Patriots preparing for Ravens in AFC title game
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—On a rare Sunday off, Patriots players relaxed in front of their television sets to watch the only team standing between them and another Super Bowl appearance.
They were impressed, though not surprised, by the Baltimore Ravens.
"They're a great team," New England wide receiver Wes Welker said Monday. "They wouldn't be in this spot if they weren't. They do some great things out there."
They were good enough on Sunday to beat the Houston Texans 20-13 with the help of four turnovers in a matchup of dominant defenses.
Now the Ravens (13-4) must face the only one of the top three offenses in the NFL remaining in the playoffs. No. 1 New Orleans and No. 3 Green Bay were eliminated in their divisional games. The No. 2 Patriots (14-3) are 7 1-2-point favorites in the AFC championship game on Sunday. They got there by beating Denver 45-10 Saturday night behind Tom Brady's six touchdown passes.
Brady was one of those Patriots who watched the Houston-Baltimore game that would determine which players would be trying to knock him to the ground and intercept his passes.
"I did watch that game, which is pretty rare," he said on WEEI radio.
Players can learn a lot more from watching video of games in team meetings, which resumed Monday, where they can view plays from different angles while coaches zero in on the finer points.
"You're just kind of watching the game more than anything and kind of seeing what happens and maybe pick up things here and there," Welker said, "but, for the most part, (the team video) is a different shot so you're able to watch all the players from their perspective, from their positions and be able to see everything.
"It is a little bit different, being able to rewind back and see a guy's footwork or leverage or different things like that."
No matter what the angle of the camera, the perception of the Ravens defense is the same -- physical, aggressive and filled with playmakers such as linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and safety Ed Reed.
Lewis led Baltimore with seven tackles and Reed came up with a game-clinching interception near the goal line in the final minutes against the Texans. They also had big games two years ago in Foxborough when the Ravens won a wild-card game 33-14 as Lewis had 13 tackles and one sack and Reed had an interception.
Ray Rice scored on an 83-yard run on the first offensive play and Baltimore led 24-0 after the first quarter.
"We really haven't given it much thought because it is a different season and a different team," Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "We do remember the sting of getting embarrassed at home. ... Those guys beat us from the opening snap all the way through. We have to try to avoid that."
New England lost its only playoff game last year, also at home, 28-21 to the New York Jets.
Saturday's win ended a three-game postseason losing streak, starting with a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants in the 2007 season.
Now, Slater said, he's hungrier for another victory.
"You are definitely not satisfied and you won't be satisfied until you achieve that ultimate goal," he said.
Winning on Sunday figures to be a lot tougher than beating the Broncos, who were 13 1-2-point underdogs with much less experience than the Ravens and a quarterback, Tim Tebow, who had trouble throwing the ball with his flawed motion.
The Ravens "are the best team we've faced all year," Brady said. "There's no one that's going to overlook a team like that. It would be impossible to do. They present a ton of challenges in all three phases of the game. You watch them yesterday, they're physical, they're tough, they can cover.
"They've got some of the best players in the history of the NFL at their position, in (Terrell) Suggs and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and (defensive tackle) Haloti Ngata."
But the Ravens, 9-0 at home, are just 4-4 on the road. And Patriots fans, often subdued, were very loud as Brady marched the team up and down the field while his defense chased Tebow around his own backfield.
"They were rocking. The building was great and we thrived off that energy, so playing here at home is going to be unbelievable," safety James Ihedigbo said. "We were making checks defensively and we had to double-check with each other because it was loud. We are looking for that and more come game day."