late missed field goal sunk the Baltimore
Ravens in last season's AFC
championship game, sending the New
England Patriots to their fifth
Super Bowl since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady arrived
similar ending has the Patriots feeling a bit of early season angst
heading into Sunday's rematch with Baltimore, which is trying to shake
off another heartbreaking defeat in time for a prime-time showdown that
will drop one of these AFC heavyweights to 1-2.
32-yard chip shot likely would have sent last year's conference title
game to overtime if it had gone through, but Cundiff missed the kick -
giving New England a 23-20 win - and eventually lost his job.
Ravens have been thrilled with rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who
for 6 this year - including three from long distance this past Sunday -
but Stephen Gostkowski
was the goat for the Patriots last weekend after
badly yanking a 42-yard attempt in the closing seconds of a shocking
20-18 home loss to Arizona.
"You get opportunities like that not
very often and I have to do a lot better job of coming through for the
team," Gostkowski said.
miss wasn't the only bad news for the Patriots, who settled for four
field goals and only had a chance at the end because they recovered a
New England lost versatile tight end Aaron Hernandez to
an ankle injury, although the severity and timetable both remain
unclear. The team signed former Cleveland and Tampa Bay tight end
on Wednesday, which may indicate that Hernandez could
miss significant time.
"I just met Kellen (Tuesday) for the
first time, so I'm excited to get out there and practice with him,"
Brady said. "Aaron has been a huge contributor for us and every time
he's in there, he seems to be making plays. We'll see how it goes
without him or with him, I don't know."
The Patriots also
brought back wide receiver Deion
Branch this week to an offense that
looked awfully ordinary against the Cardinals. The Patriots went 5 for
15 on third down and didn't find the end zone until Rob Gronkowski
scored with 2:06 remaining.
started over Wes Welker,
who ended up catching five passes for 95 yards but has been
playing fewer snaps than he's accustomed to after leading the NFL in
receptions by a wide margin last year.
"It's a long season and
you do things in a certain way preparing for the weeks to come," Ravens
safety Ed Reed
said. "I wouldn't read too much into it. Wes Welker's
still a great receiver and I'm sure New England, Brady and everybody
knows that. It's just that people probably want to make news of
something that's probably not something big in the organization."
New England's normally prolific offense sorts through some problems,
Baltimore's typically dominant defense is doing the same. The unit
allowed 486 yards in last Sunday's 24-23 loss at Philadelphia, its most
in a defeat since 1998.
Michael Vick's touchdown run to cap an
80-yard drive put the Eagles ahead with 1:55 left, and Joe Flacco's
offense couldn't respond. Flacco was 22 of 42 for 232 yards, an average
of just 5.5 yards per attempt that contributed to a dismal 66.8 passer
"Anytime you lose it creates an opportunity," coach John
Harbaugh said. "... When you lose, man, that sting really forces you to
dig deep. All of us. It's human nature.
"If we can take this
week and make the most of the fact that we didn't win the game and find
ways to do a lot of things better and grow as a football team, in the
long run that's how you get to where you're going. We're going to try
to make it into a positive and come back swinging."
of Hernandez's status, Baltimore likely needs to do a better job of
covering tight ends after Philadelphia's Brent Celek caught
passes for 157 yards. Gronkowski had a team-high 87 receiving yards
against the Ravens last postseason.
Baltimore's defense, run by
former Patriots coordinator Dean
Pees, is trying to adjust without
reigning NFL defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs, who
out with an Achilles injury, and fellow linebacker Jarret Johnson,
moved on to San Diego in the offseason.
"We have a lot of new
faces in our front seven and we're still trying to get used to each
other," defensive lineman Haloti
Ngata said. "It definitely is a work
If Ravens safety Bernard Pollard can play through
a bruised rib cage, this will be his third game against New England
since his hit injured Brady's knee and knocked him out for nearly the
entire 2008 season.
Pollard picked off Brady in Houston's win
over the Patriots during the 2009 season and had 12 tackles in last
season's AFC title game, with one of those leading to an ankle injury
Brady has a 69.1 passer rating in six career
games against Baltimore including postseason - his worst against any
opponent - but the Patriots have still won five of those games.
Ravens haven't dropped back-to-back games since a three-game skid in
2009, winning 13 straight following a loss. New England hasn't been 1-2
since 2001 - the year Brady eventually became the starter - while
Baltimore has won at least two of its first three each year since 2005.