Pats Prepare For Familiar Playoff Foe, Road-Tested Ravens

Baltimore  tight end Crockett Gillmore (80) celebrates a score in the Ravens' 30-17 Wild Card win over the Steelers. (Don Wright/AP)
Baltimore tight end Crockett Gillmore (80) celebrates a score in the Ravens' 30-17 Wild Card win over the Steelers. (Don Wright/AP)

The New England Patriots waited a week only to learn that a familiar foe will be making a return visit.

An opponent with a history of playoff success in a stadium where the Patriots rarely lose.

The Baltimore Ravens will fly to Foxborough for Saturday's divisional game after their 30-17 wild-card win, also on the road, at Pittsburgh.

"There's experience against this team," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday. "We know a lot of their players and some of their schemes, but I think each time we've played them our team has been different, their team has been different."

Wild-card weekend began with the top-seeded Patriots (12-4) knowing they would face Baltimore, Indianapolis or Cincinnati. Had the Ravens lost to the Steelers, the Patriots would have played the winner of Sunday's game between the Colts and Bengals.

So Baltimore's win gave New England's coaches extra time to prepare. Players lifted weights Monday and will resume practice Tuesday.

Since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, the Patriots' home record of 99-19, including the playoffs, is the best in the NFL. Now they have home-field advantage as long as they're in the conference playoffs.

But the sixth-seeded Ravens (11-6) have stood up to the loud crowds and wintry elements in Foxborough before.

They've faced the Patriots three times in the past five postseasons, all at Gillette, and won twice. Their only loss, 23-20, was clinched when Billy Cundiff lined up for a 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds left and shanked it in the AFC championship game in the 2011 season.

Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Ray Rice are no longer with the Ravens after facing the Patriots in all three playoff games. Logan Mankins, who also played in those games, and Wes Welker, who played in two, are gone from New England.

"Ultimately," McDaniels said, Saturday's game "I would assume would take on its own form."

Both teams are led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Joe Flacco for the Ravens and Tom Brady for the Patriots.

Flacco has won his last five playoff games, throwing 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. He's operating with a new offensive coordinator this season, former Houston head coach Gary Kubiak.

"I think you see an offense very similar to what you saw in Houston," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "but I'd say Flacco (is) one of the best deep-ball passers in the league with good deep receivers."

They have Torrey Smith, who is ninth in the NFL with 15.7 yards per catch and had a 53-yard reception last Saturday against the Steelers. They also have Steve Smith, the team leader with 79 catches.

"For Torrey Smith, a lot of the vertical element is then really opened up for him when your attention really goes toward Steve Smith," Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said.

Brady is 2-3 in his last five playoff games with seven touchdown passes and three interceptions.

He's coming off two subpar games, although the Patriots rested key players in the finale, a 17-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills, since they already had clinched the No. 1 seed.

With top receivers Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman inactive, Brady played only the first half, completing eight of 16 passes for 80 yards. He wasn't at his best the previous Sunday in a 17-16 win over the lowly New York Jets, completing 23 of 35 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also was sacked four times.

Last Saturday, the Ravens sacked Ben Roethslisberger five times.

They have "a tremendous defense that plays well and forces you to go the long, hard route without giving up many big plays," McDaniels said. "It's a challenge at every level."

McDaniels is concentrating on preparing for the Ravens after interviewing for head coaching vacancies with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers.

"I just had an initial meeting with them and it hasn't really gone any farther in any direction," he said. "I'm sure they'll do what they need to do on their end, and I'm sure those things will take care of themselves in the future."


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