After the Patriots dispatched of the Houston Texans with only a few minor scares here and there, they will now prepare for the latest installment of what has become a heated rivalry with the Baltimore Ravens.
Last year, the Ravens lost the AFC title game at Gillette Stadium when Billy Cundiff missed a chip-shot field goal in the closing seconds. Earlier this season, Baltimore got some slight revenge with a one-point win over the Patriots at home.
The real revenge could come Sunday when the Ravens return to Foxboro for the second consecutive season to play in the AFC title game. The Patriots can empathize with what the Ravens went through last year since they lost this year’s game at Baltimore on a missed field goal in the closing seconds.
The real question is whether or not there will be any carryover from that game; a lot has changed for both teams since then, but most of the key parts remain the same.
“Obviously you really have to analyze that game and take a good look at it to see where their team has evolved to from that point,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “What are some of the things that caused you some issues in the first game, some of those concepts that can repeat in the next game?
“You need to be alert and aware for, to make sure you have those handled. Some of the different things that you might see in the game that were some of their strong points, or obviously some weak points that game plan-wise you thought were good or bad that you might want to carry over or not carry over. I think along with this year’s (game), we will obviously take a look at some of the previous games they’ve played against these guys.
“There’s a good history of the two teams playing against each other — real competitive games.”
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo started the war early Sunday by calling out the Patriots on Twitter for running their no-huddle offense, referring to it as a cheap shot. He’s since apologized for the ill-timed Tweets, but it’ll no doubt be a talking point for the rest of the week, as will the possibility of this being the final game for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who announced his retirement at the start of the postseason.
There’s a lot at play here, including the Patriots’ own legacy, which makes for what should be another exciting, and hotly-contested, conference title game Sunday. The Patriots will have to do it without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who broke his arm again Sunday, though it’s almost a guarantee whatever adrenaline both teams bring into this game will more than make up for the injuries.
“We’ve had a lot of great games against them through the years,” Belichick said. “We know they’re a tough, formidable opponent wherever we play them. We know we’ll have our work cut out for us this week. We’ll have to play our best game. I think that’s the way it should be at this time of year.”
PLAYOFF NOTEBOOK: With the Ravens trailing by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter in Denver, majority owner Steve Bisciotti wrote a text message to Harbaugh.
Dealing with the flu, Bisciotti wasn’t able to attend the game.
“I’ve never texted you during a game,” said Harbaugh in the locker room afterward with cameras capturing him reading the text to the players. “We are down 35-28. And I think it’s the best game I’ve ever seen us in the playoffs since 2000. Win or lose, I am so proud of the team and proud of you.”
The Ravens won the game behind a 70-yard game-tying touchdown catch by wide receiver Jacoby Jones and a 47-yard game-winning field goal by kicker Justin Tucker in overtime.
“I’m not going to say on his deathbed, but he was really sick,” Harbaugh said. “He couldn’t get up and move around at all. … It was just something I thought the team needed to hear coming from him. He’s a great leader. Our players love him. They love when he’s around.
“He’s an inspiration to all our guys. This organization, he sets the tone here. It’s a great organization because of his vision. The guys needed to hear that in that moment. I think they appreciated hearing it.”
— Although it wasn’t quite a vintage performance for Terrell Suggs, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year arguably turned in his best performance since returning from a partially torn Achilles tendon.
Despite his torn right biceps, Suggs repeatedly bull-rushed standout offensive tackle Ryan Clady into the backfield.
Suggs finished with a season-high 10 tackles, two sacks, one for a loss and a pass deflection when he dropped back into coverage.
Even though Suggs obviously still isn’t 100 percent, it was his strongest game since returning in October against the Houston Texans from an Achilles injury that required surgery.
— Pulling to his left during the third quarter of the Ravens’ 38-35 double-overtime victory over the Denver Broncos, offensive guard Marshal Yanda quickly gained momentum before crashing into linebacker Wesley Woodyard with his left shoulder.
The block created a big hole for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice up the middle on his 32-yard run that set up his one-yard touchdown run three plays later.
“It was a heck of a block,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s just how Marshal does it.”
Named to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year, Yanda is known for his hard-nosed approach to the game.
“It was a one-back power play,” Yanda said. “It was a great double-team by (left offensive guard Kelechi Osemele) and (left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie). When they have a good double-team, there’s really no place for the linebacker to go to fill that hole, and it makes it easy for me to run around there and pull tight and kick him out and Ray hits it.”