Newyorkjets.com is profiling each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the AFC Championship Game to be played Sunday evening:
(4) BALTIMORE (12-6) at (2) NEW ENGLAND (13-4), 6:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The irresistible road force meets the immovable home object in the battle to crown the American Conference champions and send them on to the Super Bowl.
Ravens WR Anquan Boldin has become this season's DG — designated guarantor. How, he was asked, will this year's title game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium be different than last year's 23-20 Patriots win?
"Because we'll make it different," Boldin said boldly. "We'll win."
His track record is perfect, albeit in a small recent sampling of guarantees — he said the same about last week's playoff game at Denver following the Ravens' regular-season loss to the Broncos.
On top of that, there is the Ravens' record as the NFL's best playoff road warriors ever. Their 8-5 away record is the best in league postseason history (minimum of 10 games). And one of those wins came in 2009, when the Ravens strode into Foxboro and dispatched the Patriots, 33-14.
But that was then, this is now, and these are the Patriots, who are the NFL's alltime best home playoff team (again, minimum of 10 games), with a 14-3 record, including last year's verdict secured on then-Baltimore K Billy Cundiff's 32-yard FG try, which he missed with 11 seconds left on the clock.
But a big part of the "Patriot Way" is tuning all that stuff out — home, away, pressure, injuries, playing for the Super Bowl, playing for one's legacy — and just focusing, in this case, on the purple team in front of you.
"You can’t be selfish playing here," said NT Vince Wilfork. "It's not about you. It's about the team. And if you buy into that, you'll be very successful, and that's the one thing that I think this organization has had for a long time. I've won a lot of games in my career being here and I wouldn’t change it for nothing."
Here's a little more Tom Brady trivia:
Brady needs 227 yards and four touchdowns against the Ravens to surpass Brett Favre (5,855 yards) for the most postseason passing yards and to tie Joe Montana (45 TDs) for the most playoff passing TDs in NFL history.
With the win over the Texans, Brady broke his tie with Montana in recording his 17th playoff victory, most alltime. Also with that win, he improved his percentage to .739 (17-6), leapfrogging Terry Bradshaw (.737) and Troy Aikman (.733) for best in history. But the only way he'll hold that record this year would be to not lose again this postseason.
Brady has his remarkable changing yet rock-steady corps of receivers, from WRs Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd to TE Aaron Hernandez to RB Shane Vereen and possibly Danny Woodhead (see below). But he'll be without TE Rob Gronkowski, who rebroke his arm tumbling to the turf after trying to catch a first-quarter pass and is gone for the postseason.
"There was quite a bit of adjusting the other night," Brady said of the Gronk loss. "The same thing can happen this weekend. Whoever is on the field has to perform at a high level. This is the biggest game of our year. There are really no excuses at this point and there’s nothing beyond this week that’s guaranteed. It’s going to take 60 minutes — in Baltimore’s case last weekend it took 77 minutes. So as long as it takes to get the win, that’s what we’re going to need to try to figure out how to do."
Brady will also have to figure out how to keep the Ravens at bay, among them DT Haloti Ngata, LBs Terrell Suggs and Dannell Ellerbe, and S Ed Reed. Suggs, who had two sacks of Peyton Manning in Denver, needs 2.5 sacks Sunday to tie Bruce Smith for second-most postseason sacks since 1982 and in the process would set the NFL mark with his fifth multiple-sack playoff game. Reed needs one interception to move into atop the record-book entry with Ronnie Lott, Bill Simpson and Charlie Waters for most playoff picks in league history with nine.
Baltimore QB Joe Flacco also has a multitude of weapons in Boldin and Torrey Smith at WR, Dennis Pitta at TE, and dual-threat RB Ray Rice. The Ravens will also need to continue their careful ways with the football to avoid feeding the turnover monster that is the New England defense (NFL-leading plus-25 turnover margin this season, plus-12 in nine home games). In the Ravens' nine road games this season they're plus-7, and in their last four playoff games dating to last year they're plus-8.
On the kicking front, either seven-year veteran Stephen Gostkowski or rookie Justin Tucker may well be called on to win this one. Gostkowski is 31-for-37 on his FG kicking this season, 16-for-18 career in the postseason, and 54-for-57 career in the fourth quarter. Tucker's been even better this year, 32-for-35 on all FG tries, including the 27-yarder as time expired to beat the Patriots in Week 3, 31-30, and the 47-yarder to end double OT in frigid Denver last week.
If the Patriots win this one, teams that defeated the same opponent in the previous year's AFC Championship Game will improve to 6-1 alltime. If the Ravens win, teams that defeated an opponent in the regular season and then faced the same team in the title game since 1990 will be 11-5. (The last two times this happened, the Jets were involved. They won at Indianapolis in 2009 and at Pittsburgh in 2010, then returned to those venues for the title games in those seasons and lost both times.)
The Patriots will be making their second straight championship game appearance, their fourth in the last seven years, and their seventh in the last 12 seasons under Belichick/Brady's guidance. They're 6-1 in those previous title tries, 17-6 overall in the BB/TB era and 11-2 at home (the only losses coming against the Ravens in '09 and the Jets in '10). The franchise's alltime postseason record is 24-16.
The Ravens' playoff record under coach John Harbaugh since 2008 is 7-4 and overall it's 11-7. Their alltime mark against the Patriots is 2-6, although they've won two of the last four. Five of the teams' last six meetings have been decided in the final minute of play or in overtime.
Belichick was the Jets' defensive coordinator from 1997-99 and their head coach for one day in 2000 before resigning and ultimately going to Foxboro, Mass., to build the Patriots' dynasty. Among the coaches he brought with him back then were ex-Jets LB Pepper Johnson, who now is in his 26th season in the NFL and his 13th year on Belichick's coaching staff.
Woodhead was waived by the Jets after the 2010 opener, the Patriots signed him four days later as a FA, and he's been a 5'8" sparkplug offensive role player ever since. This season he set career highs with 40 receptions, 446 receiving yards, four rushing TDs and seven total TDs. Former Jets CB/ST Marquice Cole played 14 games for the Patriots, starting in Game 15, then sitting out Game 16.
Woodhead started and Cole played vs. Houston. Woodhead injured his thumb on the Patriots' first offensive play and didn't return. Cole made a game-high three tackles on kick coverage while playing with an injured finger. Both are listed as limited in practice this week.
S James Ihedigbo left the Jets for the Patriots last year, then the Pats made him a final cut this year, so he moved over to the Ravens, for whom he played in all 16 games (three starts) this season, plus 20 special-teams plays in the wild-card win over Indianapolis and 31 ST plays at Denver."Not strange at all," Dig said of flipping sidelines. "I'm here as a Raven. I love being here, I'm proud to be here, and I'm proud to go out with these guys and fight for the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl."