Ravens' AFC championship showdown with Patriots is full of storylines

January 19, 2013|Kevin Cowherd

You want story lines for Sunday's AFC championship game? Oh, do we have storylines.

Here are just a few: Are the Ravens really this team of destiny we keep hearing about?

Can they avenge last year's 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in this same game? Can they exorcise once and for all that horror-show ending that deatured Lee Evans' dropped/stripped pass Billy Cundiff's shanked field goal?

Is this Ray Lewis' last game? Will Ed Reed and his sore neck, which now has all the consistency of Rice Krispies, follow Ray-Ray into retirement if the Ravens lose?

Can Joe Flacco have yet another big game in January and finally get some respect from the national media?

(Speaking of which, how about this week's Sports Illustrated? They put Flacco on the cover with this ridiculous headline: "Last Weekend You Took Down Peyton. On Sunday You Get Brady — And the Chance Once and for All, to Rewrite Your Legacy." Rewrite Your Legacy? As if the guy's been a bust from the beginning? As if he's done nothing more to get the Ravens in the playoffs five straight years than make a few handoffs and slap a few butts?)

Also lurking in the background is the Big Kahuna of story lines: If the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers advance, we'll have the first pair of brothers coaching against each other in a Super Bowl.

Oh, yeah, if you think you've seen media overkill before, wait till you see what happens if it's John Harbaugh squinting across the field at Jim Harbaugh in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

You'll be so sick of Harbaugh stories you'll want to scream. By the end of two weeks, we'll be writing about what kinds of pets they had as kids and which one ate more peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

Their parents should probably leave the country right now. Because if it's Ravens-49ers and Jack and Jackie Harbaugh open their blinds Monday morning in Wisconsin, every reporter in the world will be camped on their front lawn begging for an interview.

But lost in all the story lines is that this could be a terrific football game up in Foxborough, Mass., where it'll be — here's a shocker for a January night game — cold and windy.

OK, there's no way this game lives up to that thriller in Denver last week, the Ravens' 38-35 win over the Broncos in double-overtime that was a game for the ages.

But Ravens-Patriots II for the AFC title is not exactly a dog matchup, either.

You have two proud franchises going at it, two excellent quarterbacks at the top of their games, two teams with sound running games featuring versatile backs.

I keep hearing how hot the Patriots' tandem of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen is now. But Ray Rice has quietly had himself another big season, and he loves playing at Gillette Stadium, where his famous 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage was the dagger in the Ravens' 33-14 wild-card win over the Patriots in January of 2010.

Neither defense is terrifying, but that could make it a fun game to watch, too, if the wind swirling around doesn't get crazy and keep the score down.

By the way, let's hope New England coach Bill Belichick dresses up for this game better than he did for the Patriots' win over the Houston Texans last week.

His get-up of choice that day was a drab, gray cut-off hoodie, giving him the look of a man about to wrestle an old washing machine into a pickup for a trip to the dump. I know he's made the hoodie a sideline fashion statement, but would it kill him to work in a nice sweater-vest every once in a while?

Still, no matter what he wears, the Patriots' rumpled Yoda tends to come up big in these games. The man has three Super Bowl rings as a head coach, after all. And what the Patriots do to help Tom Brady get rid of the ball quickly and find different receivers no matter the coverage is nothing short of brilliant.

But the Ravens hardly seem intimidated by the scowling Hoodie Man's genius or anything else.

In fact, when Bernard Pollard strolled into the locker room before practice the other day, he sounded as if he were getting up for an MMA fight.

"There's no intimidation," the Ravens' fearsome safety said about facing the Patriots. "You have two good teams going against each other. One thing I say to any football player who's intimidated: you're a coward and a punk.

"This is a man's game. This is what it is. I'm going to call it how I see it. You don't fear no man or no team. ... We're going to go out, and we want to out-hit you and out-play you and we want to go to the Super Bowl."

There's another story line: The Ravens plan to play smash-mouth football today.

But that's not exactly a new one.



Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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