Before I begin, let me say to all of my Patriots friends, this article is Rated H-for homer. So if you cannot handle hearing what a weak person your quarterback is and what a cheater your coach can be, click the little "X" in the upper right hand corner. If you decide to read on, do so at your own risk.
Having said that, both the AFC and NFC championship games have been analyzed, overanalyzed and dissected inside and out. All that’s left before the game is a little trash talk between fans, so please allow me to fire the first shot, and possibly the second and third as well.
I told you at the start of the week, Ravens fans, that the media would be brutal on our team. Without playing a single snap, the Patriots offense, which is pretty damn good, has gone from great to one of the greatest in the history of the game.
The Ravens defense, which is ranked third in the NFL and ranked in the top four in both stopping the run and pass this year, got worse, and worse, and if I didn't know any better, I'd swear that No. 52 was both Ray Lewis’ number and age.
New England’s defense, which was ranked 31st and allowed the second-most passing yards in the history of the NFL, is all of a sudden a mirror image of the 2000 Ravens. Pats safety Patrick Chung, who is now healthy (as we have been told 1,000 times this week), is apparently Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and even Dick "Night Train" Lane all wrapped up in one.
I see their point; with the third-year defensive back in the Pats secondary, New England only allowed an average of 318 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during the eight games he played in this season.
The Pats were 13-3 this season, and two of those losses came with Pro Bowl Patrick in the lineup. So yes, having a healthy Chung back in the lineup will make all of the difference to a secondary that allowed 4,703 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Speaking of those interceptions, we have also heard all week how adept the Pats secondary is at picking off opposing passers, ranking second in the league with 23 QB thefts.
Did you happen to catch the team that had the most picks this season with 31? That would be the opportunistic Green Bay Packers, who just happen to have the opportunity of watching both championship games from wherever they please this weekend.
While the Patriots allowed the second-most passing yards in NFL history, Green Bay allowed the most this season. If you have any common sense at all, you can probably figure out that with opposing QB's throwing on both secondaries like they were in a 7-on-7 drill, interceptions probably were not too hard to come by.
The Patriots were ranked 30th against the pass last year, and guess what, they led the league in interceptions. So enough already about how good and opportunistic the Pats defense has become.
If the Ravens cannot exploit what is a sorry defense, despite where they ranked in points allowed, then they don't deserve to win. If Joe Flacco cannot do what Jason Campbell (344 yards), Chad Henne (416 yards) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (676 yards in two games) did to the NE secondary, then he deserves the criticism.
Now, while I didn't expect some of the media criticism of the Ravens and their QB to come from within the locker room this week, I will tell you that I don't think an intelligent and future Hall of Fame player like Reed would call out his quarterback if he didn't think he could destroy the Pats' secondary.
PATS "D" NOT THAT GOOD
We heard all week how the Pats defense is getting so much better. That's hard to imagine if it's the same Pats defense that allowed 1,762 yards of total offense to great point-scoring machines like the Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills over the final four weeks of the season.
This is a Patriots defense that's improving so much, head coach Bill Belichick felt the need to hire back Josh McDaniels, who used to be the head coach of the Denver Broncos the week before their playoff game with Denver. If you don't think McDaniels brought something to the table for the Pats playoff game vs. his former team, then you are in denial.
Yes, the systems are different now that John Fox is the head coach in Denver, but the tendencies of a player don't change, especially Tim Tebow’s. When watching film, players and coaches are looking for anything that gives a competitive edge.
Which way does a QB look before throwing the ball, does he pat the center once or twice, where are his eyes before a run? All of these questions McDaniels could answer about some of his former players, especially Tebow, whom he drafted, and nurtured during his rookie season. This, on top of the fact that McDaniels definitely had some extra insight on some of his former defensive players.
If you think that’s nuts, just ask the Tampa Bay Buccaneers how important Jon Gruden was on their sidelines during Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden and his Bucs destroyed the team he coached just the year before, the Oakland Raiders.
Oakland entered the game as the NFL's No. 1 ranked offense, and Bucs safety John Lynch, who helped anchor the league’s best defense, said the Raiders were incredibly predictable. Not just because Gruden knew the system, but because Gruden knew his former QB, Rich Gannon, better than Gannon knew himself. Gruden simulated Gannon all week as he lined up at QB in practice on the scout team offense against his starting defense.
Many considered the hiring of McDaniels by Belichick to be an unwritten violation of fair and competitive play, and if you think Belichick lost any sleep over that, you're kidding yourself.
This is the same guy who got caught taping the St. Louis Rams practice prior to Super Bowl XXXVI, in what eventually became a part of the infamous spygate controversy. Oh by the way, he didn't lose any sleep over that either; the Lombardi trophy from that victory still sits in New England’s trophy case.
Besides, the Ravens are going to use a similar script in stopping Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez when they beat the Patriots tomorrow. In what Monday Night Football color man and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski called the greatest single game plan in the history of the NFL, Belichick hit Marshall Faulk every play and disrupted the rhythm of the "Greatest Show on Turf".
Belichick had his secondary and linebackers hit the hell out of Rams receivers Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Az-Zahir Hakim every chance they got. The Pats linebackers hit them early cross the middle, and their DBs made them pay for every catch.
The Ravens will get physical tomorrow with the Pats two big tight ends at the line of scrimmage just as the Pats DBs did then, and you can also bet that part of their game, and the part that's not written in any playbook is how they will look to knock Pats QB Tom Brady out of the game.
The Ravens have been listening all week to how great Tom Brady is and how old their great players are getting. Sports Illustrated did two stories previewing the AFC title game. Peter King’s story was previewed on the cover reading, "Are the Pats too good?", and Peter Reiter wrote one that said on the cover, "Are the Ravens too old?"
Former Ravens Super Bowl-winning QB Trent Dilfer even had the audacity to go as far and say that Reed's comments about Flacco were a result of ”insecurity" on the part of Reed and the Ravens defense.
"I took that comment as a little insecurity by Ed and the defense," Dilfer said during a conference call. "(I see it as Reed saying) ’Hey, we know we’re going up against Tom Brady. Maybe, we can’t hold him like we did the Houston Texans [team stats]. And we need a little bit more from the offense."
Shut up, Trent, you’re still bitter about being let go after winning a Super Bowl as the starting QB. If anything, you should look at that ring and be grateful to the Ravens defense for the rest of your life, because without them, you'd be Trent Dilfer, another early '90s first round (sixth overall) draft bust of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
THE "B" WORD
The Ravens are a far more physical team than New England and will try to flex their muscle as often as they can. While the so-called experts are saying the Ravens "D” must be perfect, I'd be willing to bet Tom Terrific can be nothing but as well.
Everyone says the Ravens are doomed if they don't pressure Tommy Terrific, and that much I agree with, and even Mike Florio of NBC Pro Football talk said last night on Comcast Sports Net, Washington that for the Ravens, knocking Brady out of the game would be worth a penalty, fine or suspension.
He's right, folks, and don't think the Ravens aren't going to take a shot.
It's worked for Baltimore before; just ask poor Gannon. Before Gruden mastered him, the Ravens and their great 2000 defense knocked him around first. During the 2001 AFC championship game, Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa sacked Gannon early in the second quarter and pounced a little extra on his shoulder, knocking him from the contest.
Siragusa, who was a reported 340 pounds then (wink-wink), had more than enough weight to do the necessary damage to the former Delaware Blue Hen. The play would have drawn a hefty fine in today's game.
Gannon returned briefly to start the second half but was never the same, he eventually left for good and turned the offense to Bobby Hoying. Needless to say, the Ravens' history-making defense was too much, and after a 16-3 win in the Black Hole, they were off to destroy the Giants in the Super Bowl.
Does anyone even know who Brady's backup is? It's third-year Michigan State product Brian Hoyer, and behind him is rookie Ryan Mallett from Arkansas.
If you’re like me, Ravens fans, you're a little tired of hearing how great Brady is. If I’m tired, and you’re tired, you can bet T-Sizzle, Sugar Ray and Haloti Ngata are. You can also bet that the "B" word, which rhymes with county, has been thrown around the locker room a time or two this week.
SHHHHHHHHHH—I don’t want to open anybody’s eyes, and I'm sure Brady's head carries a nice chunk of change if anyone can produce it. Let’s be honest here, we’re all big boys and girls. Bounties are alive and well in today's NFL, and if you don't think so, ask Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Lewis collected on that one a few years back, when the Steelers and Ravens played a Monday night game. Mendenhall texted Ravens running back Ray Rice during the week to tell him he was going to have a "big day" against the Ravens defense. Obviously, Lewis didn't take to kindly to a rookie talking trash about his defense, and made Mendenhall pay dearly.
In the third quarter, Mendenhall tried to run through a hole and Lewis hammered him, breaking the running back's shoulder and ending his season. A few days later, Suggs appeared on a popular radio show based out of Atlanta called the "2 Live Stews."
When asked "Did you all put a bounty out on that young man [Mendenhall]," Suggs replied, "Definitely. The bounty was out on him and the bounty was out on [Ward]—we just didn't get him between the whistles."
Bounties are obviously against NFL rules, but make no mistake, Suggs will look to take Mr. Uggs out, and collect his prize in the process tomorrow—the Lamar Hunt trophy as AFC champions. The Ravens, and most notably Suggs, have been eerily quiet this week, complimenting Brady and calling him a great QB.
THE BRADY RULES
Brady is a great QB, but talk of him being the best ever if he wins his fourth Super Bowl this season is enough to send me over the top.
For my money, Mr.Bundchen doesn't rank amongst the top five, or eight, to ever play the quarterback position. Most fans that know how to rank all-time players will tell you that when doing so, you must ask yourself, can the payer in question play at the same level and produce in any era?
Brady is a product of today's NFL, and the rules designed to protect the QB which he helped create by his constant complaining and by missing the 2008 season with a knee injury.
Brady missed the entire 2008 season when, minutes into the first quarter, a certain Kansas City Chief rolled into Brady's knee, tearing up his ACL. That Chief happened to be current Ravens safety Bernard Pollard.
The hit occurred midway through the first quarter when Pollard, who was on the ground a few yards from Brady, lunged at the quarterback and grabbed at his knee as he was stepping into a throw. That hit and the subsequent injury effectively led to a new rule in the NFL about hitting quarterbacks below the knee.
The NFL didn't create the new rule when during a playoff game in 2006, Bengals QB Carson Palmer, who was playing in his first playoff game, was hit by the Steelers Kimo von Oelhoffen, in similar fashion, tearing his ACL.
Nope, it was the Tom Brady rule, and Pollard doesn't apologize or back down from the play to this day. “You got to look at it, that's the pretty boy, that's the man of the NFL, that's 'Mr. Do It All,' so everybody wants to hold that against me, but I don't care," Pollard said Wednesday, according to the Ravens' team site.
That wasn’t the only rule Brady used on his way to greatness. Anyone remember the tuck rule game, and the 16-13 win over Gannon’s Raiders during the 2002 AFC divisional playoff game? Poor Rich, but clearly everyone thought the play was a fumble, and if the call had stood, Brady would have just two Super Bowls to his credit.
If you think Brady could play in any era, ask yourself this. Could he get popped in the nose by the Bears' Doug Atkins, and with blood pouring, call a play and then throw the game-winning touchdown pass, as Johnny Unitas once did?
No, I should think not. Could he even play after getting his nose broke by Haloti Ngata, as Ben Roethlisberger did last season?
Remember the Ravens and Patriots game in Foxborough back in October 2009. Following a 27-21 Pats win, Lewis was stark-raving mad after the game. Lewis was hot when during the game, a pair of very, very questionable roughing-the-passer calls on Brady extended Patriots drives that led to touchdowns, costing Baltimore the game.
Brady even called for one flag and got it.
Said Lewis after the game, “That’s not football, and that’s the embarrassing part about it. Two great teams going at it, let them go at it. But you can’t stop drives like that, you can’t throw flags and say, ‘Oh, you touched the quarterback.’ Put flags on them. Put a red buzzer on them so if we touch them, they’re down.”
GREAT BUT NOT GREATEST
Yes Brady has much to do with the Patriots' three Super Bowl wins during the 2000s, but it's no coincidence that after the Pats got softer and lost their toughness in players like Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi, they started losing in the playoffs.
The last three teams to beat the Pats during the postseason (Giants, Ravens, Jets) may not have been better teams, but they were certainly tougher and more physical. Every expert agrees that Brady doesn't like to be pressured, and don't tell me that all NFL QB's don't like to be pressured. Some thrive on it, even made Hall of Fame careers out it.
Brett Favre early in his career, John Elway, Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw were all tougher QBs, and if they played under today's quarterback rules, some of these records may never be broken, as these guys may have been able to play for a few more years.
Do you think Tom Brady could play with the injuries that the aforementioned Roethlisberger did this year? That’s why Ravens fans, at least this one, respect Roethlisberger a hell of lot more than Brady. I hate them both, but equal talent on offense, I'm taking Big Ben.
That's just my preference. Maybe you like your quarterback to be the glitzy pretty boy with the long hair, but I'm pretty sure the blue-collar fans of Baltimore prefer Fu Manchus, toughness and knocking out quarterbacks instead of Justin Bieber haircuts and knocking up supermodels.
It’s a matter of preference, and you may say that this is simply Lombardi Trophy envy or whatever else you want to call it.
You may be right, but it doesn't change the obvious, and the results from last week. Defense wins championships and offense sells tickets.
Just ask Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, and I'm betting that by 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, you can also ask Tom Brady. I know championships are what positions like quarterback is judged on, but Brady’s No. 1 rival, Peyton Manning, despite having two less rings than him, is a better and most certainly a tougher QB.
I'm not sure with a coach like Belichick that the Patriots would have won just two games without Brady this season. In fact, they won 10 with Matt Cassel in '08 when Brady missed the entire season with his injury.
FLACCO'S A WINNER
I'm sure there would be no one saying Brady for MVP if he missed the entire year, as they did with Manning this season. No. 18 in Indy is one of two QBs in the history of the NFL to start the first 60 games of his NFL career. The other is Flacco.
Obviously there is no comparison between Flacco, Manning and Brady right now, but since Flacco came into the league, Brady has won as many championships as he has, and fewer regular season games as well. Flacco, not Brady, holds the record for most wins by a QB in his first four years.
Including the playoffs, Flacco is tied with Brees for the most wins by a quarterback since 2008 with 49. Tom Brady does have one more than Flacco for most playoff wins by a starting QB in his first four seasons, but with a win tomorrow, Joe can tie him.
When Brady is whining, which he does quite often, we're told that it's his competitive nature. It's how bad he wants to win.
Last week, when Flacco was commenting on the lack of respect he felt he and the Ravens offense get, it was perceived as whining. That’s what three Super Bowls will do for you, Joe, but if you ask me, Brady will have a lot more questions to answer if he loses than he thinks.
They already expect Flacco to lose.
Following that 2009 game, Lewis finished up his rant by saying he thought Brady embarrassed himself and the tough QBs that play the game.
“The embarrassing part is when (Brady) understands that and he walks up to one of us and says, ‘Oh, that was a cheap one,’ ” Lewis said. “You do a double take. It’s embarrassing that even (quarterbacks) know it. They know, ‘If you get close to me, guess what? I can look for a penalty.’...We stop them; see a flag for a personal foul and Brady’s laughing. That ain’t no personal foul if you’re still smiling. Bottom line.”
Brady is a great modern-day NFL quarterback. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL since he arrived, he's not the best. Many Pats fans will laugh at this, call me all kinds of names, but don't mistake a shouting match with your offensive coordinator for toughness. That’s just being feisty, not tough. Supermodels are feisty.
If I were Brady, I'd be concerned about the Ravens defense and how quiet they have been this week and the respect they say they have for him. I wouldn't be so sure, and if the Ravens win, you can bet you will find out how they really feel.
A team with five Pro Bowlers on defense and two future Hall of Famers has indeed been disrespected this week.
You can also believe that Lewis remembers that smile from that October game, and so does Suggs.
It's a good bet that every time they see Brady tomorrow, they're going to imagine it and will do their level best to knock it off his face, and knock him out of the game.
Final Score Prediction: Ravens 38, Patriots 24