Baltimore Ravens' head coach John Harbaugh talks about Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick as well as he would rank this Ravens' defense against past defenses. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)
There was no mention of Spygate, Deflategate or any other "gate." Nobody challenged the other side's formations or advised them to "study the rule book and figure it out." There was no disdain expressed for another player's hair or attitude.
The closest thing to trash talk ahead of Monday's renewal of the Ravens-New England Patriots' rivalry was probably what Ravens' linebacker Terrell Suggs didn't say. Continuing a long-standing tradition, Suggs avoided referring to his nemesis, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, by name. Suggs, however, did applaud the accomplishments of Brady, who broke an NFL record by winning his 201st game Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
"That's pretty good," Suggs said Wednesday as the Ravens (7-5) returned to work and began preparations for Monday's prime-time game against the Patriots (10-2) at Gillette Stadium. "Wins are wins. Numbers are numbers, and numbers don't lie."
It's been 23 months since the Ravens and Patriots last met and added another chapter to one of the NFL's most-competitive rivalries. Playing in the 2014 divisional round, the host Patriots erased two 14-point deficits in beating the Ravens, 35-31, on their way to their fourth Super Bowl title.
The game featured wide receiver Julian Edelman's game-tying touchdown pass and the Ravens griping about the formations the Patriots were using with Brady later advising them to learn the rules, which were ultimately changed. Depending on whom you ask, it also might have given birth to the Deflategate football-tampering scandal that carried on for months and threatened to mar the legacy of Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
The Ravens acknowledged only that kicking consultant Randy Brown contacted Chuck Pagano, the head coach of Indianapolis Colts — the Patriots' opponent the following week in the AFC championship game, and warned him about the condition of the kicking balls. But there have been plenty of reports and speculation that the Ravens had a more significant role in Deflategate, which ultimately resulted in Brady serving a controversial four-game suspension this season.
"I don't even really remember," Edelman said in a conference call Wednesday when he was asked about the circumstances following the last Ravens-Patriots matchup. "If there' something that went down, that's just football. It's a competitive environment and they're a competitive team; we're a competitive team. There's no afterthought of anything that has happened, that will happen. I don't know. That's two years ago."
As is typically the case when the two teams play, there will be much on the line when they meet on Monday Night Football. The Patriots can secure yet another AFC East crown with a victory and a loss by the Miami Dolphins, who play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. New England is also looking to keep pace with the Oakland Raiders for the top seed in the conference.
The Ravens are in a first-place tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. The two teams will play each other on Christmas afternoon at Heinz Field, but the Ravens need to keep winning to make sure that game has significant playoff implications. Harbaugh has acknowledged several times already this week that there's no bigger challenge than going to Foxborough, Mass., to play the Patriots.
"We're glad to be in this game," Harbaugh said. "We're glad that we earned the right to play a meaningful game in December, most especially against the team we're about to play, because they're always in that position."
Harbaugh is 3-5 all-time against Belichick and the Patriots and 2-2 in playoff matchups at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens beat the Patriots, 33-14, in a wild-card game in the 2010 postseason, and 28-13 in the AFC championship game in 2013. New England prevailed, 23-20, in the AFC championship in 2012, and 35-31, in the divisional round in 2015. Five of the last eight meetings have been decided by six points or less.
Almost all of them have come with some form of drama.
"We play in a lot of tough games every year and we've had to go up there a good amount late in the season, in the playoffs. I think that gives you a sense of confidence to go up there and to get the job done," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "When you haven't experienced it much, I think they're a team that can intimidate some people, but I don't think that's us. We've done it enough where we feel good about doing it, and we've had good teams."
Flacco, though, dismissed talk of any lingering bitterness between the two organizations, answering a question about it with a commentary on the Ravens' rivalry with the Steelers.
Belichick has a friendship with both Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome — the two used to work together in Cleveland — and it was Belichick's recommendation that helped Harbaugh land the Ravens' head-coaching job in 2008.
If his relationship with Harbaugh is now strained, he wasn't saying.
"They have a good team, we have a good team, we're playing a big game on Monday night. Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night," Belichick said in a conference call Wednesday with Baltimore-area reporters. "That's what it is. That's what we all signed up for. We know that's a part of it. We compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth. It just puts things in a little bit different situation."
Harbaugh has frequently praised Belichick over the years, and he did so again Wednesday, calling him the "greatest coach of his generation."
"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "We're not probably socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. If I'll see him or any coach at the combine or at the owner's meetings and we have a chance to talk, it's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach. I've always studied Coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at Cincinnati and he came in, and he was just great to be around."
Harbaugh certainly won't get a warm reception Monday. Whether it was his comments about the Patriots' formations from their last meeting or the organization's perceived role in Deflategate, the Ravens' ninth-year head coach hasn't made a ton of friends in the New England region in recent years.
Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft seemed to enjoy poking at Harbaugh last September when the Ravens were off to an 0-3 start. In a pre-game radio interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Kraft said, "It's too bad about Baltimore, isn't it? The Ravens are sweethearts. John Harbaugh, he's a sweetheart."
Then, there's Suggs, who always enjoys being the villain in whatever opposing stadium he enters. But the animosity is heightened with the Patriots after Suggs has taken several shots at Brady over his career, citing everything from perceived favorable treatment by the officials to the quarterback's hair and attitude.
On Wednesday, though, Suggs chose his words carefully.
"How many Super Bowls they got? They got like four or five and they've played in six or seven. You can't do nothing but respect that. Wins are wins and championships are championships," he said. "We're going to have fun. It's going to be an interesting game. We accept the challenge."