Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was surprised that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady called him "phenomenal" during his news conference. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
There are just three more trash-talking days until the Ravens face the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, and we're still waiting for somebody — anybody — to deliver the first verbal volley in what used to be a pretty chippy rivalry.
Everyone on both sides has been so irritatingly polite and proper through the first couple rounds of media interviews, you've got to wonder if both teams spent Sunday night watching the season premiere of Downton Abbey instead of the Dallas Cowboys game.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who isn't exactly known for his ebullience, described the Ravens in such glowing terms on his Tuesday conference call with the Baltimore media that you'd think he had already packed all his extra hoodies for the offseason.
"I think the Ravens are one of the most complete, well-rounded teams in the league,'' he said, before endorsing every aspect of the Ravens offense, defense and special teams. "John (Harbaugh) has done a great job with that team, as he always does."
Harbaugh seemed to be reading from the same talking points when he described the Patriots during his Monday news conference.
"They are tremendously well-coached, very well-balanced,'' he said. "I think they play complementary football as well or better than anybody in football year-in and year-out, and especially this year. All three phases are top 10, top 5 units. They're good up front on both sides. They have playmakers, skill guys everywhere and a great quarterback … You never know what you're going to get from coach Belichick scheme-wise, so it's just a huge challenge for anybody going in there in the playoffs."
Okay, so who really expected a couple of old-school coaches like Belichick and Harbaugh to get involved in the game week sniping that often takes place between two storied teams with a history of playing each other very tough? The guy who has driven this bus in the past is Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who used to relish the opportunity to portray Pats quarterback Tom Brady as a whiny pretty boy.
But Suggs, whose "Tell them to enjoy the Pro Bowl" rant after the 2013 AFC title game pretty much crystalized his poor opinion of the Patriots, apparently has decided that good sportsmanship isn't overrated after all. He wouldn't bite when his past history with Brady was dangled in front of him during his Tuesday podium session at the Ravens training complex.
"He's a quarterback … I'm a defender, so naturally there's going to be some disagreements there," he said. "Nobody's really worried about what's happened in the past. The only thing we're worried about is this game. You really can't care about what's going on. You just gotta play football."
For his part, Brady has been quoted twice this week saying that Suggs is a terrific player and a great leader who has earned his respect.
"He's phenomenal,'' Brady said. "He's [in his] 12th year; it looks like his third year out there. He's the leader of that defense. He makes great plays … He's just a smart player. We've played against him a bunch of times. He takes away a lot of stuff. I have a lot of respect for his ability to play the game at a high level."
Meanwhile, Harbaugh has been extolling the "unique" skills of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and the rest of the Patriots coaching staff has taken a cue from Belichick and is flinging bouquets at anyone in a Ravens uniform.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was so complimentary in his assessment of Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore that you would never know that the rookie tight end caught just 10 passes during the regular season.
Not very exciting stuff, to be sure. It was a lot more fun when Suggs was publicly chiding the Patriots about the Spygate scandal and Brady was answering in kind, but maybe everybody has just grown up a little since the last time these teams were spoiling for a fight.
"Our focus is on the game,'' Harbaugh said. "We have enough to worry about with the opponent we're going to play — how well-coached they are, how good their players are. It's a big challenge going there to play. We've been there before, so there's some familiarity. That part of it is a good thing … But all those things lend really toward us focusing on the task at hand and trying to do the job we have to do Saturday."
Harbaugh has created that no-nonsense environment at The Castle, but he said no one is under direct orders to stay off the Patriots bulletin board this week.
"We've never had that rule,'' he said. "We've always told our guys to speak their minds and be themselves, be their best self. We've tried to do it that way. So, that's kind of how it has been around here."