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QB Brady braces for team that often has his number

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QB Brady braces for team that often has his number

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) There's something about the Baltimore Ravens that brings out the worst in Tom Brady.

Against most teams, he plays like one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Against the Ravens, he gets outplayed by Joe Flacco.

So what's the problem?

Start with the Ravens' inspirational, hard-hitting leader, Ray Lewis. Add a talented secondary led by Ed Reed. And throw in a strong defensive line with Haloti Ngata leading the charge.

``They have a lot of playmakers at each level of the defense,'' Brady said Wednesday before the New England Patriots practiced. ``It's not like you beat this team, 50-0. It's always a tight game. There's tight coverage. There's tight throws, tough reads because schematically they do quite a few things. So it's never easy.''

He doesn't expect it to be in Sunday night's AFC championship game.

``You play against a team like this, that's able to adjust because of their personnel and because they do a lot of things schematically, there are a lot of `what ifs' in preparation throughout the course of the week,'' he said. ``That's really what we're trying to hone in on this week.''

Brady is 5-2 in his seven games against the Ravens, not a bad record. But his personal statistics are among the poorest against any of the 31 teams he's faced in his 13-year career.

His 58.6 completion percentage and 74.1 passer rating are the lowest against any opponent. The Ravens are the only team he's thrown more interceptions against (eight) than touchdowns (seven). They've sacked him 16 times, one of five teams averaging more than two a game against Brady.

In five games against the Patriots, Flacco is 2-3 but has completed 64.7 percent of his passes with a 95.7 passer rating. He's thrown for nine touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Brady's 49.1 rating in a 33-14 playoff loss to Baltimore on Jan. 10, 2010 is his lowest in his last 101 games and sixth lowest in his 198 career starts, including the postseason.

Why?

``For one, you've got a guy (Lewis) that's been playing ball for 17 years sitting in the middle, so that tells you right there that their leadership is one of the best things that they have,'' Patriots running back Stevan Ridley said. ``They're known for defense. They're known for Ray Lewis. They're known for Ed Reed.

``You're going to see some of the greats going at it (Sunday night). What else could you ask for. This is what you live for. This is playoff football.''

Some quarterbacks say they establish their legacy with their postseason play.

Brady, winner of two regular-season MVP awards and two more in Super Bowls, has no time to dwell on that now.

``I don't really think about any of that,'' he said. ``I'm just trying to win a football game this week. I think we're very short-term focused and playing against a great football team that obviously deserves the right to be here. We know how challenging of a team they are.''

The Ravens know how good Brady can be even though he's struggled at times against them.

``We've got to play smart. We're dealing with a brilliant quarterback,'' safety Bernard Pollard said. ``We have to understand ... the pieces he has around him. He can fire that ball to anybody, and they're going to play their tails off for him.''

The Patriots got off to a horrible start against the Ravens in their wild-card matchup three years ago and Brady was a major factor.

Ray Rice scored on an 83-yard run on the game's first offensive play. Then Brady turned the ball over on three of his first four possessions, leading to 17 points and a 24-0 Ravens lead after one quarter.

They started at the Patriots 17-yard line after Terrell Suggs recovered Brady's fumble, the 25 after Chris Carr intercepted a pass and the 9 after Reed picked off another one.

Six minutes into the game with the Patriots trailing 14-0, the fans booed their hometown team.

``I'd have been booing us, too, the way we played,'' Brady said after the game. ``Playing the way we played today, we weren't going to beat anybody.''

He next played against Baltimore in last year's AFC championship game. The Patriots won that 23-20, but Brady threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, had a 57.5 passer rating and helped keep the Ravens in the game.

The Patriots took that three-point lead when Brady capped a 63-yard drive with a 1-yard run on the first series of the fourth quarter. But their next two drives ended when he threw an interception then couldn't get a first down when the Patriots got the ball with 2:46 remaining.

They punted and Flacco led the Ravens from their 21 to a second-and-1 at the Patriots 14. But then he threw two incompletions, the first when Lee Evans was stripped of the ball in the end zone, and Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt on the next to last play.

In their most recent meeting, the Patriots led 30-21 on Sept. 23 in the fourth quarter but punted on their last two possessions. The Ravens then scored 10 points in the last 4:01 and won 31-30 on Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal on the final play.

That was typical of Ravens-Patriots matchups - close with the outcome determined late in the game.

Five of Brady's seven games against them were won by six points or less. Two of the last three were won on last-play field goals. The third was decided when Cundiff missed his field goal attempt with 11 seconds remaining in last year's AFC title game.

``They're as good as any team we played this year, better than most,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ``We're playing a team that we had a great, great game with earlier in the season. It came down to the last play. We don't really expect much less than that this time around.''

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AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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LB Za'Darius Smith among those not playing Saturday

LB Za'Darius Smith among those not playing Saturday

OWINGS MILLS – Add outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith to the list of Ravens not expected to play Saturday night. Head coach John Harbaugh said Smith had an ankle issue that would keep him out against the Lions. Smith was not at practice Thursday.

Others not expected to play against the Lions include outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, left guard John Urschel, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams, safety Kendrick Lewis, cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Jerraud Powers, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams. All of them are at various stages of dealing with injuries.

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Perriman returned to practice this week, but head coach John Harbaugh did not commit to playing Perriman after Thursday’s walkthrough practice.

“We’ll see, it’s up to the doctors,” Harbaugh said of Perriman. “He hasn’t gone full speed in practice yet. Today was not a full speed practice for anybody.”

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is not expected to play either, because he just returned to practice this week after offseason foot surgery. With Suggs, Dumervil, and Smith out of the lineup, Saturday should present an opportunity for pass rushers like Matt Judon, Chris Carter, and Victor Ochi to get extra reps.

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Flacco looks forward to playing. Getting hit? Not so much

Flacco looks forward to playing. Getting hit? Not so much

OWINGS MILLS – Joe Flacco is looking forward to playing Saturday night, but not looking forward to getting hit.

That’s always the case, but Flacco will be watched closely than usual when he plays for the first time since his knee injury last November. Will he stand calmly in the pocket against the Lions’ pass rush? Will he step into his throws with confidence? Will he look rusty, or in sync? If Flacco’s left knee is hit, how will it react?

Flacco has felt good about the answers to all of those questions for months, and he has looked terrific in practice. But returning to game action was the last hurdle Flacco wanted to clear before the regular-season opener Sept. 11 against the Bills.

“I really don’t feel like I need to play in games to be ready to play Game 1, but I want to put myself through that whole process,” Flacco said following Thursday’s practice. “I don’t need to, but I want to. I think I’ll be better for it.”

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Flacco said it was hard for him to sit out the first two preseason games, but he understood the logic.

“I could’ve played the first two games,” Flacco said. “Was it really worth it? Probably not. You’re (only) going to get a couple of series anyway.”

Flacco said he expected to play about a half Saturday night, which might give him a chance to build chemistry with new targets like tight end Ben Watson, and wide receivers Mike Wallace and Chris Moore, who are all expected to play.

Asked if he wanted to get hit, Flacco smiled and said, “It’d be great not to get hit. I don’t need to get hit, no.”

But at some point, Flacco wanted to test his knee in live action before the regular season began. Flacco is not expected to play the preseason finale, Sept. 1 against the Saints.

MORE RAVENS: WHO WILL GRAB HOLD OF RAVENS KICK RETURN JOB

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WR Perriman hopes to impress not only with speed, but with hands

WR Perriman hopes to impress not only with speed, but with hands

OWINGS MILLS - People often call Breshad Perriman fast. They don’t always call Perriman sure-handed.

However, criticism of Perriman’s hands may be a thing of the past, according to Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. One of the few knocks on Perriman entering the 2015 draft was that he sometimes dropped catchable balls due to a lack of concentration. However, the Ravens’ second-year wide receiver has worked hard on catching the ball consistently, even when he wasn’t able to run during his recovery from two knee injuries.

Now Perriman finally seems close to making his Ravens debut. When that happens, Trestman said he expected to see a receiver not only with impressive speed, but reliable hands.

“I think his hands and concentration have even got better since he first got here,” Trestman said. “He is much more sure-handed – not that he wasn’t – but he has become even more sure-handed. I think that goes with confidence. He just needs to get out and play and run routes and do it consistently and get some reps. He just needs reps. He has go-to speed, and he has size to go with it. It is a unique package.”

A package the Ravens are eager to unwrap.

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