A dominating victory last week allowed for the New England Patriots to atone for a few recent postseason failures on their home turf, one of which came at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens in 2009.
Getting payback for that shocking upset will be secondary for the Patriots when the two top seeds in the AFC do battle at Gillette Stadium this time around, however, with a spot in Super Bowl XLVI at stake in Sunday’s 2011 AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens handed the Patriots the worst playoff defeat in the profusely–successful Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era in a 2009 AFC Wild-card round game, utilizing a punishing ground attack and a smothering defensive performance to come away with a decisive 33-14 win that afternoon.
Baltimore finished the game with a monstrous 234 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground, with quarterback Joe Flacco amassing just 34 yards through the air on 4 of 10 passing. His counter part, Brady, was intercepted three times and lost a fumble, while recording a sub-par 49.1 passer rating, the lowest in the three-time Super Bowl champion’s legendary postseason career.
New England was also troubled by slow starts in each of the last two games prior to the playoffs, but they were able to overcome and persevere those lethargic starts in wins over Miami and Buffalo. However, the AFC’s No. 1 seed had no such problems in last week’s divisional-round contest against the Denver Broncos.
In the blink of an eye, the Patriots jumped out to a two touchdown lead midway through the first quarter in their matchup against the AFC West Champions, and kept the pedal to the medal in thumping the overmatched Broncos, 45-10. The blowout ended a frustrating three-game losing skid since New England’s last AFC Championship Game appearance, a 21-12 win over the San Diego Chargers in the 2007 season.
Brady was robotic, connecting on 26-of-34 passes for 363 yards and six touchdown passes. His six touchdown passes tied an NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single playoff game.
The Patriots enter Sunday’s contest raging hot–having won nine in a row–and the club has put up 31 points or more in all but one game during that tear.
Meanwhile, the second-seeded Ravens earned their third conference title game berth in franchise-history by defeating the Houston Texans 20-13 last Sunday, due in large part to an opportunistic defense.
Baltimore capitalized on four Texans miscues, with 17 of their 20 points coming off three Houston turnovers. The final takeaway, an interception courtesy of Ed Reed with just under two minutes remaining in regulation, ended any slim chance for a Texans comeback.
Offensively, the Ravens struggled to say the least. Baltimore finished the game with a meager 227 total yards and mustered up just 11 first downs, something that will have to change this week if the Ravens have any hope of containing Tom Brady and the Patriots’ high-powered offense.
The Ravens are an even 1-1 all-time in the AFC Championship Game, having beaten Oakland on the road in 2000 and falling at division-rival Pittsburgh during head coach John Harbaugh’s debut campaign in 2008. On the other side, the Patriots are an impressive 6-1 in conference title games, including a 4-1 record under in the Belichick/Brady regime.