On Sunday, the two best teams in the AFC will go head-to-head in Foxborough with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on the line … and that’s the way it should be.
“It’s a game day battle out there,” New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens. “They’ve got a good team, we’ve got a good team, and those games have come down to the wire.”
For the second straight season, the AFC title game will feature the Patriots and Ravens at Gillette Stadium. Like many of the meetings between these two teams over the past decade, last January’s conference championship game came down to just a few plays in a 23-20 Patriots victory.
“We know it will be a big challenge for us this week to compete against that organization,” Belichick said. “We’ve had some great games with them recently. Four of the last five games have either come down to literally the final play or in one case, overtime. They’re very good at really everything they do.”
Patriots defensive captain Vince Wilfork said the team will have to be all hands on deck if New England wants a shot at another Super Bowl appearance.
“You have to put everything you have into this game,” Wilfork said. “If you lose you go home, plain and simple. This is the AFC Championship and everyone has to understand that. I think we will.”
Wilfork echoed his head coach’s thoughts on the Ravens.
“This is going to be a battle,” Wilfork said. “Both teams deserve to be at this level. You have the two best teams in the AFC playing. It just goes to show you the consistency of these teams. Every year it always seems like we are in it and they are in it and it just comes down to a couple of plays during the season or a couple of games in the season for these two ball clubs.”
At this stage in the season both teams understand whoever executes better on Sunday will be representing the AFC in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.
“We have to be able to prepare well and execute very well at a high level,” Wilfork said. “I don’t think we can [leave] no stone unturned in this game because if we do it could cost us. So we have to understand that.”
That execution begins in the meeting rooms and practice fields.
“It starts with a good week of practice,” Wilfork said. “That is what it always starts with. This week we definitely need it, every meeting, every walk through, every minute we put into this game we have to make sure we try and cover everything that we can.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who became the all-time NFL leader in postseason wins last week called Sunday’s game against the Ravens “the most important game” of the Patriots season.
“There are really no excuses at this point and there’s nothing beyond this week that’s guaranteed so we have to go out there and earn it,” Brady said. “It’s going to take 60 minutes. In Baltimore’s case last weekend, it took 77 minutes so as long as it takes to get the win, that’s what we’re going to need to try to figure out how to do.”
Belichick knows it will take the Pats best effort Sunday to knock off a red-hot Ravens team and advance to the team’s eighth Super Bowl in franchise history.
“They’re tough, they’re well coached, they’re sound, they’re explosive, they make a lot of big plays and they’ve shown that they can handle difficult situations, whether it’s playing on the road or the double overtime last week against Denver or what the challenges are, they stand up to them,” Belichick said. “Hopefully we can have a good week here of preparation, practice and be ready to play our best on Sunday. I think that’s what it’s going to take. They’re as good as any team we played this year, better than most. I think that’s the way it should be.”
Kick-off Sunday at Gillette Stadium is 6:30 p.m.