BALTIMORE — Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata watched the AFC divisional playoff game between the New England Patriots and Houston Texans closely on Sunday, homing in on what each offense was doing.
He wasn’t openly rooting for either team, but in his mind — and he says in the minds of other Ravens players — there was one scenario that the team preferred: a trip back to Gillette Stadium for an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl.
“I think we, personally, kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,” Ngata said. “If we were to go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough and win there.”
It wasn’t that the Ravens necessarily felt that the Patriots, whom they’ll play in the AFC championship on Sunday, are the better matchup. New England’s pedigree suggests that it is the last team an opponent should want to play at this time of year. The Patriots have gone to the conference title game six previous times under coach Bill Belichick and are 5-1 in those games, including 3-0 at home.
But one of those five Patriots wins had the Ravens itching for another shot at New England. The Patriots beat the Ravens 23-20 in Foxborough last January in one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in franchise history.
“We’re excited about this game,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “It’s been a long road getting back to this point, and the way we left it last year didn’t sit well with us. We’re excited to be in this game and to be able to get a rematch with these guys.”
Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda estimated that it took him about two months to get over the loss to the Patriots last year. Coach John Harbaugh joked that he didn’t put a “red dot” on the calendar to commemorate the date, but the loss clearly lingered with him.
For those Ravens who don’t remember any of the particulars from that day, they will surely get a reminder this week if they are near a television. The images of quarterback Tom Brady plunging in for a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots a fourth-quarter lead, of Lee Evans getting the potential winning touchdown pass slapped out of his hands by Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore, and of Billy Cundiff missing a tying 32-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds, will be fixtures in the lead-up to the game.
“The feeling that we had in that locker room, I think we all wanted to get back to the AFC championship,” Ngata said. “And then to have it be back in Foxborough, it’s a good story.”
The Ravens and Patriots have split two career playoff games, with the Ravens winning 33-14 in a divisional playoff game in 2009.
The Patriots have beaten the Ravens seven times in nine career meetings, but it was Baltimore that broke a six-game regular-season losing streak to its nemesis with a 31-30 victory in Week 3 this season. That marked the fifth time in the past six meetings that the game was decided by six points or less.
“It has definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say. I don’t know how they feel about that,” Harbaugh said. “It’s always a huge challenge for us, but it’s one we look forward to.”& amp; amp; lt; /p>
Receiver Torrey Smith and Yanda downplayed both the earlier meeting between the teams, as well as the result of the playoff game last year. But the comparisons, along with the memories, will be unavoidable this week.
“Last year’s game was last year’s game,” Smith said. “We were a completely different team. It was a bunch of different guys playing a bunch of different roles. Us being there last year, it really doesn’t matter. It is a completely new year.”