Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees was on Bill Belichick’s staff for six seasons, so he had to deal with quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots offense on a daily basis. Pees, then, seemed the perfect guy to ask how to make life uncomfortable for Brady.
“Hire Tonya Harding,” said Pees, referencing the notorious former figure skater. “If they were getting off the bus, I’d spray outside the bus and hope it freezes.”
Pees was joking, but the Ravens understand that their best chance to win Sunday’s AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium is to find legal — and conventional — ways to get after Brady, who was sacked just once last week in the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Houston Texans. Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns in the game, proving once again that if given time, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
“You get after him, you hit him, you make him uncomfortable, he becomes like the rest of the quarterbacks, just another quarterback,” Ravens reserve linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. “But if the offensive line blocks and he gets to sit there and he gets to do his thing, then he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.”
Brady is 5-2 against the Ravens in his career, but the quarterback’s numbers in the matchups are pedestrian by his high standards. In the five regular season games, he has completed 58.9 percent of his passes, averaged 262.8 yards passing per game, thrown five touchdowns and three interceptions while being sacked 12 times.
In the two playoff matchups, Brady has completed 57.6 percent of his passes, averaged 196.5 yards passing per game, thrown two touchdowns to five interceptions and been sacked four times. The Ravens, of course, expect him to be at his best Sunday.
“He’s as competitive a person as I’ve ever been around,” Pees said. “He can give you this little boyish look on TV, but he is a very, very competitive guy. He doesn’t even like losing in practice. The more we rode him on defense — because I had a couple trash talkers — the harder he played. He’s going to play well, you expect him to play well. We’ve got to do the best job we can fundamentally to disrupt him and do some things to him, but I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback.”
The Ravens gave the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning, another future Hall of Fame quarterback, problems last week. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns, but he also tossed two interceptions, lost one fumble and was sacked three times.
“You’re talking about arguably the top two or three greatest quarterbacks of all-time. So when you go from Peyton Manning to Tom Brady, you’re going from 1A to 1A,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said Thursday on a conference call with national reporters. “It’s not like you get a drop-off. … Playing against Brady and just watching him sometimes, you’re always in awe on watching on how good he really is.”
A day after practicing on a limited basis and vowing that he’ll play Sunday, rookie running back Bernard Pierce did not practice at all Thursday. Pierce has been dealing with a knee injury.
Rookie cornerback Asa Jackson (hamstring) also was sidelined for a second straight day. Jackson, who returned last Saturday against the Broncos after serving a four-game suspension, said he strained a hamstring covering a kickoff. He’s hoping to be ready by Sunday.
Fullback Vonta Leach (knee/ankle) and wide receiver David Reed (thigh) were also limited. Meanwhile, reserve running back Anthony Allen and backup center Gino Gradkowski both passed their baseline neurological tests after suffering minor concussions against the Broncos and returned to practice on a full-participation basis.
“I feel a lot better,” said Allen, adding that it wasn’t his first concussion. “It wasn’t that bad. It’s just various tests you have to go through. It happened covering a kickoff. It’s all good now.”
With tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm) already pronounced out for the playoffs, the only injury question for the Patriots appears to be rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, who was a limited participant Thursday with an ankle injury.
Ayanbadejo reiterates apology
Ayanbadejo said Thursday that apologizing for his Twitter comments Sunday that included calling the Patriots’ offense “gimmicky” and making reference to the Spygate scandal, was the right thing to do.
“The Ravens organization is not about any one person or one player. We’re about the organization and all the great things we’ve accomplished on and off the field,” Ayanbadejo said. “It was something that kind of came off in a negative light, so I made an apology to my teammates and an organization for representing us in a selfish manner.”
Ayanbadejo acknowledged that he knew Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted to speak with him, but he said he made the decision to apologize on his own.
“It became something bigger than it really was,” he said. “I go on Twitter quite often and engage in usually positive things and talk about things that people don’t want to talk about, whether we’re talking about gun control or same-sex marriage or things like that. When it comes to football, I’m not a fan, so I can’t tweet like I’m a fan. This time, it bit me in the butt. I just made it right, and now we’re moving on to the AFC championship game and hopefully New Orleans as well.”
Talib makes difference for Patriots
The Patriots’ pass defense has been improving lately, and one of the reasons can be traced to the presence of cornerback Aqib Talib, who was acquired in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 1.
Talib’s personal numbers aren’t eye-opening (just one interception and two pass breakups in the team’s last eight games), but the defense’s statistics have been much better. After surrendering an average of 285.3 yards, a 66.1 completion percentage and 19 touchdowns in the first nine games, the Patriots have trimmed those numbers to a 253.4 average, a 57.3 percentage and 10 scores.
“One of the things you can see immediately is, he’s a very, very skilled and talented performer,” Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “He runs extremely well, he’s a very confident player, he’s challenged the best in the league. He’ll line up on them, he’ll cover them all over the field.”
Caldwell did note that Talib is an aggressive defender, calling him “a riverboat gambler” who will “take a chance here or there.” But Caldwell said that wouldn’t influence him or quarterback Joe Flacco.
“We go into every ballgame kind of looking at the things we do best,” Caldwell said. “That’s the thing we’re concerned with probably more so than anything else. There are a lot of good players out there, a lot of guys that will challenge you, and he’s one of those guys. But he’s not the only one on that team. They have a formidable front, an outstanding linebacking corps, and even the rest of the secondary are good, quality men. So we’ve got a lot of folks to deal with.”