Let’s just say it: The Boston metro area got their collective underwear in a bunch this week when they realized they’d be facing the Ravens. Twice in recent years, we’ve gone into their stadium for playoff games and handily defeated their beloved Brady and Belichick.
Upsets at home like those are the kind of things that tend to stick with a fan base that believes it’s their divine right to win the Super Bowl each year and any challenger that beats them up fair and square must be somehow unfit to wear the crown. (Of course, we could’ve scored a playoff hat trick if Lee Evans had simply tucked away a fourth-quarter touchdown pass. We’ll blame that on Evans playing most of his career for the Buffalo Bills.)
In truth, the deep fretting from New England fans this week as expressed in numerous blogs, comment sections, and in this ESPNBoston
Q&A, for example, has been embarrassing.
Boston blowhard and columnist Eric Wilbur, who responded to the Ravens’ win over the Steelers by calling Baltimore, “the most deplorable organization in American professional sports.” Well, did he forget that one of the Patriots’ former stars is in prison facing murder charges? This guy even evokes “God” twice in his hater piece.
Chill out, buddy. Life will go on after the Ravens beat the Patriots again.
Then Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, when asked in a press conference if the Ravens “cut block” (an illegal technique), responds with “Is the Pope Catholic?” Yes, Bill, and 1958 wants its wisecrack back. But we also hope that the Pope isn’t a hypocrite. Belichick, lest we forget, was fined $500,000 for illegally videotaping
New York Jets‘ defensive coaches’ signals in 2007 in the Spygate controversy. More recently, in 2013, the Pats were busted by NFL refs for their illegal blocking schemes.
But our favorite response this week comes from a Patriots fan named Ben Affleck. He became so flustered when asked by paparazzi about playing the Ravens, he actually stopped what he was doing to express
his dread to this
TMZ guy on video, totally forgetting he hates paparazzi and TMZ.
Bottom line, they’re shaking in their cleats in Beantown. Here are five reasons why:
Flacco: At this point in his career, he’s simply one of the best playoff quarterbacks ever. He’s won of 10 of 14 games while throwing 21 TD passes and avoiding bad interceptions. If the running game clicks early, it will open things up for Joe to spread the ball around, move the chains, and take his shots downfield. We loved the roll outs last week.
Our pass rush: The Ravens dropped quarterbacks 49 times this year, second-best in the NFL. Suggs and Dumervil and company sacked Big Ben last week five times while getting pressure on nearly half his throws. Brady is average at best under pressure and getting worse as he grows older in the playoffs when the heat gets turned up. A great pass rushing effort led to the Giants’ huge upset of the Pats in the 2008 Super Bowl, too. Absolutely, the key to the game.
Check out the infograph below, courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens:
Our secondary: This group struggled mightily at times this season, but has come together in recent weeks. The Ravens did play mediocre football down the regular season stretch—on the offensive side of the ball. Safety Will Hill has been good, corner Ladarius Webb is due for a breakout game, and newcomer Rashaan Melvin has settled in at the other corner. The secondary stood up against the high-scoring Steelers and now they’ve got to make sure they don’t miss any tackles in New England’s short passing game and prevent Gronkowski from getting loose downfield.
Our offensive line: Like our secondary, this is one of the Ravens’ inconsistent areas because of injuries. What bodes well now, however, is guard Marshall Yanda’s move to right tackle and the insertion of rookie guard John Urschel into Yanda’s old spot. Urschel’s a Penn State guy, so he’s smart and well-coached. The offensive line—including the left tackle spot, whether it’s rookie James Hurst or Eugene Monroe, if he’s healthy—and the secondary don’t have to be great, just solid. If they hold things together, Flacco, Forsett, the Ravens’ receivers, the defensive line, and the special teams will come up with enough big plays to win the game.
Steve Smith: Carolina QB Cam Newton says Smith “always” plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s been exactly what the Ravens needed this season after losing Anquan Boldin and Vonta Leach. In football, you need tough guys and hitters on both sides of the ball. Veterans like Smith, Owen Daniels, and Forsett know playoff opportunities like this don’t come along often—expect them to play like there’s no tomorrow Saturday.