For a rivalry wholly comprised of five games, all of them won by one team, a lot has transpired between the Patriots and Ravens, most of it compacted into the past three seasons. When they play or talk or intersect in some other way, controversy summarily follows.
The basis of their recent hard feelings stems from the night of Dec. 3, 2007. On Monday Night Football, the Ravens came closer than any other team to derailing the Patriots’ perfect regular season. The Patriots trailed by four with less than two minutes left, survived that crazy sequence when the Ravens’ game-winning stop was thwarted by a timeout by Rex Ryan, then stayed alive thanks only to a fourth-down defensive holding call in the end zone, and ultimately won only after Mark Clayton was tackled at the 2 on a Hail Mary.
The game-winning touchdown, a tap-tap job by Jabar Gaffney, elicited a tantrum by Bart Scott, who drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and then whipped the flag into the stands. The game devolved into madness, and afterward the Ravens’ season headed into a tailspin.
The after-effects stayed with the Ravens. Last year, the Patriots officially missed the playoffs once the Ravens defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17, their victory giving them a tiebreaker edge in the wild card over the Patriots. Foremost, the Ravens were happy to make the playoffs. But knocking out the Patriots definitely mattered to them, the residual emotion from their 2007 debacle still lingering. In the locker room afterward, Terrell Suggs turned to Bart Scott.
“We got the Patriots out,” Suggs said.
“I'm just glad to see New England out,” Scott said. “Because [expletive] them from last year.”
Did it really matter to the Ravens, Scott was later asked, that their playoff trip coincided with playoff-less season in New England?
"Yeah," Scott said. "Nobody ever feels sorry for us. Yeah, they lost their quarterback. Last year, we lost ours. That happens to a lot of people. They didn't feel sorry for us.
“We went into this year like, 'Payback for everybody who tried to kick us while we were down.' We got to kick them while they're down. It's always good to put a good opponent home. Nobody wants to go up there and play in a rainstorm, a snowstorm, whatever that thing is. So, yeah, it's a little cherry on top.”
So obviously, that 2007 game stuck with the Ravens. But so much has changed for both teams, more time has passed. Scott, the NFL’s biggest agitator this side of Joey Porter and Chad Ochocinco, now stirs it up wearing green in New York, so maybe it won’t matter Sunday.
“No,” Ray Lewis said. “Not at all. If that is part of the rivalry, then you’ve forgot why you’re playing the game. This game is next week, next week, next week. Right now it’s 0-0. That game don’t matter, this past game don’t matter, the score don’t matter. None of that matters. The bottom line is who is the better team on this Sunday that’s coming up.”
Lewis also said the bad feelings from this year’s Patriots game wouldn’t mean a thing, either. In Week 4, the Patriots won, 27-21, and the Ravens believed two dubious roughing-the-passer penalties were a primary reason. Several players said Tom Brady received preferential treatment from the officials, and Lewis called it “an embarrassment to the game.”
And all of that only takes into account what happened on the field. Before any of those games, there was the verbal warring between Adalius Thomas, then in his first season with the Patriots, and Lewis. Lewis did not like something Thomas had said to Sports Illustrated. Lewis called Thomas a coward. Thomas did not like that. Both are proud men, and they had no trouble sharing their feelings.
“That was years ago,” Lewis said. “We got our dogs from the same people. He introduced me to the people I got my dogs through. The relationship and the friendship we’ll always have, bottom line. It’s just we’re not teammates any more.”
They will face each other for the third time Sunday, and just imagine what might happen next.