The Baltimore Ravens are embarking on an improbable playoff run. Injuries to key defensive stars like linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs during the 2012 regular season resulted in the Ravens staggering into postseason play. Despite reaching the AFC Championship game after the 2011 NFL season, few expected Baltimore to get past the Denver Broncos, the AFC’s number one seed in the 2013 playoffs. After all, Denver is led by first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. They are also the NFL’s hottest team, riding an 11-game winning streak into the playoffs.
On the strength of a long touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco to wide receiver Jacoby Jones, the Ravens tied the game. Baltimore eventually won the game in double overtime on a game-winning field goal by rookie placekicker Justin Tucker. The victory extended the season for Lewis, another first ballot Hall of Famer wishing to segue into his next career as a television personality with his second Super Bowl title.
But we’re a long way from that happening. Besides, the New England Patriots don’t care about Baltimore’s journey through the AFC playoffs. They are looking to fulfill their own destiny. Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are also first ballot Hall of Famers in their respective fields. They are responsible for bringing three Super Bowl titles to a franchise that was largely irrelevant before they arrived. They are looking to become only the second head coach/quarterback tandem in NFL history with four Super Bowl titles. They would join former Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach Chuck Noll and quarterback Terry Bradshaw as the only four time Super Bowl head coach/quarterback tandem in NFL history.
Of more importance, the Patriots need to defeat the Ravens in the AFC Championship game to redeem themselves. Few seem to notice (or care) that New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since they were sanctioned for their role in “Spygate”. In 2007, the Patriots were found guilty of spying on opposing teams’ practices, which resulted in substantial fines levied against the organization, and Belichick. New England also had to forfeit their 2008 first-round draft pick, which substantiates the severity of the Patriots’ actions. Whether or not the Patriots’ activities contributed to their three Super Bowl titles is another column for another day.
While the Ravens are playing to send Lewis out as a champion, the Patriots are playing for something even bigger: their reputation. They have to prove they can return to pre Spygate dominance by winning the Super Bowl. The New York Giants, the team that has stymied New England’s quest for ultimate NFL superiority, is not in the picture this time. If New England can defeat Baltimore to reach the Super Bowl again, they’ll have the opportunity to silence whispers that say they can’t win the big game without cheating. That will go a long way in the Patriots’ efforts to fix their shattered image.