It's easy for Ravens fans to take comfort in their team's last playoff showdown against the Patriots. Back in 2009, the Ravens traveled into New England during the AFC wild card round and proceeded to dismantle the home team, 33-14.
That game provided the script for how to dominate the Patriots. While the defense allowed 33 points - 24 in the first quarter alone - Tom Brady and the offense managed less than 200 total yards. Brady, meanwhile, threw for a mere 132 in the loss.
A lot has changed since that rendezvous two seasons ago, particularly Brady's supporting cast. In 2009, Brady's targets consisted of Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Chris Baker, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris.
Not exactly your Pro Bowl roster.
Sunday, however, presents a much more daunting task for the Ravens secondary. Only Edelman remains from the last matchup, but on the field will be reception-hungry Wes Welker, veteran Deion Branch and New England's two-headed tight end monster in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Let's start with Welker, who missed the Patriots' wild card contest with the Ravens two years ago due to a season-ending knee injury. Prior to being lost for the year, Welker was putting together one of the most prolific seasons in history. Through 13 games, Welker had hauled in 123 passes, tied for second-most in NFL history. Even more impressive, those 123 passes came on just 162 targets, meaning that 76 percent of the time you threw the ball to Welker, he was going to catch it. This year Welker hasn't shown signs of slowing down. He led the Patriots with 122 receptions and 1,569 receiving yards.
Then there's the tag team of Gronkowski and Hernandez. We touched on these guys yesterday, but it's worth repeating. Hernandez compiled a season any coach would be proud of, especially for a guy in his second season as a pro. The former University of Florida standout caught 79 balls for 910 yards and seven touchdowns. On any other team he'd be considered the top tight end, if only his teammate hadn't had the greatest single season for a tight end in league history.
Like his teammate, Gronkowski recently finished his second regular season campaign. In 2010, he showed flashes of production, hauling in 10 touchdowns on only 42 receptions. Seeking to improve upon his rookie season, Gronkowski certainly proved his worth. The second-year tight end caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and a record 17 touchdowns. He's 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, hardly an easy target to bring down in the open field. Add to that the fact that the league is still getting used to seeing receiving tight ends on the field at the same time and it's an advantage in the passing game Brady certainly didn't have two years ago.
Will it make a difference? We'll see on Sunday.