It might be hard to get any players on the Baltimore Ravens admit that tonight's game against the New England Patriots is fueled by revenge after their crushing defeat in last year's AFC Championship Game. However, make no bones about it, the Ravens knew they should have won that game and aim to prove tonight that they were and continue to be the better team.
QB Joe Flacco outplayed Pats QB Tom Brady that winter day, throwing for over 300 yards, but it was the one that was not completed despite being perfectly thrown, that is most remembered. Not even a missed field goal by New England's kicker last week in their own devastating home loss to the Arizona Cardinals can satisfy Baltimore. No, they want to prove that they deserve to be the favorite to represent the AFC in this year's Super Bowl and a convincing win over the Patriots in front of a national television audience will go a long way.
The Ravens already impressed the country with their 44-13 win in the season opening Monday Night football game from week one. A heartbreaking loss last week at the Philadelphia Eagles derailed their bid to remain undefeated going into this game, but a win tonight will return the Ravens to the favorite's spot.
Statistically, it appears the Patriots are a better defense than the Ravens, but everyone knows the difference in the fear these two defenses strike into opposing QB's. Ask Tom Brady, who usually reserves his least productive games for these match-ups. Expect tonight to be no different, as Baltimore's home field advantage is one of the best in the league.
However, supposedly so was New England's but that didn't help them last week in their loss to the Cards. The benefit of playing in front of a friendly crowd will allow the offense to go no-huddle, which was tough to do on the road. Flacco's upgraded receiving corps should prove tough for the Pats to shut down like the Eagles did as there is no comparison between their secondaries.
Meanwhile the Ravens defense does not have to contend with the scrambling of Brady like they did with Michael Vick. They do have to figure out a better way of covering the tight end, which they obviously didn't do last week. Expect the Ravens to do a much better job, although Rob Gronkowski is among, if not the best in the league and will get his touches.
If Baltimore can pressure Brady and contain the Patriots running game, they can sit back and focus on stopping the passing attack of New England, which ultimately should lead to game-changing turnovers. Of course, they also have the ultimate weapon, the "Patriot Killer" in strong safety Bernard Pollard, who has a history of knocking their players out of games, although in no way referencing dirty play while doing it.
RB Ray Rice has also had excellent success against the Patriots, averaging close to 130 combined rushing and receiving yards per game in the five times he's faced New England (counting playoffs). Flacco has not been the reason the Ravens have lost to the Patriots the last few times the two teams met.
The last time these teams met in Baltimore ended with a last minute New England victory to keep their undefeated 2007 season intact. Then-Ravens LB Bart Scott threw an officials penalty flag into the stands in frustration in a game the players knew they had and should have won in what was a horribly disappointing 5-11 season, the last under head coach Brian Billick.
Now Baltimore can right the ship, stay atop the AFC North and position themselves for a Thursday Night Football game four days later hosting the Cleveland Browns. In the meantime, taking care of business at home against another top AFC contender should go a long way to lifting the team's spirits about the past and set them up just fine fo rthe present and future.