FOXBORO, Mass. -- The Ravens couldn't take the Patriots out with one play on Sunday. It took them three: RayRice's 83-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, Terrell Suggs' sack-forced fumble on the Pats' first drive, and RayLewis' vicious sack of TomBrady on New England's second drive. After Lewis drove Brady into the ground, the Gillette Stadium crowd fell silent, Brady became uncomfortable in the pocket and the Ravens' running game took over.
"We understood that Brady was their key," Lewis said. "Just like next week Peyton [Manning] is gonna be [the Colts'] key. If you can get to Brady and rattle him early, you have a great chance."
Brady finished 23-of-42 for 154 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions - shockingly low totals considering the Patriots were playing from behind and had to pass all afternoon, and Baltimore went into a protection mode early in the game and stopped blitzing. The two first-quarter sacks by Suggs and Lewis were the only times Brady went down, but he rushed throws on key plays and never established a rhythm throwing downfield.
"The pressure was real precise," Baltimore coach JohnHarbaugh said. "It was effective in the way it attacked the protection. We got to Brady early. We hit him a lot throughout the course of the game. Then we decided to cover toward the end."
Brady threw two un-Brady-like interceptions in the first quarter, giving the Ravens short fields and allowing them to rely solely on their running game and keep banged-up quarterback JoeFlacco (quad) from having to do anything. Flacco completed just four of 10 passes for 34 yards with one interception, but thanks to the turnovers, they didn't need to stretch the field with a passing threat.
"Most of us what happened with us offensively today was a result of what our defense was doing," Baltimore offensive coordinator CamCameron said. "When your defense is playing that well, it really allows you to be patient with the run. When you're defense is doing that it allows you to be patient, and I think patience is critical when you go against New England."
The whole wild-card weekend seemed to run counter to the belief you need to pass to win in today's NFL. The Jets and Cowboys dominated with the running attack, and the Ravens took it even a level higher with 234 total rushing yards. The Patriots knew Rice and WillisMcGahee were coming at them and were still powerless against Baltimore's more physical front line. After the 83-yard run, the Ravens didn't hit another home run, but they were able to get into third-and-short situations all game and keep the offense on the field.
Flacco was walking a bit gingerly after the game, but said he expects to be close to 100 percent by next weekend's matchup against the Colts. Still, expect the Ravens to try to use the same formula in Indy.
"I'd like to go through a game eventually where you never throw a pass," Cameron said.
Of course, the Ravens will have a harder time establishing the same kind of early dominance against Indianapolis. After a long up-and-down season, the Patriots did not come out emotionally ready to play on Sunday. The much-publicized injury to WesWelker clearly affected Brady, who desperately needed his safety valve early on when the Ravens were getting to him.
"All credit due, it's hard to replace a Wes Welker, no matter what you do," Lewis said. "When you don't have him, we can kind of shrink the package and keep everything in front of us."
Whispers about the demise of New England's dynasty could be heard all over Gillette Stadium after the game. While the Patriots have major issues heading into the offseason, focusing on their problems doesn't do justice to a Ravens squad that won't be intimidated by anyone in the postseason.
Baltimore seems to fit the same mold as the Super Bowl-winning teams that have emerged from the wild-card round over the last two seasons. They're as physical as any team in the league, and their defense started to play its best toward the end of the season.
The Ravens will face a well-prepared Colts team next week and know they can't expect to land a series of knock-out blows in the first round. But with emotional leaders like Lewis and EdReed leading the way, and a punishing running attack, they feel well suited to postseason football. Lewis has always ratcheted up his game in the postseason and his teammates once again are feeding off that.
"The playoffs are simple," said Rice, who ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns. "It's our will against the next team's will. X's and O's are only going to play out so much. I am expecting it to be a four-quarter game no matter what. ... We have to pick and choose our spots against the Colts. We ran the ball well this week and I am sure we will have to run and pass, and do everything well next week."
Baltimore relishes its reputation as the hard-hitting team you don't want to face in the playoffs. Even the unflappable Manning, who knows the Ravens well, might be a bit shaken when he watches the film of what they did to Brady on Sunday.