FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Baltimore Ravens steamrolled New England in their last meeting. And the Patriots had big-play receiver Randy Moss then.
Now he’s gone, the Ravens return Sunday with an improved offense and the Patriots still think about the 33-14 loss in the first round of the playoffs last January.
“It still weighs on us,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “It was a very disappointing loss. It ended our season and they’re coming back to New England. Hopefully, it’s not the same outcome.”
Baltimore led that game in Foxborough 24-0 after one quarter, starting with Ray Rice’s 83-yard touchdown run on the first offensive play. Tom Brady had three turnovers in the opening quarter. By the time he completed his first pass to Moss early in the third, it was 24-7.
The Ravens (4-1) are still rolling.
They’re coming off a 31-17 win over the Denver Broncos in which Rice ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots (3-1) return from a bye week that was hardly uneventful — “a bye week to remember,” cornerback Kyle Arrington said.
They traded Moss to Minnesota two days after he was held without a catch in a 41-14 win over the Miami Dolphins. Five days later, they reacquired Deion Branch from Seattle as the likely starter in Moss’ old spot.
“We’re way past Randy,” said nose tackle Vince Wilfork, a close friend of the receiver. “I mean, it’s about the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens right now, so that’s old in this locker room.”
The Patriots insist their offense won’t change much. Brady said he’ll still throw to the open receiver, whoever it is.
But the Ravens defenders know their own focus will shift without having to double team the only proven deep threat the Patriots had.
“Anytime you remove a Randy Moss from any offense, you take away just a relief from any defense,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I understand that they’re going to definitely move on in their progression of offense. You don’t prepare differently for them, but you do prepare (knowing) you’re not playing against Randy Moss. And that’s always huge.”
Branch is more of a possession receiver and may not have the offense down pat by Sunday. That would be another boost for a Baltimore defense that has been one of the NFL’s best for years.
This season, the Ravens have allowed the fourth fewest points per game and the third fewest total yards.
“They’re flying around,” Patriots center Dan Koppen said. “There’s not one guy making plays. There’s a bunch of guys making plays and with the guys that they have and the schemes that they can use they can bring a lot at you.”
New England’s defense is young and vulnerable. Only three teams have allowed more yards and only four have given up more through the air.
And Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has two receivers, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who weren’t on the team last year.
“They’re the same style of team. They’re still a physical team,” Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. “They can run the ball, but now they’ve got a passing game with Boldin and Houshmandzadeh and (Derrick) Mason and (Todd) Heap.”
Against the Broncos, the Ravens gained 233 yards rushing and Flacco passed for 196.
The Patriots have allowed 384.5 yards per game, but Rice praised their defense.
“They’re a solid defense, and you’ve got to pick and choose when you want to attack them. Obviously, we’re not looking for it to be a first-quarter kind of knockout game,” he said. “They’re coming off a bye. They’re going to be pretty fresh. We’re coming off two great wins.”
The Ravens edged the New York Jets 10-9 in the opener, then lost at Cincinnati and beat Cleveland before handing Pittsburgh its first loss, 17-14, and then beating Denver.
The Patriots are coming off a win in which Brandon Tate returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second time this season and Patrick Chung blocked a field goal attempt and a punt and returned an interception for a touchdown.
All that took pressure off the offense to score. But now the burden falls on other receivers to produce against a tough defense now that Moss is with Minnesota.
“I was going to be comfortable regardless,” Baltimore cornerback Fabian Washington said with a laugh, “but I’m not going to lose any sleep that I don’t have to guard him.”
The Patriots have changed considerably since the playoff game.
Rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have been productive, running back Laurence Maroney was traded to Denver and, of course, Moss is gone.
“They’re going to think and look at last year’s film, and, obviously, their personnel is a lot different without Randy Moss,” Rice said. “A lot of things have changed over there, but overall, we know what Bill Belichick stands for. He’s a great coach, and he’s going to build that team around team unity.”
The Patriots did beat the Ravens in Foxborough during the regular season last year 27-21 . But they’ll rest easier if they can beat them after the memorable playoff loss.
“The game sticks with all of us,” Belichick said. “We split with them last year, but they won the one that mattered the most.”