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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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Stanley: Meaningful December games part of Ravens culture

Stanley: Meaningful December games part of Ravens culture

As the Ravens make their final month-long drive for the playoffs, they are right where they want to be: playing meaningful games in December.

Granted, they'd probably prefer a two-game lead in the AFC North, but they are once again right in the thick of the playoff chase, which is the way it has almost always been for the Ravens under John Harbaugh.

In fact, until last season, the Ravens had never played a game under Harbaugh in which they were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

Still, the team missed the playoffs in 2013 and then again last season. Many younger players have little to no playoff experience.

"The biggest thing is just trying to somehow get it through to the young guys how unique of an opportunity we have," quarterback Joe Flacco said after Sunday's 38-6 win over the Dolphins. "Getting to the playoffs is a big-time accomplishment, and to position yourself in December to play these meaningful games is also a big-time accomplishment, and you can’t take it for granted."

Rookie first-round draft pick Ronnie Stanley is one of those younger players, and he said from the minute the Ravens called his name with the No. 6 overall pick in April, he fully expected to be in this position.

"When I got drafted, I knew I got lucky in the sense that usually teams like the Ravens aren't picking this early," Stanley said after Sunday's game. "And when I say teams like the Ravens I mean teams that are usually in the playoffs every year."

"I definitely knew I was coming to a team that was used to being in the playoffs and didn't accept anything less, so I was very excited about that."

Stanley missed four games with a foot injury, and his return -- and a solidified, adjusted offensive line that features All-Pro Marshal Yanda shifting over to play left guard -- is a major reason the Ravens have reeled off four wins in five games after an earlier four-game losing streak.

Now they head to New England on Monday atop the AFC North, and win or lose in New England, they will head to Pittsburgh on Christmas Day with a division title still in reach.

That's exactly how Harbaugh, Flacco and the veteran Ravens are used to having it. Now the onus is on Stanley and other young players to keep it that way.

"Our goal is always to be relevant in December," Harbaugh said last week. "We like to be in the lead in December. We want to have the lead in December, if we can. We’re in that position right now. That’s as much as we’ll talk about. It’s a one-week season for us."

RELATED: Ravens run defense will have its hands full with LeGarrette Blount

 

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Ravens' No. 1 run defense will have its hands full with LeGarrette Blount

Ravens' No. 1 run defense will have its hands full with LeGarrette Blount

One of the Ravens’ toughest challenges Monday night will be trying to contain Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount. The Ravens have the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, yielding just 73.8 yards per game. Blount is fifth in the league in rushing (957 yards) and is one of the NFL’s most physical backs.

Jay Ajayi of the Dolphins had 61 yards on 12 carries against the Ravens on Sunday, and his run style is similar to Blount’s. Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams talked about the pride the Ravens take in stopping the run after Sunday’s game.

“We’re the No. 1 run defense in the league right now,” Williams said. “That’s what we do. When running backs come against us, we just do our jobs.”

It will be interesting to see how the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady attack the Ravens. With tight end Rob Gronkowski done for the year with a back injury, Blount figures to be a major part of the Patriots’ game plan.

Blount already has four 100-yard games and is about to top 1,000 yards for only the second time in his career. Will Blount have his way against the Ravens’ No. 1-ranked defense? The answer to that question will play a key role in determining which team wins.

MORE: Joe Flacco can taste the playoffs