Ravens, Patriots anticipate tight contest
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Final minute. Game on the line. Ravens vs. Patriots.
That’s the way it’s been the last two times those teams met and that’s the way New England coach Bill Belichick expects it to be today when he faces Baltimore in a wild-card playoff game.
“You’ve got to think you’re going to be in a close game at this time of year,” he said. “Whoever you play is a good football team and you’ve got to feel like there’s a good possibility it’s going to be a last-possession game.”
Belichick would be thrilled if the result were the same as it was in Baltimore in the 12th game in 2007 and Foxborough in the fourth game this season.
The Patriots won the first one 27-24 on Tom Brady’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left that kept them on course toward the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history. They held on for a 27-21 win in the second one when Mark Clayton dropped a fourth-down pass with 28 seconds left that would have given the Ravens a first down inside the Patriots 10-yard line.
Then throw in the five games each team lost by seven points or less this season and players’ thoughts could turn to what might have been.
“They’re always aggravating when they’re happening,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. “It’s not aggravating now. It’s more of a calmness, knowing that no matter what we go into, we have a real chance to win the football game and we have an opportunity to be in every game that’s close.
“It’s the small things that would make us win those close games.”
The Ravens reached the AFC championship game last year and trailed Pittsburgh just 16-14 before Troy Polamalu returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown with 4:24 left and a 23-14 win.
The Patriots last playoff game was even closer.
They were leading the New York Giants 14-10 in the 2008 Super Bowl when David Tyree, now with the Ravens, caught a 32-yard pass against his helmet on fourth down that set up the winning 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left for a 17-14 victory. That gave the NFC wild-card team the championship.
“The thing you take from it in a positive way, is that they were a team that didn’t look like they had as good a chance as other teams to advance that far,” Brady said. “I think that really means any team is alive, whether it’s the six-seed Ravens or the three-seed Patriots.”
The Patriots (10-6) won the AFC East, but the Ravens (9-7) won’t have to face Wes Welker, the NFL’s leading receiver with 123 catches, who seriously injured his knee in last Sunday’s 34-27 loss to Houston. But the Patriots should have their best defensive linemen back. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork missed the last three games with a foot injury and end Ty Warren sat out two of them and much of the third with an ankle injury.
That should help against the outstanding running duo of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee.
“You cannot play that defense without recognizing that guy, Vince Wilfork,” Rice said. “When he wants to stop a play, he’ll stop a play.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco doesn’t care who he hands the ball to, “it’s just a matter of what they do with it afterwards,” he said.
The Ravens were 1-6 this season against playoff teams and have never beaten the Patriots, losing all five matchups. At home, the Patriots were 8-0 this season and have won their last 11 playoff games, the last seven with Brady.
“We’ve always played well in the cold weather, too, just because we’re out there practicing in it every day,” he said. Sunday’s forecast is for high temperatures in the low 20s and cloudy skies.
But the NFL’s 2007 MVP has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three of his last four games and is nursing finger and rib injuries.