FOXBORO, Mass. — As the Ravens poured off the Gillette Stadium field and into their locker room after last January's playoff drubbing of the Patriots, they whooped, hollered, cursed and eulogized.
The echoes bounced off the tunnel walls in the bowels of Gillette, as the Ravens pronounced that the Patriots' era was dead. Surely, the Ravens earned that right to celebrate, but those victory cries blurred their foresight.
After all, the Ravens knew at the time they'd meet the Patriots again in 2010, and that week has finally arrived.
The Patriots have heard a little bit about the Ravens' postgame antics, and the team that plays us-against-the-world better than anyone might have more bulletin-board material heading into Sunday's rematch in New England.
"Every week, we're motivated," Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "There are always certain things said about our team in general. I think every week we kind of have a chip on our shoulder because we still have to prove to people that we can still play.
"It's obviously a huge game for us because, obviously, the last game we played against them wasn't the best. I'm going to do extra studying on them [with the bye week] and make sure that, with them coming in here, it's not going to be easy for them. That's guaranteed."
Prior to the Patriots' trip to Miami on Monday Night Football, the coaching staff posted a list of media predictions that forecast a Dolphins victory, and the Pats used it as motivation to come out strong. This week, that focus might be shifted a little more toward the Baltimore locker room.
"If something is big enough in the headlines, and it's getting enough buzz, [head coach] Bill [Belichick] sometimes makes us aware of what other people are saying out there," Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "But in general, we try not to pay too much attention to it because we know the main thing is to go out there and focus on what we have to do."
Even with Baltimore's postgame chatter, the Patriots are much more motivated by the 33-14 score and the giant pile of fly food they left on the turf that Sunday in January. It was uncharacteristic and embarrassing — the two words that were most commonly used afterward in the locker room — and the Patriots are itching to put on a better performance.
"We got manhandled by a team that is a damn good team, and I think everything we said we wanted to do going into the game, we didn?t do," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "There's a lot of reasons for motivation, and certainly when a team gives it to you like they did, I think you're always anxious to get out there and play them again."
Sunday's game could also have bigger implications in a few months. The Patriots are neck and neck with the Jets in the AFC East, and the Ravens are going toe to toe with the Steelers in the AFC North, both of which are excruciatingly tough divisions. Therefore, a game like this could be key for tiebreaking purposes in the playoffs.
It promises to be a tough, physical contest between two teams with a lot of pride, and while the Patriots can never erase what happened in the playoffs, they can at least prove they're a better team this time around.
"It still weighs on us," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "It was a very disappointing loss, ended our season, and they're coming back to New England. Hopefully, it's not the same outcome."