Ravens eager for rematch with Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis will stare across the line of scrimmage today, barking out defensive signals while New England Patriots' star quarterback Tom Brady arranges his own chess pieces.

Strategy, heart and pure talent are expected to determine today's AFC wild-card showdown at Gillette Stadium between the Ravens (9-7) and the Patriots (10-6) in an epic rematch that pits one of the NFL's defensive legends against a central casting quarterback who's the master of the postseason.

As far as Lewis is concerned, blocking, tackling and audibles are the watchwords for this playoff encounter. Not the Patriots' superior pedigree, collection of Vince Lombardi trophies, undefeated regular-season record or Brady's glittery mark of having never lost any of his previous eight home playoff games.

"I keep talking to my team about, don't get caught up in all of that, who they're not, who they used to be," Lewis said. "Bottom line, that's not who you're going to play. You're going to play the New England Patriots in a 60-minute ballgame in New England this Sunday.

"That's it. You're not going to play the legacy of them, none of that. You're just playing the New England Patriots coming up this Sunday, and that's our task. That's our focus, and that's where we are right now."

It's an intelligent approach, especially considering the Patriots' track record.

The Ravens have never defeated the Patriots, losing all five previous games in the series. Brady hasn't lost a home game since a Nov. 12, 2006 defeat at the hands of the New York Jets, building a 22-game home winning streak.

Brady is 14-3 in the playoffs overall, only falling to the Denver Broncos in the second round in 2006, the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game in 2007 and to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl two years ago.

New England is 54-9 at home since 2003, going undefeated at home this season for the fourth time. The previous three times that happened, 2003, 2004 and 2007, they advanced to the Super Bowl.

"We've played really well over the years here, and we've played pretty well in the playoffs, too,'' Brady said. "And I think we've always played well in the cold weather, because we're all out here practicing every day and we get used to the conditions. The crowd gives us a big boost, no doubt.''

The Ravens have been installed as a 3 ½ point underdog, a status that doesn't offend them. They understand that the Patriots are headlined by the consensus top coach of the past decade in Bill Belichick, the dour, intense technician from Annapolis who's a man of few words and even fewer smiles on the sidelines.

And the Ravens are fully aware that they are capable of winning this game provided they don't commit turnovers, avoid costly penalties, grind out yards and the clock on the ground with Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice, protect quarterback Joe Flacco, guard Randy Moss and harass Brady into a few misfires.

"I will like to officially say it is possible on occasion to beat the New England Patriots in the postseason," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "We hope to possibly, maybe step on the field with them and put up a fight if possible."

Foxworth's sarcasm is built in truth. He was with the Broncos team that topped the Patriots in the divisional round.

Resolve aside, though, the Ravens are 1-6 this year against playoff teams.

Their lone playoff win is over the AFC West champion San Diego Chargers.

Since 2001, the Patriots have gone 7-3 in the playoffs against teams they've already faced during the regular season.

Although many teams have embraced being the underdog as a rallying cry over the years, veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason had no interest in that label.

"That don't work, you can't play the underdog role," he said. "They've won one more game than we have. So, they can just as well say they're the underdog. If you're in the playoffs, you deserve to be in the playoffs.

"There are no underdogs. Obviously, they're probably favored because they're at home. May the best team win, basically."

The Ravens are determined to avenge their 27-21 loss to the Patriots on Oct. 4 when wide receiver Mark Clayton dropped a crucial fourth-down pass in the final minute and they fell to 0-3 all-time in Foxborough.

A pair of roughing-the-passer penalties called on linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata led to two touchdown drives, enraging the Ravens as they accused the officials and the NFL of giving Brady special treatment because of his high profile as one of the league's top stars.

The Ravens lost despite generating 25 first downs and 319 yards of total offense.

"Close doesn't work in nothing put horseshoes and hand grenades," Mason said. "What we want to do as a team is just go in there and take care of the football and just try our best to keep that high-powered offense on the bench and us methodically move the ball down the field."

Even with NFL leading wide receiver Wes Welker (123 receptions) lost for the season with torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, the Patriots remain a formidable, albeit more vulnerable opponent than usual as evidenced by their 2-6 road record and 2-3 record against playoff teams.

Still, the classic combination of a blue-chip quarterback and a sharp coach is always tough to beat.

With 15 playoff wins, Belichick ranks fifth in all-time playoff victories behind Tom Landry (20 wins), Don Shula (19 wins), Joe Gibbs (17) and Chuck Noll (16).

Only Vince Lombardi, who went 9-1 in the postseason, has a superior playoff winning percentage to Belichick's .789 percentage.

"You're talking about probably, arguably, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time," Lewis said. "We're not talking about somebody just off the streets. You're talking about a true professional in the way he plays the game. He's surrounded with crazy talent on that side of the ball.

"And then you look at their head coach. Their head coach is a genius when it comes to drawing up schemes and drawing up different things, so it's a lot. You're not just playing Tom Brady. You're playing a whole lot when you go up to play in New England. That's why they're won three championships and things like that. You really have to go up there and play a 60-minute ballgame."

The Ravens' third-ranked defense and the Patriots' third-ranked offense are about to clash. In order to topple the Patriots, the Ravens simply can't allow Brady to be comfortable in the pocket.

Sacked just 18 times this season, he has passed for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns with just 13 interceptions.

"The better the quarterback, the better the pressure has got to be," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. ‘Every year, he's an elite quarterback. You can put him up there with anybody. If you just let him stand there, he's going to kill you.

"He's definitely a guy that you've got to put pressure on, but you've got to put pressure on him in different ways. You can't send zero blitzes every play. You've got to get some three-man pressure. You've got to get pressure in every way."

One year removed from a gruesome knee injury that ended his season, Brady was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

"He can make any throw he wants to," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "He can probably hit the goal post from the other side of the field. He can do whatever he wants with the football, and that's what makes him what he is."

History suggests that the Ravens are well-suited for this sort of challenge.

They made an improbable run to the AFC championship game a year ago behind a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback in John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco.

Each of their previous wild-card playoff teams won at least one postseason game.

The only times the Ravens have been one-and-done were when they won the AFC North title in 2003 and 2006.

They're 5-2 all-time as a road playoff team, including last year's 2-1 mark when they defeated the Miami Dolphins and the Tennessee Titans before their season was halted by the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

Remaining true to their feisty reputation, the Ravens don't seem intimidated by the Patriots' mystique.

"It's going to take a lot on our part, but we feel like we have the guys to do it," Flacco said. "Obviously, they have some guys that can play over there. But we're going to take the approach that we've got to control what we can, and we believe that we have the guys to match up with them."

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