Ravens vs Patriots: AFC Championship Will Be Ray Lewis' Final Stand

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IIJanuary 16, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws the ball as Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens charges him during their AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens have defied the odds, winning two playoff games amidst the impending retirement of its franchise cornerstone. Ray Lewis has been there from beginning, leading the Ravens defense to unparalleled success for the better part of the last two decades.

Even if the Ravens somehow pull out their second upset in a row, which they won’t, Lewis’ days are numbered.

That has them riding an emotional roller coaster, especially after their double-overtime win over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos last week.

Beating Manning, in stunning come-from-behind fashion, has likely done a lot to help their spirits after losing four of their last five regular-season games.

But the beast they face this week is not like the Broncos. It’s also not like the team they beat in the waning moments of their Week 3 matchup in Baltimore.

The New England Patriots started off slow due to some injuries and some adjusting to their new no-huddle offense.

But once things got clicking, boy, did they get moving offensively.

Brady led the team to the league’s fourth-best passing yards per game (291.4) during the regular season. He did it despite being without tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez for much of the season.

Part of the Pats success has been their ability to keep defenses who like to switch personnel frequently, like the Ravens, from subbing in and out. Their no-huddle offense adds a faster pace to the game and prevents substitutions at times.

Brady will have a clear advantage with the Ravens’ veterans stuck on the field in passing and rushing downs, while his personnel are adept to execute in both circumstances.

No-huddle isn’t the only dilemma facing the Ravens, though.

New England’s defense has limited teams to right around 100 yards per game rushing. Although teams have been able to pass against the Patriots, they are excellent at creating turnovers and creating points from them.

That’s what Lewis and the Ravens are up against in what will be his last stand.

The Pats are a team led by one of the best quarterbacks of our era, who runs a no-huddle offense that scores almost at will.

Their defense battles at the line of scrimmage and keeps opposing running backs relatively in check, forcing teams to beat them with the deep ball. As a result, they forced the fifth-most interceptions (21) in the league and caused the second-most turnovers overall with 41 during the regular season.

Baltimore has been prone to making mistakes, especially on the road. It has, for the second year in a row, met its match when it travels to Gillette Stadium.

Lewis and the Ravens shocked a lot of people, but they have come to the last stop on the line.

It’s been a heck of a ride, too, and Lewis will be remembered and celebrated in Canton for his intensity, passion and success.

The Patriots will move on to compete in their sixth Super Bowl since 2001. Whether or not they win, they will also go down and be remembered for being one of the most dominant teams of their time.