The Ravens got the best of the New England Patriots earlier this year in a back-and-forth Week 3 shootout.
Joe Flacco was lights out and led the Ravens on a fourth-quarter comeback.* *Then Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 31-30 win as time expired.
That victory was one of the Ravens' most impressive wins of the regular season, but they aren't putting too much stock in that game heading into this Sunday's rematch.
"I look at it completely different," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "It's the playoffs, and they are playing well – dominating guys out there offensively and defensively. It's a completely different team."
Both teams evolved during the season, which makes it difficult to draw too much from an early-season game.
"This is a team that changes a lot," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "They are kind of like a chameleon. You never really know schematically what they are going to come out and do. That's been a trademark of Coach [Bill] Belichick's for as long as he's been coaching."
Here is a closer look at some of the key differences in the two teams since the first matchup:
Ravens have Terrell Suggs backThe Ravens opened the season with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year out for six weeks recovering from a torn Achilles. His return to the lineup has made a difference for the defense, and he's played some of his best football of the season lately. Suggs had 10 tackles and two sacks last week against the Broncos, and he'll be looking to disrupt one of his rivals, Tom Brady, on Sunday.
Jim Caldwell has taken over as offensive coordinatorCam Cameron was still calling the offensive plays during that first meeting with the Patriots, and while the offense hasn't changed drastically since Caldwell took over in Week 15, the group is hot right now. In the last three games where the starters have played (the Ravens rested most of their starters in Week 17 vs. the Bengals), the Ravens have averaged 31.7 points per game. Quarterback Joe Flacco has performed well under Caldwell and is coming off a performance where he outdueled Peyton Manning, throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Denver.
Patriots brought in cornerback Aqib TalibThe Patriots made a move midway through the season to shore up their pass defense by trading for cornerback Aqib Talib, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He finished the regular season with one interception and played a strong game Sunday against the Texans, notching 10 total tackles. He is arguably the Patriots' top cover corner, and will spend much of the game matched up against Smith and Anquan Boldin. The Patriots' other starting cornerback that faced the Ravens, Devin McCourty, has been moved to free safety, and rookie Alfonzo Dennard has taken his place.
Ravens have new offensive line groupOne of the biggest changes for the offense this postseason has been re-inserting veteran Bryant McKinnie into the left tackle spot he handled last year. With McKinnie back in the starting lineup, Michael Oher moved to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele moved to left guard. Since making the switch, the offensive line has allowed just two sacks on Flacco, who has had time to throw in the pocket. The line has also cleared big holes in the running game, as the Ravens had a running back top 100 yards in both postseason contests.
Big changes in Ravens secondary
Perhaps the biggest loss for the Ravens this year was the season-ending knee injury to cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was the team's top cornerback. The Ravens then had Jimmy Smith go down with a sports hernia injury, which put veteran Corey Graham into the starting lineup and second-year corner Chykie Brown at the nickel back position. Smith is back now, but the Ravens have been using Cary Williams, Graham and Brown as the top three corners in the playoffs. They will be tested this week by Brady, who threw for 335 yards against the full-strength secondary in Week 3.