Patriots Look to Keep Home Streak Alive in Playoff Opener

Patriots Look to Keep Home Streak Alive in Playoff Opener FOXBOROUGH — The third-seeded New England Patriots are set to host the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round Sunday. If the Patriots win, they'll head to San Diego next week, while the Ravens are hoping to earn a trip to Indianapolis in the next round.

The Patriots are 5-0 all-time against the Ravens, including a 3-0 mark in Foxborough, but this is their first meeting in the postseason. The teams met at Gillette in Week 4, when the Patriots won a tense 27-21 battle.

This is New England's first trip to the postseason in two years, while Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship last year.

WHEN AND WHERE

Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010, 1 p.m.
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

RECORDS

Patriots 10-6 (4-2 AFC East)
Ravens 9-7 (3-3 AFC North)

SKINNY

The Patriots are again hosting a playoff game, which has been a familiar position for them in the last decade. They're 8-0 at home in the postseason with head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady at the front of the operation, and the Patriots are hoping Gillette Stadium provides the edge they'll need in this even matchup.

"We've played really well over the years here," Brady said. "I mean, we've played pretty well over the years in the playoffs, period — home and away. And I think we've always played well in the cold weather, too, just because we're out there practicing in it every day and we're used to the conditions. And the crowd gives us a big boost, there's no doubt."

New England is 54-9 at home since 2003, and the Pats are coming off of an undefeated record in regular-season home games for the fourth time. History indicates that's a pretty good sign for the Patriots, who advanced to the Super Bowl in the previous three occasions (2003, 2004 and 2007).

"Anytime you play at home, I think that gives you a little boost, playing in front of your crowd," said Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "You know it's your field. It's something personal. You don't want to let your crowd down."

Like the Patriots, the Ravens have had a tough time picking up road victories, and they've suffered from a number of mistakes in their five road defeats in 2009. That was no different in Week 4, when wide receiver Mark Clayton dropped a fourth-down pass that sealed the Patriots' victory at Gillette Stadium.

"Hopefully, we'll keep that undefeated streak alive. [Baltimore] challenges us to do that, and we played them last time at home, and it went right down to the wire," Brady said. "We've got to play a great game, and I'm glad we're playing at home."

PROJECTED STARTERS

Patriots
Offense
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Wide receiver: Randy Moss
Wide receiver: Julian Edelman
Running back: Laurence Maroney
Running back: Kevin Faulk
Tight end: Ben Watson
Left tackle: Matt Light
Left guard: Logan Mankins
Center: Dan Koppen
Right guard: Stephen Neal
Right tackle: Nick Kaczur

Defense
Left defensive end: Ty Warren
Defensive tackle: Vince Wilfork
Right defensive end: Jarvis Green
Outside linebacker: Tully Banta-Cain
Middle linebacker: Jerod Mayo
Middle linebacker: Gary Guyton
Outside linebacker: Adalius Thomas
Left cornerback: Shawn Springs
Right cornerback: Leigh Bodden
Strong safety: Brandon Meriweather
Free safety: James Sanders

Specialists
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Punter: Chris Hanson
Long snapper: Jake Ingram
Holder: Chris Hanson
Kick returner: Julian Edelman
Punt returner: Julian Edelman

Ravens
Offense
Quarterback: Joe Flacco
Wide receiver: Mark Clayton
Wide receiver: Derrick Mason
Tight end: Todd Heap
Running back: Ray Rice
Fullback: Le'Ron McClain
Left tackle: Jared Gaither
Left guard: Ben Grubbs
Center: Matt Birk
Right guard: Marshal Yanda
Right tackle: Michael Oher

Defense
Defensive end: Dwan Edwards
Nose tackle: Kelly Gregg
Defensive tackle: Haloti Ngata
Right linebacker: Terrell Suggs
Jack: Tavares Gooden
Mike: Ray Lewis
Strongside linebacker: Jarret Johnson
Cornerback: Chris Carr
Cornerback: Domonique Foxworth
Strong safety: Dawan Landry
Free safety: Ed Reed

Specialists
Kicker: Billy Cundiff
Punter: Sam Koch
Long snapper: Matt Katula
Holder: Sam Koch
Kick returner: Jalen Parmele
Punt returner: Chris Carr

STAT SHEET

Patriots
The Patriots have 14 playoff victories this decade, which is tied with the 1970s Cowboys and Steelers for the most ever in a decade. A Patriots victory against the Ravens would give them the record, since this is still the 2009 season.

Since 2001, the Patriots are 7-3 in the playoffs when they're playing against a team they already played in the regular season.

The Patriots have converted just seven of their 31 third-down attempts (22.6 percent) in the second half of their six losses this season. They have converted 22-of-45 third downs (48.9 percent) in the first half of those games.

The Patriots are 21-13 all-time in the playoffs, and their .618 winning percentage is the third highest in the NFL among teams that have played at least 10 postseason games.

Head coach Bill Belichick has 15 career playoff victories, including 14 with the Patriots, which ranks fifth all-time. Tom Landry (20 playoff victories), Don Shula (19), Joe Gibbs (17) and Chuck Noll (16) are the only coaches with more postseason wins.

Belichick's .789 playoff winning percentage trails only Vince Lombardi, who was 9-1 in the postseason (.900).

Quarterback Tom Brady has won 23 consecutive home starts.

Brady has completed 54-of-100 passes for 687 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in three career games against the Ravens.

With wide receiver Wes Welker healthy this season — which includes the first four offensive snaps Sunday against the Texans — Brady has completed 68.4 percent of his passes. During the two-plus games Welker has been injured, Brady has completed 56.3 percent of his passes (63 of 112). Thirty-four of those completions (54.0 percent) have gone to wide receivers Randy Moss and Julian Edelman (17 each).

Moss has caught 15 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns in four career games against the Ravens. He has seven receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns in two games as a Patriot against Baltimore.

Despite missing three games with a knee injury, including Week 4 against Baltimore, linebacker Jerod Mayo led the Patriots with 113 total tackles (20 more than linebacker Gary Guyton) and 73 solo tackles (24 more than Guyton and safety Brandon Meriweather). It was the second consecutive year Mayo has led the Patriots in tackles.

Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain had a season-high 9.5 sacks this season and tied a career best with 59 tackles.

Ravens
The Ravens have held opposing quarterbacks to a 71.9 passer rating this season.

Running back Ray Rice had 1,339 rushing yards and 2,041 yards from scrimmage this season. He also scored eight touchdowns and led the team with 78 receptions.

Rice had 11 rushes for 103 yards (9.4 per carry) and five receptions for 49 yards (9.8 per catch) in Week 4 against the Patriots.

The Ravens had a 3,000-yard passer (Joe Flacco), 1,000-yard rusher (Rice) and 1,000-yard receiver (Derrick Mason) for the first time in team history.

Flacco's 88.9 passer rating and 63.1 completion percentage set Ravens records.

Flacco is the fourth starting quarterback since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs in each of his first two seasons.

Flacco completed 315-of-499 passes (63.1 percent) for 3,613 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.

In three career playoff games, Flacco has completed 33-of-75 passes (44.0 percent) for 437 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He also has one rushing touchdown.

Baltimore's defense didn't allow a touchdown four times this season and only allowed one touchdown two other times.

The Ravens' defense was fourth in the NFL by allowing touchdowns in 41.9 percent of red-zone possessions.

Baltimore's defense was first in the league by allowing 3.4 yards per rush.

The Ravens were ranked third in yards allowed (300.5 per game) and points per game (16.3).

The Ravens outscored teams 233-109 in the second half this season. They only surrendered six points in the second half in the last four games.

BLACK AND BLUE

From Thursday's participation report

Patriots
Offensive lineman Dan Connolly (ankle) did not participate.
Quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder, right finger, rib) fully participated.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman (forearm) fully participated.
Defensive end Jarvis Green (knee) fully participated.
Right tackle Nick Kaczur (shoulder) fully participated.
Cornerback Shawn Springs (knee) fully participated.
Defensive end Ty Warren (ankle) fully participated.
Tight end Ben Watson (knee) fully participated.
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (foot) fully participated.

Ravens
Cornerback Marcus Paschal (back) did not participate.
Quarterback Joe Flacco (hip) fully participated.
Linebacker Tavares Gooden (groin) fully participated.
Tight end Todd Heap (neck) fully participated.
Linebacker Jarret Johnson (back) fully participated.
Long snapper Matt Katula (elbow) fully participated.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason (knee) fully participated.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (ankle) fully participated.
Defensive end Trevor Pryce (head) fully participated.
Safety Ed Reed (groin) fully participated.
Guard Marshal Yanda (knee) fully participated.
Safety Tom Zibikowski (neck) fully participated.

THIS DATE IN PATRIOTS HISTORY

In 2004, the Patriots defeated the Tennessee Titans 17-14 in the divisional playoffs at Gillette Stadium, where the temperature was 2 degrees and 11-below with the wind chill. Tom Brady completed 21-of-41 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown, and Adam Vinatieri kicked a game-winning, 46-yard field goal with 4:06 remaining in the fourth quarter.

It's the only game the Patriots have ever played on this date.

OVERHEARD

"I don't really know what to expect. I just know how to play football, and that's what I'm going to do."
–Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo on playing his first career playoff game.

PRESS BOX

Patriots
This is Brady's time.

"He's not Wes Welker. He's Julian Edelman, and he'll be just fine."

Shawn Springs has shown both resiliency and personality.

Ravens
The Patriots have to keep Ray Rice in check.

Mark Clayton doesn't want to drop the ball this weekend.

No Welker, but Baltimore's corners haven't forgotten about Moss.

NFL
Ranking the 10 best Super Bowl matchups.

What has happened to Carson Palmer?

A Cowboys one-and-done could change the coaching landscape.

OUTLOOK

The Patriots need a big effort from a lot of players to overcome the loss of Wes Welker, and it's got to start with Tom Brady and the offensive line picking up the pass rush. They didn't do a very good job at that task when Welker was out of the lineup in Week 2 against the New York Jets, and Brady didn't have ample time to find his receivers.

Baltimore's front seven does an excellent job of creating pressure in the backfield, and Brady will need to be on the same page with his check-down receivers in those emergency situations. Because of that, he'll have to be on point with his pre-snap reads and calls to the offensive line, who must be accountable for each pass rusher. If Brady gets the time he needs, he should be able to expose the Ravens' depleted secondary.

Obviously, the Patriots have experienced increasing success with their rushing attack this season, but they might be beating their heads against the wall against the stout Ravens. The Patriots have to slow down defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, whom Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis called "the key to [Baltimore's] defense." Ngata, the Ravens' version of Vince Wilfork, can almost single-handedly stop a team's running game.

Even if the Patriots can't run with a desired level of success, they've got to at least give the impression that they're willing to stick with it. If their offense becomes one-dimensional, the Ravens will have a field day on Brady.

Baltimore's offense heavily relies on the success of running back Ray Rice, who is as valuable — if not more so — in the passing game as the running game. Rice is almost a replica of Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, a short, speedy, powerful back who is tough to tackle and has great pass-catching ability.

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron employs a downfield passing game with extended routes that take time to develop, and if second-year quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't see an open receiver, he'll quickly throw in Rice's direction. Because Flacco is so comfortable with Rice, it'll be highly important for the Patriots to take him out of their passing game. If that happens, Flacco will be forced to target his receivers more than he'd probably like, and that could lead to some mistakes.

Flacco has one of the strongest arms in the NFL, but Cameron might still be asking too much out of him in the downfield game. Flacco is accurate, but he's not on the level of guys like Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. If the Patriots can continue doing a better job of getting pass rushers in Flacco's face, New England might be able to benefit from poor throws that lead to turnovers.

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