Ravens vs. Patriots AFC Championship Preview: Chance To Get Over The Hump


John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome knew how difficult it would be to get back to this point.

Just two weeks after losing to the Patriots in last year's AFC championship, Newsome cautioned against the attitude that the Ravens would easily find themselves right back in the conference title game, knocking on the door of the Super Bowl.

"You can't underestimate how hard it is to get to that point and how much energy it will take just for us to get back to that point and hopefully we can finish it off," Newsome said during the team's State of the Ravens press conference.

"That's what I'll be able to carry from those disappointments that I had in those years [in Cleveland] is that you just can't turn the page and say 'we're going to be in the AFC championship game next year.'  It's not going to happen. We have to roll up our sleeves and go to work."

Harbaugh echoed that sentiment during the first team meeting of training camp. Before the Ravens even thought about taking "the next step" of making the Super Bowl, Harbaugh reminded them they first had to return to this stage.

"To get over that hump, we have to get to the hump," Harbaugh said to the team. "That's where our work will start."

The Ravens have arrived at the hump.

They are back in Foxborough for a matchup against the Patriots, with a chance to get some redemption for last year's heartbreaking loss.

Returning to the AFC championship was far from easy or probable for the Ravens, who endured their share of struggles throughout the season.

"It's not easy being back in this position," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "We've had a lot of highs and lows this season."

The Ravens dealt with injuries, tragedies and challenges throughout the season.

Owner Art Modell passed away just before the start of the season. Torrey Smith's brother passed away less than 24 hours before the Week 3 matchup with the Patriots. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs missed the first six games because of a torn Achilles. Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis missed the next 10 games because of a torn triceps.

The Ravens went through a three-game losing streak, just the third under Harbaugh. They parted ways with Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. They were written off locally and nationally, and their return to the AFC championship has been the surprise of the postseason.

And after all of that, the Ravens come full circle and will take on the Patriots 364 days after last season's end.

"There's no better way to write it up," Lewis said. "We all felt the same way leaving there last year, that we had an opportunity to win that game. What better way to go back? If you were going to go to the Super Bowl, then to go back and go back at New England again."

3 Matchups To Watch

WR Torrey Smith vs. CB Aqib TalibThe Patriots didn't have Talib on the roster during the Week 3 matchup with Baltimore, and the talented cornerback has made a difference in their secondary. He's their top cover corner , and will likely spend much of the day lined up against Smith. Smith had two touchdowns against the Patriots in the first meeting, but Talib will make life difficult for the second-year wideout.

C Matt Birk vs. DT Vince WilforkThe Patriots' big defensive tackle got the best of Birk in last year's AFC championship by notching six total tackles, one sack and one quarterback hit. But Birk returned the favor this year as Wilfork didn't even get a hit on Joe Flacco in Week 3.  Keeping Wilfork out of the backfield is key for the Ravens and will likely prove to be a difference in the success of the offense. 

S Ed Reed vs. QB Tom BradyThe two future Hall of Famers have an obvious mutual respect for one another.  Brady is known for writing "Find #20 on every play" on his wristband, and makes a point of always locating Reed at the line of scrimmage. The two have both got the best of each other at times, but the Ravens will look to continue a recent trend of limiting Brady's production against them.

3 Questions To Answer

Does Ravens offense stay hot?The Ravens offense has been playing its best football of the season in recent weeks, and is coming off a 38-35 victory over the Broncos. Flacco has been leading the charge, throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns last week. The Ravens will have to put up points, and they will rely on Flacco to carry them.

Can Ray Rice get going?While Flacco is the clear driver of the offense, Rice is still the team's best playmaker who has to get involved. The Ravens rode him for 30 carries and 131 yards last week, and showed a commitment to the running game. That could likely be a game plan this week, to establish the ground game, control the time of possession and limit the amount of time Brady is on the field.

Does team of destiny storyline continue?The Ravens continue to surprise teams during the playoffs, and last week's miraculous double-overtime victory will go down as one of the greatest games in Ravens' history. The Ravens believe they are a team of destiny and they are playing with a ton of confidence heading into New England. A win over the Patriots would make it hard to argue with the "Team of Destiny" angle on Lewis' final postseason run.

2012 Rankings

RavensTotal Defense – 350.9 (17)
Rush Defense – 122.8 (20)
Pass Defense – 228.1 (17)
Points Allowed Per Game – 21.5 (12t)

Total Offense – 352.5 (16)
Rush Offense – 118.8 (11)
Pass Offense – 233.7 (15)
Points Scored Per Game – 24.9 (10)

Total Defense – 373.3 (25)
Rush Defense – 101.9 (9)
Pass Defense – 271.4 (29)
Points Allowed Per Game – 20.7 (9t)

Total Offense – 427.9 (1)
Rush Offense – 136.5 (7)
Pass Offense – 291.4 (4)
Points Scored Per Game – 34.8 (1)

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