Sunday’s AFC Championship Game may be Ray Lewis’ last legitimate shot at a Super Bowl in Baltimore, but it will also be the biggest game of Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs’ careers. However, the Ravens Pro-Bowl defenders have their legacies cemented in history. A victory would be the mot redeeming for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Despite Flacco’s 6-3 career record, Sunday’s game will be a defining game for his career and millions of eyes will be glued to his passes with judgmental eyes. For more than a decade, the Ravens locker room has been locked in an internal clash with its elite defense. More specifically, quarterbacks have received a brunt of the criticism. Until this week, however, public criticism was limited to voices emanating outside the locker room.
Ed Reed isn’t known for his big hits but on Wednesday he may have dealt a crushing blow to his own quarterback’s confidence when he said in radio interview that he believed the Texans defense rattled Flacco.
Reed’s comments couldn’t have come at a worse time for Flacco, who has already vented against the widespread disrespect he’s observed in the media towards his play. To make matters worse, he’s spent the entire week listening to comparisons between himself and his AFC Championship counterpart, Tom Brady. Despite Brady’s 4-1 record against the Ravens, Baltimore’s defense has seemingly found the ingredients to make Brady seem mortal in previous meetings. In five starts against Baltimore, Brady has posted a Tebow-like 71.9 quarterback rating and completed just 55.9 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and six interceptions.
Offensively, the Patriots will no-huddle in an attempt to keep the Ravens defensive attack off balance but the Ravens have the personnel to matchup with New England’s armory of tight ends and receivers. If Brady can strike iron in the vertical passing game, it could be a long day for the Ravens, who simply can’t afford for the AFC Championship Game to turn into a shooting contest and risk taking the game out of Rice’s grip and into Flacco’s inconsistent arm.
If the Giants win on Sunday, their Super Bowl XLVI opponent will feature a rematch of one of their two Super Bowl appearances in the 2000s. Although, the cast of names and faces surrounding Ray Lewis has changed, Baltimore remains a defensive juggernaut and Tom Brady continues to lead New England’s explosive passing scheme.
So which opponent would be a better matchup for the Giants? The Giants would likely never admit this but the Patriots are the team they want to line up across from on Super Bowl Sunday. Not only did they thwart Brady’s undefeated season in Super Bowl XLII but the Giants also beat the Pats in Week Nine this season and the Giants vaunted pass rush bothered Brady.
The Ravens, on the other hand, don’t rely on Flacco to move their offense. They’ll grind it out with Ray Rice and Flacco will dissect the defense with the occasional big play. They’re also the only team with a swagger and braggadocio to match the Giants.
Arian Foster’s 132-yard performance against the Ravens defense was the first time a running back had gained 100 plus yards against Baltimore’s run defense in Texans history. The Giants 32nd rushing offense doesn’t have the personnel to duplicate those numbers. In a potential matchup with the Ravens, Eli Manning will have to throw vertically.
Unfortunately for Manning the Ravens are at the top of the class at ball hawking and Reed is the league’s valedictorian. In the fourth quarter of last weeks Texans game, Reed stamped the Ravens ticket to Sunday’s AFC Championship courtesy of the eighth interception of his postseason career. One more would be an NFL record. Eli would have a better shot at shredding the Patriots pass defense than he would at avoiding Terrell Suggs vicious pass rush and squeezing the ball past Reed in the secondary.
Lewis would be responsible for putting the clamps on Jacobs and Bradshaw. The Pats don’t have a defensive frontline that can contain Rice out of the backfield or as a receiver. The Pats got so desperate that in the off-season, they traded for the troubled Albert Haynesworth in an attempt to remedy their porous passing front line. Haynesworth was cut after a failed stint eight-game stint. Ironically, Haynesworth was cut after getting into a sideline argument with defensive line coach Pepper Johnson and reportedly throwing in the towel during the Pats Nov. 6 loss to the Giants.
The Giants don’t have control over whom they’ll face in a potential Super Bowl tango but if they are honest with themselves, Brady and the New England Patriots are the tango partner they want to meet on Super Bowl Sunday.