The Baltimore Ravens are one of the most notable rivals of Tom Brady's career. Overall, Brady owns a 6-1 regular season over the Ravens, but in the playoffs, four epic games have been split at two a piece, each among the most memorable games of the Patriots dynasty.
The rivalry ignited in 2007, as the Patriots squeaked out a 27-24 victory on a Jabar Gaffney touchdown scored with :44 seconds left. The final drive featured three different fourth downs with penalties, two of which were called on the Ravens and extended the game to allow the final game-winning score. A furious Ravens team never seemed to forget how that game ended and took that energy into the playoff battles to come.
Baltimore would respond in 2009's Wild Card round, riding an opening-play Ray Rice 83-yard touchdown run that set the stage for the only time in the last 20 years that the Patriots were blown off the field in a playoff game. The Patriots would reload after that stinging loss and knock the Ravens out of the playoffs two years later in a hard-fought AFC Championship game that needed a missed Ravens field goal to preserve the Pats' 23-20 win and send them to Super Bowl 46.
But the following year the Ravens would respond, dominating the second half of the AFC Championship en route to a 28-13 win and their own eventual Super Bowl championship. After a playoff rivalry reprieve in 2013, the teams once again met in the 2014 playoffs and the game lived up to the hype we'd come to expect. The Patriots overcame two separate 14-point deficits to dispatch the Ravens, busting out a double pass to spark the comeback.
The two teams have not met since 2016 and both look very different than they did three years ago, but the rivalry is still very much alive for two organizations that mirror each other.
"They're a great team," said Brady on Friday. "A very successful organization. We've had some really tough games against those guys. They've always presented a big challenge for us. It's a unique environment, pretty tough, very loud and they're very good this year."
Ravens defensive legends like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed are no longer on the roster and Brady didn't seem too upset about it, though this defense still provides plenty of challenges.
"Those guys were great players and you know I think a lot like us they really set the standard for great defensive play," said Brady. "I heard Ed’s [Reed] getting his Hall of Fame ring, or something like that, so I’m sure they’ll be excited. It’ll be a loud night."
The bigger part of the changes involve the Patriots offense who isn't yet up to the standard that Brady has set over the last two decades. Now, the team is still looking for new faces to emerge and become consistent complimentary pieces to the attack.
The team traded for Mohamed Sanu last week and Brady liked bringing a veteran in who can help out immediately.
"The more we work together the better it's going to be and it's hard to be on the same page within a week," said Brady of Sanu. "Football's a game about anticipation, the good part is he's a veteran player, you know how to play football. It's not like a rookie, they don't know quite what the real expectation is. He's been a part of some great offenses, so it's really incorporating him into what we do and him learning the terminology so that he can play fast and we can play with anticipation together. And then he's running the routes where I expect him to be so I can play with anticipation, then you gain trust, then you gain confidence and once you gain confidence, you can go out and execute really well."
One rookie who could make his debut is N'Keal Harry and Brady felt the vets and rookies were working hard together to get everyone ready for the sizable challenge awaiting them in Baltimore.
"It’s kind of a different mix – three veterans, three rookies – and I think those rookies need to rely on the veterans to really show them the way," said Brady. "I’m glad that room has provided the leadership that they have. So, we’re going to need everybody. I think that’s what we realize. We’re only at the halfway point of the year, there’s a lot of football left and everybody in each room is really counted on."
With the trade deadline passed and no more potential returners from IR after Isaiah Wynn, the Patriots offense should now be locked in on who they are and what they'll need to be when they face the Ravens. After a half-season of less-than-thrilling matchups, Brady knew this would be a big one.
"It's a tough game," said Brady. "This is one of the best teams in the AFC and they have been for a long time. They present different challenges, they have a very good offense, very good defense, special teams, coaching, there's no plays off. It's tough. Add some cold weather in there. I think it's gonna be what football season is all about. So two good hard nosed football teams that probably have pretty similar style,s that are coached very well that are playing on a big stage and it's a very important game for both of us."
Greg Roman's offensive gameplan a key
The Patriots need to look no further than Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman's gameplan while with the 49ers in 2012 as an example of how a balanced rushing and passing attack can cause problems.
Roman's 49ers put 388 yards and 41 points on the Patriots in Foxboro, riding Colin Kapernick to an impressive win that almost featured an impossible comeback by the Patriots. Down 31-3, the Patriots roared back and tied the score at 31 before a big kickoff return set up a final touchdown for the 49ers that won back the momentum.
Devin McCourty was asked about the similarities between that offense and what Roman is doing now with the 49ers.
"It’s a lot of the same things scheme-wise of doing different things," said McCourty. "I’m sure some of that stuff will come up. You know, you play a guy a couple times in the last couple years, those games still kind of have relevance. So, it’s very similar, and I think no matter what, you’ve always got to adjust to personnel, to what guys do. Like Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor: great when you talk about throwing the ball, able to run. And I think Lamar Jackson is faster. He’s a little more elusive, so it’s very similar to those guys, but I think it’s different because he’s different."
Bill Belichick said it's the same running game Roman's been running all along and it will give the Patriots a number of things to prepare for.
"They have a core, certainly a base core of plays, that they run but they also have some complimentary plays to those and their core plays that they can run a lot of different ways," said Belichick this week. "So they disguise them, they put you in different positions and change the run force and force you to handle it differently with different personnel groups, so I'm sure we'll see that. It's what they do every week."
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots finished off the week of on-field preparation with full attendance at their Friday practice. The team still has an extra roster spot which is expected to go to N'Keal Harry who would need to be activated Saturday to be able to play against the Ravens. The team also still has two open spots on their practice squad, expect for those to be filled over the bye week.
The Injury Report featured one new addition, James White is questionable with a toe injury. No players were ruled out on Friday.
RB Rex Burkhead, Foot (LP)
S Patrick Chung, Heel/Chest (LP)
WR Julian Edelman, Chest/Shoulder (LP)
TE Ryan Izzo, Concussion (LP)
TE Matt LaCosse, Knee (LP)
G Shaq Mason, Ankle (LP)
WR Gunner Olszewski, Ankle/Hamstring (LP)
RB James White, Toe (LP)
Locker Room Sound Bites
Nick Folk on getting adjusted to New England:
"Just trying to get my feet under me. Kind of following Jake and Joe around, get used to everything. Been a good experience so far."
Nick Folk on whether he feels the pressure to perform for a new team.
"I think there's always pressure. You're always expected to perform so there's always a little bit of pressure, no matter first game, last game, middle of the season, whatever it may be. I try to take it one game at a time and kind of go from there."
Julian Edelman on the state of the Patriots offense.
"Everyone thinks we're in a huge panic over here. Our offense, we've made plays when we have to. Obviously we're not where we want to be but I think that's everyone in the league right now at this time of year."