In October the Baltimore Ravens thought they knew how to beat the New England Patriots in game four of the 2009 NFL season. The Ravens came into the game 3-0 and ranked #1 in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings. However, after a nail biting last few minutes, they ended up a dropped fourth down pass away from getting it done and lost 27-21 to the Pats.
They knew then and still know what they need to do to beat New England and it is not rocket science by any means. Everyone knows the Patriots can put points on the board in bunches and if you want to beat them, you better plan to bring your "A" game and outscore them rather than try to make it a low scoring contest. The only way to do that is to limit the mistakes on offense, get some turnovers on defense and keep the referees out of the game.
Unfortunately, as close as the Ravens game in their first meeting this season, they were unable to do any two of the three listed above.
While Baltimore scored on a defensive TD recovered off a Brady fumble on a Terrell Suggs' sack that Dwan Edwards recovered in the end zone, the Ravens were once again unable to keep the refs out of the game, drawing two personal foul penalties on key third downs that extended the Patriots drives that both culminated in touchdowns and contributed to the Patriot's victory. Blame it all on the refs if you want but despite the penalties, the Ravens were still in position to win the game at the end.
A fumble on the opening kickoff by returner Chris Carr led to an early Patriots' field goal. A poor timing pass by Ravens QB Joe Flacco in the Red Zone at the end of the first half was intercepted easily and took at least three, if not seven points off the board for Baltimore. Take away those mistakes and we could easily have had a very different outcome in week four. However, "take away those mistakes and..." has been the Ravens' mantra for so many games this season.
On a positive note, other than the last Pittsburgh Steelers game, the Ravens have pretty much played mistake and penalty-free football over the past month, leading to three wins in their last four games and their clinching a spot as a Wild Card entry in the playoffs, where they've already won a Super Bowl from this position in 2001. They also have the best winning percentage on the road in the postseason of all the NFL (see "Did You Know" FanPost).
However, going up to Foxboro and beating a Patriots team that is the only 8-0 home team in the league this year and has never lost a home post season game is a daunting task and will take the Ravens best efforts. Regardless of what you want to believe, Tom Brady's reported injuries will not make a difference in this game. As important as WR Wes Welker has been, Brady has won three super Bowls without any name-worthy wide receivers. The Patriots running game will not win this game as they are a very pass oriented team offensively. Defensively, they are ranked in the top half of the league but have an average secondary complemented by a stout front seven starting with a solid pair of defensive tackles.
This game will not be won or lost by Tom Brady's success or even the Patriots as a team. So far this season, the consistent trend has been that the Ravens have been in every game to close to the end of the final whistle. Whathas separated the Ravens from winning those close games has been their execution, or better yet, the lack of it, that has sealed the deal in the losses. Baltimore is capable of beating any team in this league, including the Patriots in their home crib in the post season. The only thing separating the Ravens from an upset victory Sunday will be the play of seconde year QB Joe Flacco. If Flacco can eliminate his mistakes and not those those Red Zone interceptions that has plagued him in losses to the better teams, then he can lead this team to victory. The Ravens have a huge advantage in the run game and be it either Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and even LeRon McClain, Baltimore boasts three running backs better than anything the Patriots can put out there, much less a better run defense to shut the Pats run game down.
Should New England choose to stack the box, then they will pay two ways. If Rice or even McGahee get through the line into the second level, a stacked box might result in a wide open lane to paydirt. If they think they can shut down the Ravens receivers all day one-on-one, they will see that they are sadly mistaken as the Patriots DB's are nothing like many that the Ravens have faced this season. If Flacco gets the protection he needs and has time, he will be the one to pick apart the Patriots' secondary.
Look, we all know what Brady can and probably will do to the Ravens pass defense Sunday. what we don't know exactly, is how the Ravens will respond. Luckily, neither do the Patriots and we all will see Sunday afternoon if the Ravens have the abilities to play this way for sixty full minutes. If they can, they should win the game regardless of Brady's performance. This might seem like bold words, but every Ravens fan knows this team is capable of so much more than they showed in 2009 and hopefully the best and most complete game of the season is just ahead of them, starting Sunday.