OWINGS MILLS, Md.
The Baltimore Ravens have another opportunity to embrace the underdog role, this time in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.
Playing at home — where they’ve won seven of nine this season — the Patriots have been installed as 91/2-point favorites Sunday to beat Baltimore and advance to the Super Bowl.
The Ravens have already defeated New England this season and are coming off a stunning upset on the road against top-seeded Denver. Yet, it appears they’re still not getting any respect.
And the Ravens are just fine with it.
“It’s just what everyone else thinks,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said Monday. “In here, on our team, we believe in ourselves. Whatever anyone else thinks, that their thoughts. We’ll just have to go back out there and prove people wrong again.”
After eliminating the Broncos 38-35 in double-overtime Saturday, the Ravens (12-6) watched New England (13-4) defeat Houston on Sunday. Baltimore might have had an easier time against the Texans, but many of the Ravens longed for a rematch of last year’s AFC title game, won by the Patriots 23-20.
“I think we personally kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,” Ngata said. “If we go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough.”
The Ravens were also 91/2-point underdogs against Denver, which came in with an 11-game winning streak and as the odds-on favorite to reach the Super Bowl. Yet, Baltimore is still in the hunt and the Broncos are done for the season.
“It will probably be one of the greatest victories in Ravens history,” linebacker Ray Lewis declared afterward. “It’s partly because of the way everything was stacked up against us coming in. ... For us to come in here and win, 9- to 10-point underdogs, that’s the beautiful part about sports. That’s the thing that, if I’ll probably miss anything about my career, it will be to listen to what people say you can’t do, and then to go do it.”
The 37-year-old Lewis, who has been with the Ravens since their first game in 1996, plans to retire of Baltimore’s current playoff run. If the Ravens go all the way, he will no doubt recall they were underdogs this season from September through the first weekend in February.
It always seems to be that way for Baltimore, at least in Lewis’ mind.
“My Super Bowl year in 2000, we were never picked one time the entire season to win a game. Not one time,” Lewis recalled. “But at the end of the day, we held the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champs. That alone taught me a valuable lesson — that no one outside dictates how we play on the inside.”