For the second year in a row, the AFC Championship comes down to two teams: the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots.. In the vast world of parity in the NFL, this seems most unlikely that an aging defense such as the Ravens, and an ever constant offense such as the Patriots would be matching up again for the chance to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
You would think that other teams would be able to construct schemes to finally stop Tom Brady and the Bill Belichick-led Patriots, and someone would figure out how to tire out Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, and wear them down on a long drive. But one thing the NFL can never figure out how to stop is pure will and the drive to be the best at all costs. That is why the Ravens and Patriots are constant playoff contestants.
The Patriots host the Ravens at Gillette Stadium, and there are several things to keep in mind when they step onto the gridiron today. The Ravens beat the Patriots earlier in the year in Baltimore 31-30. The Ravens are the only team in the NFL in which Brady has more turnovers than touchdowns. In last year’s championship game, the Ravens could have won, save for a missed field goal by Billy Cundiff and a dropped TD pass by Lee Evans.
Head Coach John Harbaugh has his Ravens staring at his third championship game in five years, and this time, destiny may just win out. You can not harvest heart. You can not instill passion. And you surely should never underestimate the power of destiny. The Ravens exhibit all three. Since LB Ray Lewis announced his retirement before the playoffs began, this team has been riding a wave of passion that can not be ignored. The Ravens seem as if they are on a mission. They waltzed into Sports Authority Field at Mile High last week and stared defeat in the eye, and never blinked at the Denver Broncos once.
Joe Flacco always matches Brady play for play, and has been a very good playoff quarterback that just seems to have luck go the other way. That will not be the case today. On this Sunday, the Ravens will out-duel the Patriots for the right to play on Feb. 3.
The Patriots will feel the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski more than they would have you think. Belichick has been the best coach of this generation as he tries to lead the Patriots into the Super Bowl for the sixth time since he and Brady have partnered. What will keep this game exciting is the fact that the Patriots have Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead leading the rushing game. Woodhead left last week’s game with injury, but he is listed as probable and if he can play the complete game, adds a tremendous option for Brady out of the backfield.
This game will be won or lost in the trenches, and that is where the Ravens have the advantage. The Patriots defensive unit is over-matched in this game, and might be hard-pressed to stop the trio of Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. The commitment to Rice will allow the separation needed for the Ravens WRs to make their moves, and that will force the Patriots to spread out more, and they will inevitably leave Flacco unchallenged to follow his reads and make his throws.
This promises to be a heavyweight fight to the final buzzer, and maybe it is just the story behind it, or the thought that Lewis has uplifted the Ravens enough to make that final run, but I feel as if the Ravens will finally get over their hump of losing to the Patriots in the playoffs. Lewis had 17 tackles last week, and although he has lost a step, played as if he was 27 again. Here’s to a great day of football, and a destiny that is inevitable.
Ravens 34 Patriots 31
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