Patriots, Ravens set for culture clash for the AFC championship

Patriots, Ravens set for culture clash for the AFC championship

NEW YORK - Reuters
Patriots, Ravens set for culture clash for the AFC championship

Tom Brady (R) and teammate Rob Gronkowski REUTERS photo

Weekend’s American Football Conference (AFC) championship game between the high-powered New England Patriots and ferocious Baltimore Ravens is more than just a clash between two rivals battling for a place in the Super Bowl.

It will be a classic showdown on Jan. 22 between teams with opposing styles of play. A match-up that has been played all over North American fields for generations and has the ingredients for an intriguing battle that will be decided as much by wits as athleticism.

The Patriots, led by their three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady, are all attack, boasting one of the most impressive offenses in the National Football League.

When they get it right, few teams can contain them, and the crowds love it, whooping and hollering as they pile on the touchdowns against overmatched opponents.

Last week, in the divisional playoffs, the Denver Broncos were on the receiving end of a 45-10 thrashing, during which Brady tied a playoff record with six touchdown passes.

By any standard, it was a superb performance and if the Patriots repeat that effort against the Ravens, they should be on their way to a fifth Super Bowl appearance in 11 seasons.

But Baltimore presents New England with a different challenge. The Ravens are all defense. They ended the regular season with the third fewest points and yards conceded per game and led the AFC in sacks, a point not lost on Brady.

Two years ago, the Ravens beat the Patriots 33-14 in the wild-card round, the only time they have met in the playoffs. Then it was a battle between offense and defense with the tough tackling Ravens winning.

“There’s no one that’s going to overlook a team like that,” said Brady, who threw three interceptions and was sacked three times in the 2010 game. “It would be impossible to do. They present a ton of challenges in all three phases of the game ... they’re physical, they’re tough, they can cover.”

For all their success in recent years, the Patriots have also developed an unwelcome habit of stumbling in the playoffs.

“We don’t really care too much about what’s happened in the past. We’ve won some, we’ve lost some, but right now this team is focused with the Ravens, what we have to do this week and how we can best prepare and perform well,” New England coach Bill Belichick said.

The Ravens, ranked second in the AFC this season, go into the game on the back of a hard-fought 20-13 win over the Houston Texans but with some question marks over the effectiveness of their quarterback Joe Flacco.

“It was a little funny to me. I was a little caught off guard. It is what it is. We talked about it. It’s really not that big of a deal,” Flacco said.