FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots have a long rivalry with the Jets, a dislike of the organization that stems more from off-field events than on-field results.
When Peyton Manning was in Indianapolis, New England had a rivalry with the Colts, Manning and Tom Brady, the best quarterbacks of their generation, outdueling each other.
But perhaps the Patriots’ fiercest rival, the team that not only talks a lot but can actually back it up, is Baltimore.
The Patriots and Ravens are not in the same division, but they have met six times over the last six seasons, with a seventh coming Sunday in the AFC Championship game.
If those six games are any indication, Sunday’s game will be a nail-biter: All but one of those previous meetings was decided by 6 points or fewer, and four were decided in the closing seconds.
“It’s always a tight game,” Brady said. “There’s tight coverage, there’s tight throws, there’s tough reads because schematically they do quite a few things. It’s never easy.
“They’re not just going to hand you the ball, hand you points, hand you easy scores.”
From Rex Ryan to Greg Mattison to Chuck Pagano, the Ravens’ defensive coordinators have found ways to give Brady fits. Baltimore is the only team in the league that Brady has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven) against in his career.
Next up is former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was promoted to the same role with the Ravens in 2012, after Pagano left to become the Colts’ head coach.
Having spent six seasons in New England, Pees knows how hard it is to have success against Brady — so a little help couldn’t hurt.
Asked Thursday how he can make things uncomfortable for Brady, Pees cracked, “Hire Tonya Harding,” and said if the Patriots were getting off a bus, he’d spray water and hope it froze.
“He’s as competitive a person as I’ve ever been around,” Pees said of Brady. “He can give you this boyish look on TV, but he is a very, very, very competitive guy. He didn’t even like losing in practice. The more we rode him on defense — because I had a couple trash-talkers — the harder he played.”
Pees still has some trash-talkers on his defense. Linebacker Terrell Suggs has been unusually quiet this week, given his past propensity for taking shots at Brady, though it was an unlikely source who wasn’t able to hold his tongue, or thumbs as the case may be, this time around.
Special teamer and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo sent a series of tweets during the Patriots’ win over the Texans last Sunday, calling the Patriots’ offense a “gimmick” because they don’t let teams get set with quick snaps and their hurry-up tempo. Ayanbadejo even invoked Spygate.
He apologized the next day, but it’s almost impossible to believe that Brady wasn’t informed of the comments.
The Patriots, of course, have not let one comment even in the vicinity of trash talk come out of Gillette Stadium this week. They have been highly complimentary of the Ravens, and have said they and the Ravens are the best teams in the AFC, so it’s only fitting they’re fighting for the chance to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
Several Ravens have said they wanted to meet the Patriots in the playoffs again this year, intent on leaving Foxborough with a different result, and receiver Anquan Boldin declared that his team will win.
But safety Bernard Pollard insisted it isn’t about revenge.
“We could not care less about revenge. If you allow revenge in football to take over on the field, that’s when bad things happen,” Pollard said. “We just have to go play our game. We can’t worry about what happened in the AFC Championship game last year.
“Our eye has always been on that Lombardi [Trophy]. It starts with getting past this team. We just want to win.”
New England won its first five games against the Ravens, the first in 1996, the Ravens’ inaugural season. But things started to ramp up in 2007, when the Patriots went to Baltimore Dec. 3 for “Monday Night Football.” The Ravens were in a down year, but were intent on blemishing the Patriots’ undefeated record.
The final minutes of that game were almost unbelievable. New England was trailing, 24-20, in the fourth quarter and went for it on fourth and 1 from the Ravens’ 30. The defense stuffed Brady on a sneak, but Ryan had called a timeout because he didn’t like the alignment on the field, negating the play (as an assistant coach, Ryan was not supposed to be able to call a timeout).
Heath Evans was taken down for a loss on the re-try, but Russ Hochstein was flagged for a false start, negating that play and pushing the Patriots into fourth and 6.
This time, Brady ran for the first down himself, but on another fourth-down attempt, a failed pass to Benjamin Watson, the Ravens were called for holding, giving New England a fresh set of downs from the 8.
With 55 seconds to play, Brady connected with Jabar Gaffney in the corner of the end zone. The score was upheld on review. After the game, the Ravens cried foul, believing the officials gave the game to the Patriots.
The Patriots won again on Oct. 4, 2009, at Gillette, though Suggs had a strip-sack of Brady deep in New England territory that teammate Dawan Edwards fell on in the end zone for a touchdown that cut the Patriots’ lead to 17-14. New England answered and went on to win, 27-21.
The only blowout for either side came later that season in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Ravens running back Ray Rice scored on an 83-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. On the Patriots’ first possession, Suggs struck again, strip-sacking Brady in New England territory and giving the ball to his offense at the 17; Brady also was intercepted twice in the first quarter. Baltimore was up, 24-0, early and cruised to a 33-14 win.
The teams met in the 2010 regular season, the Patriots coming back from a 20-10 deficit early in the fourth quarter to force overtime, winning, 23-20, on a 35-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.
The drama of last year’s conference title game is well known, with Sterling Moore twice denying potential winning touchdowns, and then Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff missing a 32-yard field goal wide left.
A field goal came into play earlier this season in Baltimore; after five lead changes, the Ravens won on a last-second kick from rookie Justin Tucker. The finish wasn’t the only reason the game was controversial: There were 24 penalties called by the replacement officials, and there was a question of whether Tucker’s final kick actually went through the uprights.
As everyone who will be involved has noted, there is nothing easy and no lack of drama when these teams meet.