BOSTON — The AFC championship game kicks off Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. For the second year in a row, the Patriots face the Baltimore Ravens in the championship — and the winner goes to the Super Bowl.
To get a preview of the big game, WBUR’s Sharon Brody spoke with Baltimore Sun sports columnist Kevin Cowherd.
Sharon Brody: What is the mood among Ravens fans? How are they on the confidence-anxiety continuum?
Kevin Cowherd: I think they’re pretty confident. I think last week’s game in Denver — one of the best football games you”ll ever see — has given them a lot of confidence in this team. The Ravens are team that have really come back from a lot of adversity this year. They’re defensive has been banged up all year; their offense has been inconsistent — and yet, here they are, ready to go to Gillette again in a re-match of last year’s AFC championship. The fans here really feel the Ravens have an excellent chance to win. Of course, after what they did last week against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, I think the confidence level is even higher. It was a nail-biter. Even this week at the Ravens’ complex, there was just so much confidence.
This team has its swagger back. There was a period late in the year where they lost three games in a row, and I really think their confidence was shaken. But it’s back now and they feel they have as good a chance as anybody to go the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl. So, pretty confident team, pretty confident fan base right now.
With John Harbaugh coaching the Ravens and his brother Jim coaching the 49ers, there is definitely a certain amount of salivation in hopes of a sibling rivalry Super Bowl with the Harbaugh brothers. Is that something Baltimore has going for it today?
I think most people are focused on this game and, of course, they know in the background is this John Harbaugh/Jim Harbaugh match between the Ravens and 49ers if both teams advance. But I think right now people are pretty locked on this game. There’s a certain fascination here with facing New England. There are a lot of people here who admire Tom Brady; they think Bill Belichick is a terrific coach, and they want to be the best team. And there’s a perception here, year in and year out, the Patriots are in the Ravens’ way.
Do you have any thoughts about the Ravens’ fanbase overall, perception not so much of the Patriots’ players, but of Patriots’ fans?
Oh, yeah — this is a town with a chip on its shoulder, no question about that. It is a fan base with a chip the size of a sequoia on its shoulder. It’s always been that way. I’ve been in this town 30 years and I can tell you that the underdog mentality is something that Baltimore embraces. People here tend to feel the city is overlooked. If you go down the East Coast, you’ve got Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. — and those are the towns that get more publicity, their teams seem to get more publicity. So there’s very much that underdog mentality here.
Is there one key thing that the Ravens need to do to make sure they beat the Patriots?
I think stopping Tom Brady, keeping him in check, and really trying to limit the damage he does with passes to Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. I think that’s really going to be the key for them Sunday.