BOSTON (CBS) – Fresh off their best game of the season, a 45-10 drubbing of the Denver Broncos at Gillette, the New England Patriots now will set their focus on the Baltimore Ravens with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
The Patriots will host the Ravens in the AFC Championship Sunday at Gillette Stadium, hoping to build off their recent postseason success and exercise one of their playoff demons from the past few years.
The last time the Ravens came to Foxboro for a playoff matchup, they sent the three-seeded Patriots packing with an embarrassing 33-14 loss in the 2009-10 Wild Card round. Ray Rice ran for an 83-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, and Baltimore picked off Tom Brady three times. It was New England’s first home playoff loss since 1978.
But the Patriots were a much different team in January of 2010 than they are now. Wes Welker will be on the field this time around, and Brady has his dynamic duo of tight end in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. In that playoff loss, Julian Edelman and Kevin Faulk were the Patriots leading receivers after Randy moss, with Faulk also leading the way on the ground with 14 carries.
The Patriots were down 21-0 just eight minutes into that 2010 loss, and without the fire power he has now, not even Tom Brady could dig them out of that hole.
Not to mention the defense has undergone a youth movement. Derrick Burgess was the name in the Pat’s pass-rush back then, and they had no quarterback hits on Joe Flacco that afternoon in Foxboro. While their gameplan will likely change quite a bit for the Ravens, the Patriots hit Tim Tebow eight times and got to him for five sacks Saturday night.
Now the two teams meet again. The Patriots have won nine straight with the Ravens winners of seven of their last eight. The matchup will feature the Ravens strong defense, ranking fourth against the pass in the regular season, against the Patriots powerhouse offense, second in the NFL through the air.
Overall, the Patriots are 6-1 against the Ravens, 0-1 in the playoffs.
“We play the Patriots numbers of times, and the games always come down to being classic,” linebacker Ray Lewis said after Baltimore’s 20-13 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday. “Probably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Tom Brady, one of the greatest football minds in Bill Belichick. With that being said, we welcome the opportunity.”
“How can you not think about the Patriots and not notice what Tom Brady’s doing over there,” Rice said of Brady’s six-touchdown performance against the Broncos. “It’s going to be a great opportunity; a well-respected opponent. I’m sure they’re over there saying the same thing about us.”
The Patriots haven’t had a chance to talk about the Ravens just yet, they will do so Monday afternoon, but there is little doubt Rice will be a hot topic for the defense. He was one of two running backs in the NFL this season to lead his team in rushing (1,364 yards) and receptions (76 for 703 yards).
But Rice has the Patriots’ defensive performance against the Broncos fresh on his mind, as they put together their best defensive effort of the season. The Broncos got 144 yards on the ground, but the swarming New England D kept them out of the endzone, minus a third quarter touchdown, and got to the them for 14 negative yard plays.
“It’s a great opportunity. I think Denver was the number-one rushing team in the NFL, and you’ve seen what they did to Denver,” said Rice. “It’s not a surprise that those guys know how to win playoff games. They’ll be ready.”
While the Ravens can sometimes bring the trash talk, it’s unlikely there will be any ill words said by either side this week. The two veteran-led teams have too much respect for each other, and are too smart to give the other side any bulletin board fodder.
The offense-defense battles on Sunday will be what determines who heads to Indianapolis for the big game on February 4. The key will be for the Patriots to get up early, get the crowd into the game, and let the defense build off their confidence-boosting win over Devner.
If the Patriots can keep Rice in check, and Brady can solve the Ravens secondary, they’ll be off to their fifth Super Bowl in 11 years.
Tune in to the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens Sunday, January 22 at 3pm on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV. Pregame coverage begins with a special hour-long edition of Patriots GameDay at 11am, with Patriots Preview beginning at noon on the Hub!