SERIES: 5th regular-season meeting, Patriots lead the series 4-0. Most recently, they squeaked out a 27-24 win at M&T Bank Stadium in 2007 to keep their perfect season alive. The Patriots are also 1-0 against Baltimore at Gillette Stadium courtesy of a 24-3 win on a rain-soaked field in 2004.
PREDICTION: Patriots 27-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots have turned over a lot of defensive personnel, but the run defense has remained strong as it allows just 88.3 yards per game after holding Atlanta RB Michael Turner to 56 yards last Sunday. That will put a larger burden on QB Joe Flacco to continue his emergence in the passing game and use the aerial attack to pull the linebackers away from the line a bit. As solid as New England's run defense has been, Baltimore's has been stifling (league-leading 51.0 yards per game). Patriots QB Tom Brady will have to do most of the damage. He knows Baltimore has been susceptible to deep plays, but Brady has also looked uncomfortable in the face of a heavy pass rush - which the Ravens can certainly bring.
FAST FACTS: Brady has yet to throw a first-half touchdown, but his passer rating does improve each quarter, from 50.8 in the first to 68.8, 82.2 and 107.9. ... Baltimore's defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher for 38 consecutive games.
--LB Ray Lewis had a full practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday with a head injury. He had shown some sensitivity to light, which is an effect of a concussion.
--TE Todd Heap had a full practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday with a back injury. It's the same injury that he battled at the end of last season.
--DE Trevor Pryce had a limited practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with an illness. He is expected to start Sunday at New England.
--QB Troy Smith was the only Raven who didn't practice Thursday. He could be the Ravens' No. 3 quarterback. John Beck would then serve as the primary backup.
--QB John Beck could serve as the primary backup if Troy Smith is sidelined with an illness. Beck has been the No. 3 quarterback for the first three games.
--LB Tavares Gooden remained limited in Thursday's practice with shoulder and head injuries. He is considered questionable. Jameel McClain would start if Gooden misses Sunday's game.
--LB Jameel McClain could make his first career start if Tavares Gooden is sidelined with head and shoulder injuries.
--NT Vince Wilfork did not practice for the second consecutive day Thursday due to a knee injury and it appears he won't play Sunday against Baltimore.
--OT Nick Kaczur, who suffered an ankle injury, appears to have made progress. He did not practice Wednesday, but returned to the field in a limited capacity Thursday, so he could be a game-time decision Sunday.
--CB Darius Butler participated in a limited portion of practice Thursday due to a thigh injury. He did not play last week and his status for this weekend remains in doubt.
--CB Jonathan Wilhite will likely be a game-time decision Sunday after suffering a groin injury during an off-the-field incident last week. He's only participated in a limited portion of practice this week.
--DT Mike Wright's status is still in doubt to a shoulder injury, which will greatly affect his performance if he's not 100 percent. Wright has only participated in a limited portion of practice.
The Ravens could redeem themselves from one of the darkest days in team history Sunday, when they meet the New England Patriots.
On Dec. 3, 2007 -- the last time the Ravens and the New England Patriots played against each other -- the Ravens' frustrations surfaced on national television.
Former Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott lost his temper and hurled an official's flag into the stands. Cornerback Samari Rolle got into a fierce argument with an official, later claiming that he was called "boy" by that official and threatened legal action.
The Ravens (3-0), who play the Patriots (2-1) on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, wound up accumulating fines and criticism that marred a valiant effort that came up short as quarterback Tom Brady engineered a 27-24 comeback victory.
"I remember being heartbroken," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I remember a certain colleague of mine throwing a flag in the stands. I remember a certain colleague going after a referee. It was crazy.
"You look at it now and you can laugh about it, but at the time we were just like, 'Wow, we can't believe all that just happened.' I just remember all of the disappointment and the heartache."
It was an ugly night. Ugly enough that it's no wonder that wide receiver Derrick Mason said he had no memory of the game.
Asked about that game, Mason paused for a few seconds before saying, "I don't even remember that game, seriously. Next question. I'm not trying to be rude, but next question. I can't even remember that game."
The game included two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on one play and an ill-timed timeout on fourth down that kept the Patriots' game-winning drive alive.
Former Baltimore coach Brian Billick later acknowledged that the Ravens' behavior wasn't proper. The Ravens have committed fewer penalties since that time and haven't had further arguments with officials.
"I didn't think we were that immature," Suggs said. "You've got different people in the locker room, different personnel. There are different things that I expect now. I didn't think we were that immature, but we are a better team than we were in 2007."
Suggs said that he has matured personally over the years even though he has maintained a playful personality.
"I'm still the biggest kid in here, but when I go out on the field it's more attention to business, where before I was just out there running around like a chicken with a his head cut off," he said. "Now, it's more important that we win. At first, if I got three sacks and we lost, I'd be like, "We lost, but I got three sacks.' Now, I just want to win more than anything."
Suggs said he has no plans to talk to Scott and compare notes about how the New York Jets upset the Patriots earlier this season. "No, I'm not going to talk to Bart this week because they already have the victory and we need to get ours," Suggs said. "So, we're going to really focus on us versus the Patriots."
This will be a "homecoming" of sorts for Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas, who spent his entire career in Baltimore before signing with the Patriots two years ago.
The Ravens are in town this weekend, so Thomas will get a chance to reacquaint with some of his former teammates. Just don't expect any major sentiment from the stoic linebacker.
"It has been over three years ago," Thomas said, "so you just let it go and move on."
Instead, Thomas' main focus will be helping the Patriots slow down the Ravens' two-pronged rushing attack of Willis McGahee and Ray Rice. This duo's ability to control the ground game will ultimately play a role in whether or not quarterback Joe Flacco can put his rocket arm to use.
"Both of them are good running backs," Thomas said. "You just have to get 11 guys to the ball. You've got Ray Rice who's fast. He hits the corner.
"McGahee is an older guy that does the same thing. Your point of attack is everywhere. It's not a set thing. Jump-cut runners, I think both of them are very explosive. Both of them are very good backs."
Thomas' plate has been pretty full lately with second-year linebacker Jerod Mayo on the shelf with a knee injury, but the extra responsibility hasn't caused any problems from a mental standpoint.
For Thomas, it's business as usual.
"I think that, just like I always say, it really depends on what it is that we're trying to accomplish that week," he said. "Everybody's asked to do different things at different times, so that's just how it falls."
In addition to stopping Rice and McGahee, Thomas knows it's important to keep an extra eye on Flacco as well. The second-year quarterback made an impressive debut last season and continues to make strides in 2009.
"He's playing very well," Thomas said. "Flacco throws the deep ball, is managing the game very well, is throwing the ball deep to receivers, and has a great run game. I think he's doing a very good job. You can't tell he's a second-year guy."
"As for us, I think we just have to continue to improve overall. I don't make analysis of the defense as a whole. I think the coaches do that. Let them concentrate on who needs to do what and how we're doing and everything. I think that the most important thing is for me to get better individually and worry about the things that I have to do with my technique and coverage and everything else."
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