If the Ravens are truly on a magical ride to the Super Bowl, the road to New Orleans was always going to go through Gillette Stadium.
Even Haloti Ngata admitted Monday that he was hoping that the Ravens would get another shot at Tom Brady after last year’s heart-breaking loss up there. The Ravens had to carry that game around with them until training camp opened, and the tight early-season victory over the Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium this year was not enough to remove the sting of that missed opportunity to play for all the marbles.
That’s not the only reason that the Patriots should have been the preferred option for the Ravens and their fans, though the Texans obviously looked more beatable in Sunday’s game at Foxboro. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and the Ravens offense have looked pretty comfortable there in their past couple of postseason visits, blowing the Patriots out with a 33-point performance in a 2010 wild-card matchup and coming within a dropped pass of winning last year’s AFC title game.
Of course, every Ravens player who took to the podium Monday afternoon said that last year was last year and that both teams are in very different places than they were at this time in 2012. For that matter, they are much different teams than the ones who met in that one-point game in Baltimore last September.
Just like last week, the Ravens open their preparations as a 9 ½-point underdog, but we all saw what that meant last week against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, who boasted a far more pronounced home-field advantage. The Ravens will be playing on an extra day of rest and prep this week as opposed to going two-thirds of the way across the country to play on a short week against the Broncos.
Then they overcame two special teams touchdowns to win a game they really had no business winning.
Maybe that was the high-water mark for their season, but they head to New England as healthy as they’ve been all year and they’ve already proven – with their 7-4 playoff record in the Harbaugh/Flacco era – they can compete with anyone either home or away.
Who knows how it all plays out, but you’ve got to go with the magic until it runs out.