OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even though his defense has been on the field for 188 snaps in two playoff games and is coming off an overtime grinder at mile-high altitude two time zones away, coach John Harbaugh is confident that the Ravens will have plenty in the tank Sunday.
“Our guys train,’’ he said. “They train from the beginning of the offseason program right until the last day that they’re here. They’re in the weight room, they condition extra . . .
“For me, for it to show up in January in these kinds of games really is what it’s all about.’’
Not that the coach is unaware of the special challenge of facing Tom Brady and his no-huddle offense even with a rested unit.
“Not just the fact that they go fast sometimes,’’ he said. “They force you to line up — sometimes they force the defense to show their hand because you have to defend the play. If you don’t, they’ll run the play. You saw last week, they got Houston in some real tough situations and it was big plays for them.’’
While his club obviously benefited from Denver’s ill-fated decision to sit on the ball and play for overtime, Harbaugh wasn’t second-guessing counterpart John Fox’s strategy. “You can go at it either way, but if you look at it historically, you probably would find more bad things happen in that situation than good things,’’ he mused. “And you can lose the game right there real easily. Thirty seconds isn’t much time. Even with timeouts, it’s not much time to get the ball down in field goal range, and the defense can make a play and there you go. So you have to be smart there. I would never question that strategy there.’’ . . . As intense as the Ravens-Patriots rivalry is, it doesn’t need a brother-against-brother theme, but it has one in Baltimore defensive end Arthur Jones against younger sibling Chandler Jones, who were teammates at Syracuse but are rivals now. “We’ve been going back and forth talking crap,’’ Arthur reported. “Really, I have been just seeing how he’s doing. I know he got rolled up bad last week, so I was trying to figure out if he was going to play or not and get the inside scoop. But he’s doing a good job not telling me anything.’’ Chandler Jones suffered an ankle injury against the Texans.
James Ihedigbo, who was wearing a Flying Elvis helmet last year at this time, is pleased to be among feathered friends in his return to Route 1. “I’m here as a Raven,’’ said the UMass product who started three games at strong safety last month when Bernard Pollard was sidelined with a rib injury. “I love being here, I’m proud to be here, and I’m proud to go out with these guys and fight for the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl.’’ Since Baltimore has played New England five times in the last four seasons, Ihedigbo figures that there’s little inside stuff that he can provide about Brady. “A lot of coaches who are coaching here have gone against him a lot longer than I’ve been in the league — six years,’’ he said. “So I don’t know how much intel I can give into that. But everyone knows Tom Brady and the kind of quarterback he is and the things he can do with that offense.’’
With all the talk about the Ravens being a team of destiny, what about the Sports Illustrated jinx? Quarterback Joe Flacco, arm cocked, is this week’s cover boy, accompanied by a letter from the Football Gods: “DEAR JOE, Last Weekend You Took Down Peyton. On Sunday You Get Brady — And the Chance, Once and for All, to Rewrite Your Legacy.’’ The jinx tripped up the Ravens the last time Flacco was on the cover (along with running back Ray Rice) after they destroyed the Steelers in last season’s opener, then lost by 13 points at Tennessee a week later. So will the jinx override destiny in Foxborough? “Sure hope not,’’ said Flacco, who celebrated his 28th birthday Wednesday. Harbaugh, who said he didn’t know about the cover, doesn’t do jinxes. “I am not superstitious,’’ he insisted. “I don’t believe in that stuff.’’
This is it
If the Ravens win the Super Bowl, will iconic linebacker Ray Lewis defer his retirement for another year? “No, I can’t come back,’’ insisted the 17-year-veteran, who missed 10 games this season with a torn triceps. “My kids are calling for Daddy. It’s a great reward to see the sacrifices my babies have made for me and it’s time that I sacrifice for them. I’m proud that the ride is still going. To end it, when it ends, then so be it.’’