There was something very obvious about Joe Flacco's play against the Texans. No, not his habit of taking sacks; his happiness in having Anquan Boldin back as a target. The Ravens receiver missed the regular season's final two weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Boldin fell right back into step during last weekend's Divisional playoff, punishing Houston for 132 yards on eight catches.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick couldn't have been encouraged. He spoke Tuesday about the edge a healthy Boldin gives Baltimore.
"Boldin is a tough matchup hes strong, hes really physical, hes got great size, tough guy, tough after the catch. You give him too much space and hes strong and physical and can hurt you with the ball in his hands. You get up there too tight on him and hes big and physical and can throw some of those smaller guys around and get on top of him and go up and get the ball. Hes a tough guy to match up on."
The scope of Belichick's compliments was actually much wider. He said the Ravens have a complimentary offense based on an array of targets available to Flacco. Whether looking to Boldin, Ray Rice -- the NFL's No. 2 regular season rusher, Torrey Smith, or tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, there's someone to step up against the coverage.
Smith, in particular, is someone the Patriots looked over during 2010's pre-draft process. He and Boldin could be a pair to bother New England's inconsistent secondary.
"Torreys probably their top vertical threat," Diirector of player personnel Nick Caserio said this week. "He was an explosive down field player at Maryland; a real productive player. Hes got good size, great kid, and great makeup. Hes come in and has done a nice job and hes given their offense a different dimension.
"They really have players that really can attack all three levels of the field. Smith is maybe a little faster than Boldin, but Boldins ball skills are very, very good, so even if you have him covered they still might throw it up to because the quarterback has quite a bit of confidence in that Anquan is going to go up and make a play."
The message was clear: Neither Belichick nor Caserio is surprised to see Baltimore across the field.
They said it starts at the top. Both men stroked the Ravens' staff, from Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta in the front office, to John Harbaugh down on the front line. While Baltimore's defensive gets most of the attention, its offense did rank in the NFL's top half during the regular season. Nobody will be muttering, "But it's Flacco" in that planning room.
"The bottom line is they have good football players." Caserio said. "Thats really what it comes down to in this league. They find good football players, they bring them in, and they develop them."
The Patriots can afford to underestimate nothing. Especially not for the AFC Championship.