New England defense prepares for Flacco


Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.

Joe Flacco doesn’t put up the numbers, get the respect or have the three Super Bowl rings that Tom Brady has. The Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback does have one edge on the Patriots star.

Flacco is 1-0 against Brady in postseason games.

He can stay undefeated and defy the doubters if the Ravens upset the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game on Sunday.

Flacco was just the 18th-ranked quarterback in the NFL this season, but he’s the only one since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to reach the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. Brady did it in two of his first four.

“A quarterback has to do what his team needs him to do to win and Joe has done that,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s been a solid guy since his rookie year in terms of managing the game and using the clock and making good decisions and those types of things.”

In Flacco’s four years, the Ravens are 44-20 in the regular season and 5-3 in the playoffs. In the same span, although Brady missed the last 15 games with a knee injury in 2008, the Patriots are 48-16 in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs.

And the Patriots defense has struggled during the regular season. Only one team allowed more yards passing during the regular season.

The defense did have an outstanding game in last Saturday night’s 45-10 divisional win over Denver, giving up just 252 yards.

“Last week won’t have anything to do with this week,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “We have to play better. We have to make more plays because each game you play it gets tougher and tougher, especially when you’re dealing with a ball club we’re going to face in the Ravens. They’re a stingy team.”

Flacco also has running back Ray Rice, who led the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage, and deep threats Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.

“They have a great running game,” Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said, “but as a secondary, you’ve got to realize Anquan Boldin [has been] a great receiver for years in this league and so is Lee Evans. Then with Torrey Smith being a rookie, what jumps out on the [video] screen is that he can fly and he gets vertical.”

The Patriots, dealing with injuries on defense all season, should be close to full strength.

They don’t have Andre Carter, their leader in sacks before a knee injury ended his season in the 14th game.

But safety Patrick Chung, their best defensive back, and linebacker Brandon Spikes returned from seven games on the sidelines to play the last two games.

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