of.”

Wilfork has had better statistical days. Twice this season, he eclipsed six tackles. Yet on the big stage, playing an unheard of number of plays, Wilfork was at his best.

“All his plays were crucial plays,” defensive end Brandon Deaderick said.

And the Patriots [team stats] used Wilfork in a variety of ways, too. With the defense in a 3-4 look for most of the game, he spent 41 snaps as a defensive end. ProFootballFocus.com gave Wilfork a 7.0 grade, its third-highest mark for a 3-4 defensive end this season. He was at nose tackle just 18 times.

Facing Birk while on the nose, Wilfork often pushed the pocket, which meant dumping the center into Flacco’s lap. That’s what he did at least twice on the Ravens’ last drive. Wilfork did face multiple blockers often, at least 20 times. Fourteen times, he would be considered to have beaten his blocks.

Wilfork’s sack came when he was double-teamed.

The Patriots did give Wilfork help. On the penultimate drive that ended with his stop of Rice and Flacco’s incompletion, Wilfork lined up at the nose, with the defensive ends covering up the guards. The alignment prevented anyone from assisting on Wilfork.

On the Rice stop, Wilfork theorized that the Ravens missed an assignment, and “critical plays like that, you have to take advantage,” he said. His play on Flacco’s incompletion on fourth down was more simple, as he overpowered Birk.

“I knew (Flacco) really wasn’t going anywhere and everything around me worked well,” Wilfork said. “Just was just a great defensive play from all 11 — not just myself.”

Deaderick, Warren and defensive tackle Kyle Love were Robin to Wilfork’s Batman, working and working play after play. It all came together.
Wilfork isn’t a pass rusher by trade.

“He is a pass rusher, don’t be fooled,” Warren said. “He just does what is asked of him. But when given an opportunity to rush the passer, he’ll get after the passer.”

When his team needed it most, Wilfork did everything. It was all needed.

“You’re going to the Super Bowl,” Wilfork said. “This is what we play for.”

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