Patriots trying to erase memory of last playoff meeting with Ravens
All it took was one play for the Baltimore Ravens to stagger the New England Patriots during their wild-card round playoff game two years ago.
Joe Flacco took the game's first snap and handed off to Ray Rice, who cut back into the middle of the field, then took off and raced 83 yards to pay dirt. Seventeen seconds in, it was 7-0 Ravens. Four minutes later, it was 14-0. By the time the first quarter ended, Baltimore held a 24-0 edge en route to a thoroughly dominating 33-14 win in Foxborough.
Sunday, those teams meet again with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. And the Patriots are trying to prevent that 2009 meltdown from happening again.
"Yeah it was unfortunate. We didn't start that game off the way we wanted to on defense," New England linebacker Rob Nikovich said. "A team that potent and tough, you can't give up a big run for a touchdown to start the game off like that. ... The momentum they gained from that obviously just snowballed for the rest of the game."
Baltimore rushed for 234 yards in that postseason triumph, with Rice going for 159 and the now-departed Willis McGahee adding 62. That duo also combined for three rushing touchdowns, with fullback Le'Ron McClain adding a fourth.
Flacco wound up throwing just 10 times -- and completing only four passes -- as the Ravens gutted New England on the ground.
"We really haven't given it much thought because it is a different season and a different team. They have different players and we have different players," Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater said. "We do remember the sting of getting embarrassed at home and ... those guys beat us from the opening snap all the way through. We have to try to avoid that."
Though that game was only two years ago, both teams are different.
Wes Welker did not play in that playoff game after blowing out his knee in Week 17 -- "Wasn't too good of thoughts, definitely, during that game only watching," he said.
That New England team also did not feature the dynamic tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. So, even if they get popped by Baltimore's run game, the Patriots have to feel more confident in their ability respond this time around.
Of course, those aren't the only new offensive weapons that will be on the field Sunday. The Ravens have swapped out McGahee and McClain for Ricky Williams and Vonta Leach, while adding wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.
Despite all that turnover, the coaches are the same -- Bill Belichick on New England's sideline and John Harbaugh with Baltimore -- meaning that the game plans figure to be pretty similar. For the Ravens that will mean establishing the run early and turning to it often; The Patriots would prefer to let Tom Brady do his thing through the air.
New England's recent history won't offer much comfort when it comes to that breakdown. Not only did the Ravens manhandle New England two seasons ago, but the Patriots were bounced from last year's postseason by the Jets, another physical, run-based team.
"Yeah, I think that if you look back to last year's game -- which you don't want to dwell on anything in the past -- but obviously, we just didn't do the things that we needed to to win that game," Ninkovich said. "This year, it was just really focused on preparation and knowing what they're going to do before they do it.
"And just having great effort because having great effort can make up for a lot of things. Can the Patriots, off an impressive rout of Denver, answer the bell again Sunday? If not, well, Baltimore has shown them what can happen.