Shortly after an epic win over the Denver Broncos, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco stepped up to the podium and responded to a question with "we aren't playing the Patriots yet, are we?". It was a playful jab at the media for almost immediately speaking of a Patriots-Ravens rematch in the AFC title game, and totally ignoring the fact that the Pats still had a game to play the next day.
Well the Patriots got the job done and did their business on Sunday. Now it's safe to talk about next weeks' game without fearing a jinx. Although I'm sure most football fans would've loved to see a Brady-Manning battle, a Patriots-Ravens game is the next best thing. This match-up has become a new rivalry over the past few years. Every game between the two teams has been a great one, so don't expect next Sunday to be any different.
The past two games alone have ended in controversy, with both sides winning on one outcome each. It was just under a year ago when we had the Patriots and Ravens fighting in Foxboro for a trip to the Super Bowl. The game came down to the wire, and we saw Lee Evans seemingly catch the game winning touchdown for the Ravens. Split seconds later, the ball hit the ground. Former practice squad DB Sterling Moore batted the ball out of Evans' hands. It was a tricky call but as the saying goes, the ball bounced the Patriots' way. Huge break for the Pats. The Ravens failed to score a TD and decided to settle on a field goal in an (almost guaranteed) attempt to send the game to overtime. The rest is history. It seemed that Robert Kraft's late wife Myra, whom the season was dedicated to, gave the Patriots a helping hand from above when the kick went wide left. The emotional Patriots moved on to the Super Bowl.
The two teams would meet again in Week 3 of the 2012 NFL season. As expected, the game was nothing short of nail-biting. How fitting it was that the game would come down to a field goal again. As fate would have it though, the game ended in controversy. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker (Billy Cundiff's replacement) came in to kick a game-winning 27-yard field goal. To this day I don't believe the kick was good, but the officials ruled that it was. The ball bounced the Ravens' way this time.
As of now, these past two games mean nothing. The Patriots and Ravens are both returning to the AFC Championship because they refuse to dwell on the past, and only look to improve for the future. Both teams will come out firing on Sunday. There's a lot of respect for each other but to be frank, there isn't much love. Terrell Suggs, who was last years Defensive Player of the Year, never has anything nice to say about Brady. TB12 is up-front and not afraid to send it right back.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that the Patriots' three titles were stained because of spygate. Pats fan-favorite Tedy Bruschi immediately defended Belichick and the team on ESPN by thrashing Harbaugh and dishing out one of my favorite quotes ever;
"When I look down at my hand and I see championship rings, I know how much work had to be put in to win those championships. I'm very set and secure with all of the victories that we had, the work we put in."
To sum up, Sunday will be a wild game. Both teams are hungry and eager to add a Super Bowl title to their legacies. Ray Lewis is making his final stand and Tom Brady is out to prove that he really is the greatest of all time. There's mutual respect but in the end these two teams are full of competitors that will sacrifice anything to win. That's why they are the last two standing in the AFC.