Over the last four seasons, the Ravens have played the Patriots nearly as many times as some division opponents.
This Sunday’s AFC championship rematch will mark the sixth meeting between Baltimore and New England since 2009, the third time in the playoffs.
Of the Ravens’ last nine playoff contests, three have been against the Patriots.
“We’ve been there a number of times. It’s definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “I don’t know how they feel about that part, but we have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots, their coaches, starting with their head coach, Coach Belichick, their quarterback Tom Brady, their special teams (coach) Scott O’Brien.
“They just have a tremendous staff, tremendous players, tremendous tradition. And it’s always a huge challenge for us, but it’s one that we are excited about and look forward to.”
And the games have been as close as can be. All but a 33-14 Ravens win in the 2009 wild card playoffs have been decided by six points or less and three of the five contests have been settled by three or fewer, including last year’s 23-20 Pats win in the AFC championship.
During that stretch, the Ravens are 2-3 against the Pats overall and 1-1 in the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of familiarity there,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll go back. We’ve got a lot of tape against them, us playing each other. I’m sure those will be integral study games for both teams. But teams evolve, teams change and you have to take that into account as well.”
The Ravens have already gone up against the 2012 edition of the Patriots, and won 31-30 on Sept. 23 in Baltimore.
But Harbaugh might have the benefit of another set of eyes, as his brother, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh, went up to Gillette Stadium on Dec. 16 and led the 49ers to a 41-34 victory.
John Harbaugh admitted to discussing the Patriots with his brother in recent days.
“We have a little bit, and we probably will some more,” the Ravens coach said. “He has so much respect for them, in all honesty. What is there to say? There’s nothing really that they have that we don’t have.
“We’ve been talking and we say the same things to each other, so there’s no revelations there. But it’s a tough place to play, great team. You get a lead, it’s going to be tough to hold onto it. I think we might’ve mentioned that once or twice. We hope we can get a lead.”
This marks the second straight season that both Harbaugh brothers have led their teams into the divisional championship round of the playoffs.
Is there something special in the gene pool?
“We haven’t taken a DNA sample lately,” John Harbaugh said, “but it’s a pretty cool thing. I’m very proud of Jim. We’ve had a couple conversations since, probably been more football than that. But it’s a pretty cool thing.”
And have the brothers discussed the possibility of meeting in the Super Bowl?
“Not that we’d ever admit to,” Harbaugh quipped.
Harbaugh also went into greater depth about a locker-room moment caught on CBS’ cameras after Saturday’s victory over the Broncos.
Harbaugh was shown reading a text from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to the entire team. At the time, Harbaugh said Bisciotti had never texted him during a game until that day.
“First of all, Steve was - I’m not going to say on his death bed, but he was sick, man. He was really sick and couldn’t get up and move around at all,” Harbaugh said. “So whatever it is that’s going around, he had it, because he wanted to be in Denver desperately. And they just couldn’t get him there, but he was watching obviously throughout the game. And I get back into the locker room, and Darren Sanders, our director of security, hands me the phone. It’s Steve and he says, ‘You’ve got to go to your phone because I want you to read this text.’
“And the message was, basically, when we were down by seven how proud he was of this football team - the guys heard what was said in the text - and that he was proud of the players and was proud of us as coaches. So that was something that I just thought the team needed to hear coming from him. He’s a great leader, our players love him. They love when he’s around. He’s an inspiration to all of our guys and to me and this organization, he sets the tone here. It’s a great organization because of his vision. So the guys needed to hear that in that moment and I think they appreciated hearing it.”