BALTIMORE RAVENS (13-4) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-3) (Sunday, CBS, 3:00 PM ET)
Baltimore and New England will meet for the eighth time. The Patriots have won all six regular-season contests yet the Ravens won the only playoff meeting, winning 33-14 at New England in a 2009 Wild Card game. In that game, Baltimore running back RAY RICE rushed for a franchise playoff record 159 yards, including two touchdowns. Rice had an 83-yard TD run in that contest, the second-longest rushing touchdown in NFL postseason history.
Last week, Baltimore defeated Houston 20-13 as JOHN HARBAUGH became the first head coach in NFL history to win a postseason game in each of his first four seasons. Ravens quarterback JOE FLACCO threw two touchdown passes and has won five playoff games in his first four NFL seasons, tied with BEN ROETHLISBERGER and KURT WARNER for the second most postseason wins by a QB in his first four years. New England’s TOM BRADY won six playoff games in his first four NFL seasons.
“Joe has come in and led us to the playoffs in each of the last four years,” says linebacker RAY LEWIS, the last remaining member of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV championship team in the 2000 season. “What matters is what we think inside of this building and what we feel about him and the confidence we have in him. Joe Flacco has done a heck of a job getting us into the position to win."
Defensively, the Ravens had three interceptions against the Texans, including two by cornerback LARDARIUS WEBB, tying the club’s single-game playoff record (ED REED, twice and DUANE STARKS). Reed recorded his eighth career postseason interception, tied for the fourth-most in NFL history.
The Patriots advanced to their ninth AFC Championship with a 45-10 win over Denver in the Divisional round. New England is 6-2 in AFC Championship Games, including 3-0 at home. With the victory, head coach BILL BELICHICK and quarterback Brady recorded their 15th postseason win together, the most by a head coach and starting quarterback tandem in NFL history, passing Pro Football Hall of Famers CHUCK NOLL and TERRY BRADSHAW (14).
“It’s all about winning,” says Brady, who passed for 363 yards and tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes. “From this point on, everyone will be focused on what we need to do to be better next week and hopefully come out and play for another championship.”
In the Divisional round victory, New England scored 45 points, gained 509 yards and did not allow a sack. It marked the first time a team has had at least 40 points and 500 yards without allowing a sack in a postseason game since the 1990 Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game.
Brady became the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 350 yards and six touchdowns in a postseason game. He also is the first player in league annals to pass for at least six touchdowns in a game twice during the regular season and once in the postseason. His 15 career playoff wins as a starting quarterback rank second all-time behind Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA (16).
“Tom was on fire,” says Patriots tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI, who had three touchdown receptions, tied for the most in a postseason game in NFL history. “That’s just how he is, throwing the ball in the playoffs just like any other game.”