Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, left, celebrates after bringing down Raiders running back Darren McFadden during their game on Oct. 2, 2011, in Oakland. At right is Patriots' Patrick Chung. (The Associated Press).

One would have to go back 11 games to find the last time New England lost. The defeat came at the hands of none other than the team the Patriots will be facing once again in Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants.

Brandon Spikes was around for that highly anticipated Week 9 matchup in Foxborough. That is, for a half.

Spikes sprained his MCL early in the third quarter after a half in which the Patriots’ defense had pitched a shutout. The Giants went on to score 10 points in the third quarter and 14 more in the fourth before Jake Ballard’s 1-yard touchdown from Eli Manning with 15 seconds left sealed a 24-20 win for their nemesis from New York.

Spikes was superb in that first half, which was no different than how he had been playing since the season began. The second-year linebacker was blowing up the Giants’ running plays, and he decleated Ballard with one of the hits of the year in the first quarter. However, Spikes landed awkwardly on a third down in the red zone while breaking up a pass and was forced to head to the locker room shortly after halftime. Just as its emotional leader vanished, the Patriots’ defense followed suit in the eventual loss.

New England wouldn’t see Spikes’ return until the team’s regular-season finale against Buffalo. Only thing is, Spikes didn’t take the field until the second quarter, at which point the Bills had jumped out to a surprising 21-0 lead over the puzzled Patriots. But Buffalo wouldn’t score another point, and New England roared back with 49 unanswered points to help the Patriots secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Spikes’ impact on the Patriots’ defense is evident. During the regular season, opposing teams averaged 411.1 yards of offense a game against the Patriots. That number has plummeted to 325 in the playoffs as New England’s much-maligned defense — ranked 31st in the league during the regular season — has come up big in the postseason, and Spikes is a big reason why.

Against Tim Tebow and Denver, Spikes had six tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, a pass defensed and two QB hits on his former UF teammate. On Sunday against Baltimore, he led the Patriots in tackles (9), had another pass defensed and a key fourth-quarter interception.

With the Ravens in Patriots’ territory and only down 23-20 with about 7:30 left, Spikes stepped in front of tight end Ed Dickson and made a one-handed pick to thwart a promising drive and send his teammates into a frenzy.

“On the sideline, we kept saying that we’ve got to step up and make a play,” Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty told ESPN. “Spikes is a very emotional, passionate guy, so whenever he makes a play, everyone goes crazy. That’s just what he brings to the defense and what he brings to the team.”

“As a man, you’re measured when you get knocked down, how you respond after you get knocked down. On that pick, actually the play before, (Ravens fullback Vonta) Leach had done a great job. My respect to him. He knocked me on my butt,” Spikes told reporters. “And the next play, I was able to make the play on the ball. It just felt great. You just got to respond when you get knocked down on the ground.”

That wasn’t the first time Spikes has had to pick himself up. Last year, Spikes was suspended for the final four games of the regular season for violating the league’s drug policy before returning for the playoffs. This year, he battled through an ankle injury during the preseason, then bounced back from that sprained MCL in time to lead the Patriots’ defense to Indianapolis.

“I dreamed of this (AFC Championship) game a few days ago and I had this experience,” Spikes told ESPN. “I thought the SEC Championship was big, but this is amazing.”

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