It was Ray Lewis who pointed out after Sunday's defensive stand against the Houston Texans that there's no reason to draw any conclusions about next week's AFC Championship Game based on the performance of the Ravens and New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.
That's probably a good thing.
The Patriots looked unbeatable on the way to a lopsided victory over the Denver Broncos on Saturday night and the Ravens looked like they were one big play from elimination for much of the second half of Sunday's 20-13 victory over the Texans at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I think Bill (Belichick) and (Tom) Brady and them know,'' Lewis said. "They know they are going definitely see a totally different team, just like we know we're going to see a totally different team. We're not the Denver Broncos. We're the Baltimore Ravens, so I think we're both up to the task."
Lewis was responding to a question that could reverberate throughout the week of preparation for next Sunday's showdown at Gillette Stadium: Will the Ravens have to be a much better team than they were against the Texans to step over the Patriots and into their second Super Bowl?
The answer would seem to be self-evident. The Patriots manhandled Tim Tebow and the Broncos and never left room for a moment of suspense. Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes to tie a postseason record and sent a message to Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense that they had better be ready to score some points if they want to stay on the road to Indianapolis.
The Ravens attack sputtered against the Texans' No. 2-ranked defense and might not have anything important to do this week if the defense and special teams had not registered four important takeaways. Still, Lewis said that what happened this past weekend will have little bearing on what is going to happen next weekend.
"I think all we have to do is be the team that we are,'' Lewis said. "We don't take the game from this week into next week. There's a 24-hour rule -- win, lose or draw. You're going to see a totally different Ravens team next week because we're going to be playing a totally different team in the Patriots. That's just the way the playoffs are."
There's a lot of history up there. The Patriots play very well at home, but no one in a purple sweatshirt will ever forget the way the Ravens dominated them in Foxborough two years ago. This Patriots team is another scoring machine, but the Pats ranked 31st in the NFL in total defense and were particularly vulnerable to the pass, so it's very possible they will see a different Ravens team than the one that tilted more toward the run against the Texans.
It's likely to come down to whether the Patriots can run up the score against a much better defense than they faced on Saturday night or the Ravens can exploit a much less-heralded defense than the one that sacked Flacco five times on Sunday and held the Ravens to 227 net yards.
"We've played the Patriots numbers of times and the games always come down to being classics,'' Lewis said. "They've got probably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all times in Tom Brady and one of the greatest minds in football in Bill Belichick. With that being said, we welcome the opportunity."
The postgame locker roomwas awash with praise for Brady, who passed for 363 yards against the Broncos and seemed to take pleasure in pulling the wings off of Tebow. He's got a drawer-full of rings and also a lot of respect for the Ravens defense, which has bounced him around as much as any opponent.
"He's a great quarterback,'' said Terrell Suggs. "When it's all said and done, it's going to be Johnny (Unitas), him and Peyton (Manning) – end of discussion. We've got a full week to prepare for them. I guess we just get to wait and see."
Coach John Harbaugh also shied away from trying to make any direct comparisons between the two teams after their first playoff round, but he had to concede that the Ravens must do some things better offensively to get out of Gillette Stadium with their title hopes intact.
"I think you have to do whatever you have to do to win a football game,'' he said. "I would anticipate, against the team we're about to play, you have to do a better job offensively, in terms of numbers and stats and points, of course, than we did today."
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at 10 on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.
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