Ravens aware of Brady's strike zone

OWINGS MILLS -- Months removed from an angry visitors' locker room filled with fuming players alleging that New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady receives special treatment from officials intent on protecting him, the Baltimore Ravens say they've adopted a strategy for avoiding penalties. Borrowing a baseball phrase, they call it the strike zone.

"Definitely, stay off the head, hit him right in the middle, stay above the knees, try to get a good clean hit on him, nothing that will leave it in the refs' hands," veteran nose guard Kelly Gregg said Wednesday while preparing for Sunday's AFC-wild game at New England. "You got to stay in the strike zone. Hit him right in the numbers, put the screws in the numbers. Hopefully, there won't be no close calls and everything gets called the same."

During the Ravens' 27-21 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 4, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata were both hit with roughing-the-passer penalties that extended drives leading to touchdowns.

In Suggs' case, he barely grazed Brady's right knee. Brady hopped around before demanding a call from the referee while gesturing toward Suggs.

And the official nodded and complied while tossing the yellow flag. Two plays later, the Patriots boosted their lead to 10 points.

Afterward, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis griped: "It's embarrassing to let a defensive player play his heart out, do everything he can, and then you call something like that. It's an embarrassment for the league."

Tellingly, the league office didn't fine any of the Ravens in the wake of that game for criticizing the officiating.

During a conference call with Baltimore reporters, Brady made it no secret that he does whatever he can in terms of gamesmanship to draw flags to try to help the Patriots' cause.

"Oh, I'm begging for preferential treatment if they'll give it to me," Brady said with a laugh. "I just don't think they'll give it to me all the time. So, I'm trying to butter up to those guys before the game and during the game so we do get a call every once in a while. If it helps our team win, I'm all for it."

Against the Ravens earlier this season, it definitely was a factor.

It's not as if the enforcement of the so-called Brady Rule is a surprise.

The league passed a rule protecting quarterbacks' knees after Brady was lost for the season in 2008 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament caused by a low hit from then Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard.

The directive from the league is clear when it comes to quarterbacks, especially stars: Handle with care.

"The rule came from him," outside linebacker Antwan Barnes said. "It's the Tom Brady rule. Great quarterbacks have been hurt in that situation before like Carson Palmer, but they didn't do anything when he got hurt.

"I guess as time went on and quarterbacks got hurt they felt like they had to do something. I hope they're lenient toward us as pass rushers. We're players, too. We also we can't do certain things that hurt the quarterback."

So, the Ravens believe they've got it figured out. Stay away from Brady's head, which Ngata didn't do when he made contact with the side of his helmet.

And don't even get close to the NFL Comeback Player of the Year's knees.

"Just hit him above the knees and below the neck," Barnes said.

Added Gregg: "You don't want to put it in the refs' hands. You want to keep it legal, but you definitely want to get a good hit. How do you rattle a quarterback? You hit him. That's what we're going to try to do."

From the Ravens' standpoint, though, they have to generate pressure on Brady.

An unhurried Brady can pick the Ravens' defense apart.

"You take the aggression away, you take away the way you play the game," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "If you take away the way you play the game, what are we? We're the Lions. You play within the rules. If something happens, something happens. But you can't take away the aggression."

The Ravens have produced 32 sacks this season.

Using his pocket presence and powerful arm, Brady has passed for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns this season.

In order to compete with New England , the Ravens have to get Brady on the ground or hurry him as much as possible.

"You can't worry about the penalties," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "If you do, it's just going to slow you down. And if you give the guy any time, he's going to carve you up.

"You definitely want to be mindful when you're around him, but you can't be worried about penalties. If you just let him stand there, he's going to kill you."

Visibly incensed after the first Patriots game, Lewis said he has moved on and is focused solely on the Patriots and not the officials.

"If you're stuck back that far ago, you've lost your focus on the game," Lewis said. "Nothing that you went through then or nothing that they did, that the refs did, will ever slow down the way I play football. Not upset anymore, it's a new year."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick noted that defensive end Mike Wright was penalized for a late hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco during the first game, too.

"Those calls are part of the game," Belichick said. "We don't always agree with them. I'm sure the Ravens don't always agree with them. And not all the calls are always right, but that's the rules we've all decided to play by."

Brady reportedly has three broken ribs and a broken finger, so it's not out of the realm of imagination that the officials will keep a close eye on him Sunday.

"Quarterbacks make this league go round," Pryce said. "So, if the business of the NFL doesn't protect them, you're not protecting your biggest asset. That's just called reality."

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