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Stopping the Patriots

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens were one of the few teams that were competitive with the New England Patriots this season. The Patriots needed a last-minute touchdown to pull out a 27-24 victory, but at least the Ravens came close.

There are few in the NFL who give the New York Giants a chance to win the Super Bowl tonight, but the Ravens have some recommendations.

Football is a physical game, but it all starts with mental preparation.

"You can't go in thinking I'm here and I just don't want to get embarrassed," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "You just can't lay back and say 'We want to keep it close.' You have to attack them."

Ravens starting left guard Jason Brown said: "You have to be physical. You have to challenge them because they're not used to it. They are a disciplined bunch, but if you attack their strengths and keep after it, they'll give up some plays."

Despite a 5-11 record, the Ravens turned in their best game of the season against the Patriots. The Ravens rushed for 166 yards, and halfback Willis McGahee had 138 yards on 30 carries and one touchdown.

But even more impressive was the way the Ravens slowed New England's passing game that features quarterback Tom Brady and wide receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth.

The Ravens were helped by strong winds that blew in and out of M&T; Bank Stadium that night, but they also put a lot of pressure on Brady.

Brady completed only 18 of 38 passes for 257 yards. He threw two touchdowns but also had one interception, was sacked three times, was hurried nine others and had nine passes knocked down.

Brady never found a rhythm against the Ravens.

"We mixed in three-man, four-man, five-man and six-man fronts," Ryan said. "Sometimes, we blitzed everybody. Sometimes, we put the safety in the middle of the field to let him think he could go outside, yet that's where we set our traps.

"Other times, we left the middle of the field open, but we set the traps underneath to see if we could get him. You have to make Brady uncomfortable because once he gets a read on you, he'll kill you. He struggled with us."

The Jacksonville Jaguars didn't blitz Brady much in their divisional playoff game, and the Patriots won, 31-20. The San Diego Chargers played in a similar fashion against New England during the regular season and lost, 38-14.

When the Chargers played New England in the AFC championship game two weeks ago, San Diego copied the Ravens by playing more out of the 3-4 instead of a 4-3 and brought more pressure. New England won, 21-12, but at least the Chargers were in the game.

"You have to be physical with their receivers, and we got after them early. You also have to know where Moss is at all times, and we had Chris [McAlister] on him," Ryan said.

"If we came into that game healthy with our cornerbacks, we would have won," Ryan said. "We had the penalty, and the timeout I called late in the game that cost us, but we were so banged up at the end with our corners that I couldn't bring the pressure anymore. Chris couldn't run, and we ended up putting Samari Rolle on Moss. Those weren't our normal coverages."

The Ravens exposed New England's run defense, and they ran right at Patriots linebackers Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi, Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel.

This wasn't cute stuff, either. It was off-tackle, up-the-gut, in-your-face football.

"You have to have confidence in your running game because those linebackers will miss tackles and blow coverages," Brown said. "We did not let up on them. You've got to run inside and outside, and once you establish the running game, you have to mix up your play-calling.

"The Patriots make great halftime adjustments. They are extremely well coached. So you have to stay ahead of them. You got to have a deep bag of tricks."

Brown and Ryan expect the Patriots to win, but they also believe the Giants have a realistic shot of pulling the upset. Ryan said the Giants have two good pass-rushing ends in Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, and the Giants, like the Ravens, might want to use their nickel defense as their base.

Brown likes New York's physical running game, especially with big back Brandon Jacobs.

"It will come down to Eli Manning," Brown said. "He can't act like a baby when he makes a mistake; you know, where he drops his head, stomps the ground or pouts. He has to have a stellar game. The Patriots are beatable. We've already proved that."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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