The 2011 AFC Championship game is in the past; Sunday's meeting between the Patriots and Ravens is about the present.
The Baltimore Ravens fell to the New England Patriots, 23-20, in last year's AFC Championship game. The Patriots went on to lose the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, while the Ravens had to sit back, get ready for the upcoming season and hope for a better outcome in 2012.
Now that the Ravens are set to host the Patriots this Sunday night, the talk is all about redemption, about revenge, about the Ravens finally proving to the Patriots that they've been dethroned as the AFC's top team.
But redemption isn't what the Ravens are after in this game; a win won't turn back time and put them in last season's Super Bowl. What they're after is a win, one that's about this team, this season, and not at all about the past.
There's only one way that redemption is a proper storyline for this meeting between the Ravens and Patriots, and would be if wide receiver Lee Evans and kicker Billy Cundiff were still with the team. It was Evans' dropped (or batted-away) end-zone pass that kept the Ravens from winning in regulation and it was Cundiff's missed field goal that kept the Ravens from having another chance at victory in overtime.
But the Ravens are a different team now. Evans and Cundiff are gone, and now the focus has to be on what it will take for Baltimore to reach the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. The Patriots are but one obstacle on that road—the 2012 Patriots, that is, and not the memory of what the Patriots were last season.
Last year, New England was a 13-3 powerhouse, with the team yet again relying on quarterback Tom Brady to lead them to victory. Their defense was suspect, especially against the pass, which nearly did them in against the Ravens in their Championship meeting.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 306 yards and had two touchdowns and an interception; Brady had 239 yards, two interceptions and a rushing touchdown. It was one of just a handful of 300-plus yard performances for Flacco last season, as a perfect storm of a weak Patriots secondary and a firing-on-all-cylinders Flacco combined to nearly lead Baltimore to the Super Bowl.
This year, Flacco has already displayed the inconsistency that marked his 2011 season, with 299 passing yards and a completion percentage of 72.4 against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 followed up by 232 yards and a 52.4 completion percentage last week when taking on the Philadelphia Eagles.
However, the Patriots have more questions swirling both sides of the ball than they did last year. And it's the Ravens defense—not the consistently inconsistent offense—that could mean the difference between victory or defeat on Sunday.
Both the Patriots and Ravens are coming off of losses—the Ravens by one point to the aforementioned Eagles and the Patriots a 20-18 embarrassment at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. If we want to talk about redemption, for either team, it's for last week's disappointments and not for what could have been last season.
No team moves forward in the NFL by dwelling too heavily on what happened in the past. Both the Patriots and Ravens have undergone so many changes since January's meeting that there's little chance this game will—or can—be the same as it was last year.
The Ravens aren't trying to beat the 2011 Patriots on Sunday, they're trying to beat the 2012 Patriots. This seems like a pretty basic revelation, but for those who are stuck on this "redemption" narrative, it's been lost in the shuffle.