Patriots, Ravens not strangers to tight games

Patriots, Ravens not strangers to tight games
December 17, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Both the Patriots and Ravens could tell you a thing or two about playing in tight spots.

Eight of New England's 10 wins were one possession games; six were won by three points or less. Baltimore has played in nine games decided by three points or fewer.

The main difference between the two teams? This weekend's visitors have come through in the clutch more often. The Patriots, at 10-4, will kick off Sunday as the AFC's No. 2 seed. Baltimore (8-6) is clutching onto the conference's sixth and final spot.

Sure, playoff positioning is still precarious at this point, but New England won't bemoan having more to lose. Those four seeding spots that separate it from Baltimore? Owed to the fact the Patriots did what it had to to close out -- just two more times.

"[You] make the plays in critical situations at the end of games," Bill Belichick said. "That's what it comes down to and that's what this league is. You play for 57, 58, 59 minutes and the game's still not decided and it hinges on the plays from there on out. It could be a kick or return, a fumbled punt, a pass, an interception, a sack, short-yardage goal line play, a [defensive] stop -- it could be any one of a million situations.

"Being able to execute those plays in critical situations determine the result of the game. So being able to do those things as a team, along with other things like substitutions, clock management, getting out of bounds, being in bounds, making those decisions. In the end comes down to execution in those critical situations."

What makes Sunday's matchup even more interesting is the recent role reversal. The Ravens are catching a serious wave of momentum just as New England is wiping out.

The Patriots are reeling from a 24-20 loss to Miami. They had a brilliant opportunity for a comeback: 75 seconds on the clock, three timeouts, and Tom Brady at the helm. After winning three-straight games in similar or worse situations, they seemed destined for another heroic finish.

But the Dolphins shut it down.

Baltimore, with a Monday night victory in Detroit, has won four straight. The last three have been as close as can be -- the Ravens beat the Steelers, Vikings, and Lions by an average of 2.3 points -- but the point is, they're coming out on top.

Belichick is not surprised by the Ravens' late-season surge: "They've got quite a few new players on their team. Some of them are young players, some of them are guys like [returning veteran safety James] Ihedigbo, that stepped in for [Bernard] Pollard.

"I think over the course of the season, that you can definitely see they improvement and the growth of their team, both individually with some of the younger players and collectively with how they operate the communication and coordination, the overall execution," he said. "That's what I've noticed about the team. They continue to get better. They worked new people in there and then those new people are now working together as a collective unit, whether it be offense, defense, or special teams."

It's hard to tell which team has the upper hand at this point. Overall, New England has the better track record. But Baltimore is heating up at exactly the right time.

Regardless of who takes the game, you can bet it will be a close one.