Following a thrilling divisional round victory over the Denver Broncos last week, the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis have again found themselves in the AFC Championship game. And just like last year, they find themselves going up against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. While Brady and Lewis are known throughout the NFL as being some of the league’s most driven players, both players have a little extra incentive for a victory this Sunday.
The extra motivation for Lewis comes from the fact that he has announced that this will be his final season as a pro, though it’s hard to imagine the Ravens without number 52 in the middle of their defense. Considering this may be Lewis’s final season, his drive to reach the Super Bowl may be higher than ever, and this was evident in the Ravens 38-35 overtime victory against the Broncos, in which Lewis posted a team leading 17 tackles. This performance followed a 13 tackle showing the previous week against the Indianapolis Colts.
A victory Sunday would also make Lewis the only Raven in the team’s short history to have two Super Bowl appearances, the last being in 2000 where Lewis was named Super Bowl MVP. I’m sure Ray would love to repeat that performance.
Going into the AFC Championship, the Ravens and Lewis find themselves 9.5 point underdogs for the second straight playoff match-up, something you rarely see in the NFL. Lewis says this is only extra motivation for his team, and in the divisional round post game interview he said, “If I’ll probably miss anything, it will be listening to what people say you can’t do and then you go do it.” While Lewis would obviously like to go out on top, he reminds us win or lose, he is looking forward to retirement and spending time with his daughters.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also has some extra motivation heading into conference championship week. For one, the Patriots are attempting to make their 8th Super Bowl appearance, which would put them tied for first with the Steelers and Cowboys. If they can win Sunday, Brady will also have been the quarterback for 6 of those appearances, putting him ahead of Elway for most all time among NFL quarterbacks. Brady already achieved one record this post season, with his NFL record 17th playoff victory (passing Joe Montana who had 16) with the Patriots win over the Texans last week.
Further motivation for Brady beyond team and personal records is coming from the Ravens themselves, after Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo went on a Twitter rampage Sunday during the Pats matchup with the Houston Texans. In several separate tweets, Ayanbadejo did some smack talking about the Patriots, including saying that their quick snap offense was a ‘gimmick’ and also gave reference to the Spy-gate scandal. In an interview Monday on the Patriots flagship station, WEEI, Brady said he did hear what Ayanbadejo had to say, but that he and the team were ignoring the noise and focus on their game plan for the Ravens. If the Patriots can win Sunday and go on to win the Super Bowl, in will give Brady four Super Bowl victories, tying him with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for most all time.
Beyond Lewis and Brady, this rematch has some other notable headlines as well. Ravens Quarterback Joe Flacco is still searching for his first Super Bowl appearance, despite reaching the playoffs in all five of his NFL seasons. On the Patriots side, Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski will miss the game, and the rest of the season, with a broken forearm. The Patriots will may be missing Danny Woodhead Sunday, as he works to come back from a thumb injury, but back up Shane Vereen proved last week he can fill that void with an impressive performance that included 124 yards from scrimmage.
This rematch between these two great teams and led by two future Hall of Fame players, could prove to be one for the ages. It is likely to also be the last time we watch Ray Lewis (arguably the greatest middle linebacker of all time) and Tom Brady (arguably the greatest quarterback of all time) go head to head in a NFL football game.