Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said he tried to be a dispassionate observer of the divisional playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said he tried to be a dispassionate observer of the divisional playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans. As he watched the game on television, Ngata studied both offenses, at least until the third quarter, when it became clear that the Patriots were well on their way to securing a rematch with the Ravens in Sunday’s A.F.C. Championship game.
At that point, Ngata allowed himself to feel some emotion.
“I think we personally wanted to play the Patriots again,” he said Monday at the Ravens’ training site. “If we were to go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough and win there.”
The two teams are familiar dance partners in the N.F.L. playoffs, and their postseason tangle last January — a 23-20 Patriots victory at Gillette Stadium — has served as fuel for the Ravens ever since. Baltimore had its opportunities in that game, so many opportunities. There was wide receiver Lee Evans, his go-ahead touchdown reception stripped by a Patriots defender with 23 seconds remaining. And there was kicker Billy Cundiff, his chance to send the game to overtime evaporating when his 32-yard field-goal attempt veered wide left.
Neither player stuck with the team over the off-season, though the bad feelings — all the would-haves, could-haves, should-haves — have lingered. Offensive lineman Marshal Yanda said it took him two months to get over the loss. Ngata said he could still remember what it felt like in the locker room, the quiet despair.
“It’s been a long road getting back to this point,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “The way we left it last year didn’t sit well with us.”
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo added some heat to the inevitable pregame buildup when he shared a few observations on Twitter late Sunday. “New England does some suspect stuff on offense,” Ayanbadejo wrote. “Can’t really respect it.” He also called the Patriots’ hurry-up offense a “gimmick.” On Monday, Ayanbadejo apologized for his comments, also via Twitter. He was not made available to the news media.
The Ravens immediately sought to distance themselves from Ayanbadejo’s comments, treating the issue like a hazmat disaster. Coach John Harbaugh dismissed it as “not relevant” and “not worthy of a conversation.” Ngata also declined to weigh in. “That’s all about him and his deal,” he said of Ayanbadejo.
If nothing else, the Ravens have shown an uncanny ability to overcome challenges. The word “resilience” has become an unofficial slogan. In reaching the rarefied air of the conference championship round, the Ravens did not always play the most aesthetically pleasing brand of football — or even win all that consistently. Pitta referred to the team’s late-season, three-game losing streak, “when nobody thought we would win another game.” It was a stretch of futility that cost the offensive coordinator Cam Cameron his job, so unsettled was the Ravens’ state of affairs.
Yet the team somehow managed to reassemble enough confidence when it mattered most. After defeating the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round, the Ravens went to Denver for Saturday’s divisional playoff round and proceeded to stage one of the most dramatic upsets in franchise history. Their 38-35 double-overtime victory over the Broncos assured Harbaugh of his third trip to the A.F.C. Championship game in five seasons as the team’s coach.
It took some magic. Joe Flacco threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds remaining to force overtime, and the rookie kicker Justin Tucker — Cundiff’s replacement — made a game-winning 47-yard field goal to cap the fourth-longest game in N.F.L. history. “I’ve never been nervous about Justin Tucker kicking a field goal,” Ngata said.
The game was a test of endurance amplified by the fact that it was played at altitude, in the thin air of Denver and in bone-numbing cold. Ngata said he expected the Ravens to benefit from an extra day of rest before facing the Patriots.
Still, the Ravens are not traveling the most forgiving route to a potential Super Bowl berth. One week after dismissing the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, Baltimore will be forced to deal with Tom Brady — two generation-defining quarterbacks, back to back. So Ngata could be forgiven for misspeaking Monday when he said the Ravens must “put some pressure on Peyton — uh, Brady.”
In Week 3, the Patriots traveled to Baltimore, blew a 9-point fourth-quarter lead and lost, 31-30, as Flacco threw for 382 yards. Harbaugh said he was not putting a lot of stock in that result. Too much has happened in the interim.
“Heck of a challenge,” Harbaugh said, adding: “This is a team that changes a lot. They’re kind of like a chameleon.”
Given all that has happened in recent weeks, Harbaugh was asked if he thought the Ravens were a team of destiny. Did he believe in such talk?
“Our destiny right now is to go to Foxborough,” he said. “That’s the destiny that we’ve earned.”