FOXBORO -- John Harbaughs first NFL win was at Gillette Stadium: A 16-15 triumph in a preseason game on August 7, 2008. The tape was not sent to Canton.
It sounds like today, as the Ravens try to finally get over the hump in an AFC Championship game, Harbaugh believes Baltimore needs to hammer its way to New Orleans.
According to ESPNs Sal Paolontonio, a high-ranking Ravens official said, We dont think the Patriots were tested very much this year. So were going to test them physically and see how they respond.
Relative to the Ravens, its hard to disagree. The Ravens played a seemingly more physical schedule than New England this year. The Bengals twice, the Steelers twice, games against the NFC East. Helluva lot harder than the Patriots pulverizing the Jets, Bills and Dolphins.
I do believe the Patriots were pushed physically by the Seahawks, the 49ers, the Dolphins and Houston but I can see where a Ravens official would say the Pats werent tested very much.
In the end, though, the Patriots can play tougher-than-thou on defense if need be. If the Ravens want to approach the New England offense with a rock-fight mentality, I dont think theyll be able to keep up.
This is the sixth AFC Championship Game of the Belichick Era. There are little things that you can recall from each. For instance, on the day of the 2001 AFC Championship, it was so warm that there were people on jet skis on the Ohio River outside Heinz Field. Another memory from Pittsburgh: Tight end Christian Fauria on one knee at about the 5-yard line as the Patriots postgame celebrationtrophy presentation wound down. I asked him what he was doing by himself. Im just drinking it all in. I dont want to forget how this feels and what it looked like.
John Harbaughs the only coach to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons and today is his third appearance in a conference championship. If the Ravens dont win, the question of whether and when Harbaugh will be able to get his team over the hump is an obvious one to ask. But how screwed up is this stat: The last time the AFC had a Super Bowl representative other than Indy, Pittsburgh or New England was 2002. That was Oakland. And the Ravens are the last AFC team other than the Big 3 AFC franchises to win a Super Bowl since the year 2000.
The Patriots-Ravens rivalry has been discussed a lot this week and its interesting to note just how many teams have had rivalrous (made it up) relationships with the Patriots in the past dozen years. The Colts, Steelers, Jets, Titans, Dolphins and to some extent the Chargers and Broncos all have had their blood feuds with the Patriots. You have to be good for a while to piss off that many franchises.
Today, the cameras will find Ray Lewis. And he will find them. He will sermonize and dance. He will inspire. In 2008, Bill Belichick said this about pregame emotion: "You can go in there and beat your helmet against your locker before you go out on the field, hold hands, chant, kick chairs and break blackboards, but as soon as the ball is snapped you do your job better than they do theirs or vice versa. After a couple plays, it might be after one play, it is really about execution. What team can do what they have to do better than the other team. No just individually one-on-one, but collectively as a group. You get into situational football, field position, clock management, changing personnel groups, substitutions, calls and adjustments. That to me is what the game is about. I think you can go in there, take a sledge hammer and break up the cinder blocks, but I dont think that helps you block them. I dont think that helps you tackle them. I dont think it helps you do what you need to do from a football standpoint. If you cant do that then I think the rest of it is minimal."