By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For two teams that don’t share a division, the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots sure do manage to see a lot of each other. And neither team seems to particularly enjoy the other’s company.
Indeed, as the Patriots’ intra-divisional rivalries have largely faded into the backdrop, the Ravens have seemingly relished their role as the near-annual thorn in the side of what is perennially the AFC’s best team.
And to be clear, the Ravens have been no slouches themselves. This isn’t some sub-.500 team getting up every now and again to put forth a tremendous effort whenever Bill Belichick and Tom Brady roll into town (why hello there, New York Jets). Since John Harbaugh became coach in 2008, the Ravens have made the playoffs in six of eight years, and they’re likely to make it seven of nine this year. They’ve had a sub-.500 record just once in that time, and they’ve won a Super Bowl. They have been every bit as good as the Patriots, with the Ravens owning a 10-5 postseason record since ’08, compared to the Patriots’ 8-6 mark.
But unlike some matchups against worthy foes, this rivalry has dipped into the world of dramatics a bit more often than usual. On the field, off the field, in front of the media and behind closed doors, the history of these two teams is quite deep.
With a Monday night matchup on tap, here’s a brief summation of what has gone on.
2007 Week 13: Rex Changes History
Really, the seeds of this intense rivalry were likely planted before Harbaugh even got on the job. It was a chilly Monday night in early December. The 11-0 Patriots were on a special sort of run. The 4-7 Ravens were in the middle of what would turn out to be a nine-game losing streak. These were two teams on very different tracks. But on this night, they were equals.
In fact, the Ravens were better. Led by running back Willis McGahee and quarterback Kyle Boller, the Ravens took a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. But James Sanders intercepted Boller to set up a field-goal drive, giving the Patriots the chance for a game-winning touchdown drive with 3:30 left to play. Brady had driven the Patriots across midfield before facing a fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes to play. And even though the Brady QB sneak was virtually a 100 percent effective play, the Ravens had miraculously managed to stop him on this attempt.
There was just one problem: defensive coordinator Rex Ryan called timeout before the play. Granted, coordinators aren’t supposed to call timeout, but how often does ol’ Rexy follow the rules? He called timeout, the official didn’t have time to check his identity, and the play ended up getting waived off. Brady joked after the game that he pulled up when he heard the whistle; he most certainly heard no such thing.
So, coming out of the timeout, the Patriots again were stopped short of the first down. But again, the play was whistled dead, this time for a false start. Brady then scrambled for 12 yards on the fourth-and-6. But another fourth down soon awaited them, and Brady threw incomplete. But the Ravens — who thought they had won the game — were flagged for defensive holding. Brady threw a touchdown on the very next play.
Bart Scott responded by hurling a penalty flag into the crowd.
After the game, the Ravens cried conspiracy.
“It’s hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time,” cornerback Chris McAlister said. “They put the crown on top and they want them to win.”
“They called it a touchdown and he had bobbled it,” Bart Scott said. “We outplayed them for 60 minutes. We made the play to end the game.”
Though they were miffed at the officiating, the Ravens came away from their brush with greatness having gained a wise perspective.
“I think that the ‘S’ has kind of been ripped off their shirts,” Corey Ivy said. “I mean, they’re a good team and all, an excellent team. Don’t get me wrong. But some of the mystique, the feeling they’re unbeatable, well hey, it’s the NFL, we’re all paid to play hard, and no one is above being beaten, you know? No one.”
That statement came to define the Ravens’ attitude when facing the Patriots for years to come.
2008: Bill Makes A Call
You’d never know it from some of their clashes over the years, but back when John Harbaugh was looking to land the job of a lifetime, Bill Belichick was his biggest ally.
Belichick made a call to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to recommend the longtime special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It meant everything,” Harbaugh said years later. “As far as probably getting the job, it didn’t hurt. … The fact that he was willing to do that at the time, I was stunned when I heard the story much later. … I’ve never worked with him, specifically, but for whatever reason he has been always willing to kind of take me under his wing in a way and give me time and insight and things like that.”
When the Ravens headed to Foxboro in August of 2008 for Harbaugh’s first game as a head coach, Bill was even nice enough to let the young man win. (Tidbit: Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco fumbled the football in his second snap of the night.)
You’d think that such a cordial move would have laid the groundwork for a friendly relationship going forward. You’d be wrong.
2009 Week 4: Shut Up, Mason
When the Ravens got their first crack at revenge for the perceived injustices of 2007, they nearly snatched a victory at Gillette Stadium. They appeared to have inched closer to doing so when Joe Flacco threw a pass to an open Mark Clayton on fourth-and-4 from the 14-yard line. But Clayton let the ball bounce right off his body, turning the ball over on downs and giving the Patriots a narrow victory.
But the game wasn’t the most memorable part of this one. Years later, when the NFL Network ran “A Football Life: Bill Belichick,” we were all treated to this exchange between Belichick and veteran receiver Derrick Mason:
That’s not indicative of any real blood. It’s just a classic moment.
The game was also memorable for Brady lobbying for a penalty when Terrell Suggs seemed to have targeted the QB’s knee with a late dive one play in particular. It was a moment that drew the ire of Ray Lewis, who went on an unforgettable rant in the losing locker room.
“Without totally going off the wall here, it’s embarrassing to the game. You can’t do that. Brady’s good enough to make a play. Let him make his own play,” Lewis said. “You can’t end the play like that, and then throw the flag. No, man. The embarrassing part is when he understands that, and he walks up to one of us and says, ‘Oh, that was a cheap one.’
“That’s not football. And that’s the embarrassing part about it. Two great teams going at it, [let] them go at it. But you can’t stop drives like that, you can’t throw flags and say, ‘Oh, you touched the quarterback.’ Put flags on them. Put a red buzzer on them, so if we touch them, they’re down.”
Ray never really got over that one.
2009 Wild-Card Round: The Thumping
The Ravens returned to Foxboro that year and thumped the Patriots. It was an old-fashioned whooping.
“Their era is not over, they know how to win,” said Ray Rice, who kicked off the game with an 83-yard touchdown run, after the 33-14 win. “But for the Ravens, to beat the New England Patriots set a precedent. We’ll always remember this win.”
The game was devoid of drama, but it did serve as the backdrop to all future meetings between the two teams.
2010 Week 6: Brady Gets Nasty
One thing that was undoubtedly true about Tom Brady in his first couple of years back from his knee injury was that he didn’t like it very much if you went anywhere near his knee. And so, after Terrell Suggs went nose-diving in the 2009 regular-season meeting to draw a 15-yard penalty, Brady tried to return the favor on the linebacker for the rematch in 2010 when the quarterback was out in front as a blocker on a reverse.
Suggs took a mental note, and later, he and Brady were seen screaming in each other’s faces later in the game.
Suggs later laughed off the incident, saying Brady was just teaching Suggs how to ““bag a Hollywood actress.”
Brady, who’s normally reserved and careful with all of his public comments, broke character.
“Well, he had his chance so maybe if he gets another chance he can try to back those words up,” Brady said. “We play those guys a lot and they’ve only beat us once. … They talk a lot for only beating us once in nine years.”
That’s about as much smack talk as Brady’s ever dished out.
2011 AFC Championship Game: Ravens Feel Cheated … Again
The Patriots and Ravens played nail-biter of an AFC Championship Game in January 2012. One team unfortunately had to lose. But, technically, that team didn’t have to accept the loss.
You remember the details: Sterling Moore knocked a pass out of Lee Evans’ hands in the end zone. Moore broke up another pass on third down. The Ravens rushed the field goal unit out onto the field. Billy Cundiff bent an ugly 32-yard attempt. The Patriots won and were heading to the Super Bowl.
It was a wild sequence, one that happened so quickly that it was difficult to process everything at once. But, according to Ravens kicking consultant Randy Brown, some funny business might have been going on with the scoreboard operator at Gillette Stadium. Apparently, the scoreboard was displaying the wrong down, an error that took place as a result of confusion after a fumble went out of bounds. So on second down, the scoreboard displayed first down, and so forth. When it came to fourth down, Cundiff thought it was only third down, so he had to rush out onto the field before missing the easy kick.
Brown said the Patriots’ scoreboard operator perhaps knew everything that was going to happen after that fumble, and thus may have manipulated the scoreboard to help the home team.
When asked directly if he believed the Patriots tinkered with the scoreboard on purpose, Brown said, “I don’t think you can rule anything out in New England, can you?”
Playing into the sneaky cheaters angle is nothing new, but the funniest part of the ordeal was this: The Ravens had a timeout. John Harbaugh simply forgot about it.
“Yeah, that never occurred to me,” Harbaugh said when asked why he didn’t use his timeout to give his field-goal unit time to set up properly. “I didn’t think that. You know, looking back at it now, maybe there was something we could have done. But in the situation, it didn’t seem like we were that rushed on the field. Thought we were in pretty good shape.”
The Ravens had it within their power to simply handle the situation and win the game. But when in doubt, lob cheating accusations across the way. It never fails.
2012 Week 3: Replacement Ref Mayhem
Remember the replacement refs? Those were fun times — unless you were actually involved in the games. Then, it was slightly less comical.
This week proved to be the final straw for the replacements, who were slightly more inept than the regular refs. And this game — in a smaller sense than the Packers-Seahawks Fail Mary fiasco — played a role in bringing about the end of the replacement refs.
The game really was a mess — for both sides. The officials invented a pass interference penalty on Jerod Mayo on a third-down incompletion. They invented a yard of progress on a replay review. Rob Gronkowski drew a holding penalty despite nobody touching him. In total, the two teams combined for 24 penalties for 218 yards. We’re still not even sure Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal was actually good.
Belichick lost his mind.
Then he had to grab an official to ask about that kick.
The officiating was so bad that you have to wonder if the replacements were sabotaging the game so they wouldn’t have to embarrassingly work these games anymore.
This wasn’t even anything Ravens-Patriots specific. It was just a bizarre evening.
2012 AFC Championship Game: Payback
The Ravens returned to Gillette Stadium for the second straight year with a Super Bowl trip on the line. And though they trailed 10-7 at halftime, they outscored the home team 21-0 in the second half, picking off Brady twice, in earning a trip to the Super Bowl. They eventually won that game, too.
Brady also kicked Ed Reed.
Suggs gleefully reflected after the game: “We are probably the only team in the AFC that matches up good with the boy, No. 12 over there and his coach.”
2013 Week 16: Patriots Dash Ravens’ Playoff Hopes
The 2013 Ravens entered Week 16 with an 8-6 record and hopes of making the postseason. The Patriots stifled those hopes rather decisively.
It was utter domination, with the Patriots waltzing away with a 41-7 win. The Ravens were so dispirited that they ended up losing the following week in Cincinnati, officially ending their season.
2014 Divisional Playoffs: Steve Smith Tries To Fight Wiggy
Before we get to the real controversy from this night, let’s get to the best controversy.
“[Jermaine Wiggins] said at that point, ‘I thought he was, you know, just kind of busting chops and wasn’t like serious. Then all of a sudden, it got like really violent and he was in my face looking for a fight!’ [Steve Smith] tried to fight Jermaine Wiggins after the game.”
You can read all the details here. Tremendous.
2014 Divisional Playoffs: Ineligible Receivers, And The Birth Of DeflateGate
“Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out.”
Given the cloud of mystery that surrounds everything involving DeflateGate, we’ll probably never know just how much of an impact that single comment from Tom Brady had in starting the circus.
It came after Harbaugh complained vociferously about the Patriots’ employment of a rule wrinkle, which allowed them to declare a receiver ineligible and thus send an eligible receiver out for a pattern after lining up in a spot traditionally reserved for an offensive lineman. It worked so effectively once that the Patriots went back to it a second — and third — time. Harbaugh was so flummoxed and infuriated on the sideline when it happened that he stomped out onto the field to intentionally draw a penalty to slow down the game and yell at referee Bill Vinovich and his crew. It was a sight to behold.
Much was made of the strategy afterward, but what got obscured in all the madness was this: The Patriots huddled every time they employed the strategy, and Vinovich announced which player was not eligible to receive a pass every time. Yet it caught the Ravens completely off guard, and it played a major role in the Patriots completing a comeback for the ages to advance to the championship game.
But when Brady cavalierly suggested the Ravens study the rulebook, it perhaps triggered some deeply painful feeling inside some members of the Ravens organization. And it might not have been a complete coincidence that some calls were made to the Indianapolis Colts ahead of their trip to Foxboro as a means of warning the team about some potential tomfoolery regarding the footballs.
We know that special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg spoke with Colts coach Chuck Pagano about the ineligible receiver formations the Patriots ran, and we know that kicking consultant Randy Brown sent a warning to the Colts about some weirdness with the kicking balls. The Ravens admitted this.
But beyond that, it’s unclear if and how the Ravens were involved in the birth of DeflateGate, as it came to be known. Harbaugh adamantly denied any involvement, saying before the Super Bowl, “It’s ridiculous. It never happened. I never made any call. Nobody in our organization made any call.” We know that Ravens defensive coordinator — and former Patriots defensive coordinator — Dean Pees was interviewed by Ted Wells’ investigative team, and we know that none of that interview made it into the final public report. Rosburg was interviewed, too; none of his interview was made public.
Again, the Ravens have denied their involvement. But frankly, their credibility took a significant hit with their previous incidence of releasing a statement on a controversial matter. And we know that the DeflateGate origin that was spoon-fed to us never made a lick of sense. So we’re left to wonder.
In any event, both sides have moved on. In fact, Harbaugh’s made it a point of practice to try to invent new ways to “deceive” opponents with wacky formations of his own. He has, apparently, studied the rule book.
Brady denied that history having any influence on his emotions heading into this game. But after enduring a two-year tooth-and-nail fight with the NFL and its commissioner, it’s difficult to believe that history won’t be occupying a sizable chunk of his head come Monday night.