FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There’s something about the Baltimore Ravens that brings out the worst in Tom Brady.
Against most teams, he plays like one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Against the Ravens, he gets outplayed by Joe Flacco.
So what’s the problem?
Start with the Ravens’ inspirational, hard-hitting leader, Ray Lewis. Add a talented secondary led by Ed Reed. And throw in a strong defensive line with Haloti Ngata leading the charge.
“They have a lot of playmakers at each level of the defense,” Brady said Wednesday before the New England Patriots practiced. “It’s not like you beat this team, 50-0. It’s always a tight game. There’s tight coverage. There’s tight throws, tough reads because schematically they do quite a few things. So it’s never easy.”
He doesn’t expect it to be in Sunday night’s AFC championship game.
“You play against a team like this, that’s able to adjust because of their personnel and because they do a lot of things schematically, there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ in preparation throughout the course of the week,” he said. “That’s really what we’re trying to hone in on this week.”
Brady is 5-2 in his seven games against the Ravens, not a bad record. But his personal statistics are among the poorest against any of the 31 teams he’s faced in his 13-year career.
His 58.6 completion percentage and 74.1 passer rating are the lowest against any opponent. The Ravens are the only team he’s thrown more interceptions against (eight) than touchdowns (seven). They’ve sacked him 16 times, one of five teams averaging more than two a game against Brady.
In five games against the Patriots, Flacco is 2-3 but has completed 64.7 percent of his passes with a 95.7 passer rating. He’s thrown for nine touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Brady’s 49.1 rating in a 33-14 playoff loss to Baltimore on Jan. 10, 2010 is his lowest in his last 101 games and sixth lowest in his 198 career starts, including the postseason.
“For one, you’ve got a guy (Lewis) that’s been playing ball for 17 years sitting in the middle, so that tells you right there that their leadership is one of the best things that they have,” Patriots running back Stevan Ridley said. “They’re known for defense. They’re known for Ray Lewis. They’re known for Ed Reed.
“You’re going to see some of the greats going at it (Sunday night). What else could you ask for. This is what you live for. This is playoff football.”
Some quarterbacks say they establish their legacy with their postseason play.
Brady, winner of two regular-season MVP awards and two more in Super Bowls, has no time to dwell on that now.
“I don’t really think about any of that,” he said. “I’m just trying to win a football game this week. I think we’re very short-term focused and playing against a great football team that obviously deserves the right to be here. We know how challenging of a team they are.”
The Ravens know how good Brady can be even though he’s struggled at times against them.
“We’ve got to play smart. We’re dealing with a brilliant quarterback,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We have to understand … the pieces he has around him. He can fire that ball to anybody, and they’re going to play their tails off for him.”
The Patriots got off to a horrible start against the Ravens in their wild-card matchup three years ago and Brady was a major factor.
Ray Rice scored on an 83-yard run on the game’s first offensive play. Then Brady turned the ball over on three of his first four possessions, leading to 17 points and a 24-0 Ravens lead after one quarter.
They started at the Patriots 17-yard line after Terrell Suggs recovered Brady’s fumble, the 25 after Chris Carr intercepted a pass and the 9 after Reed picked off another one.
Six minutes into the game with the Patriots trailing 14-0, the fans booed their hometown team.
“I’d have been booing us, too, the way we played,” Brady said after the game. “Playing the way we played today, we weren’t going to beat anybody.”
He next played against Baltimore in last year’s AFC championship game. The Patriots won that 23-20, but Brady threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, had a 57.5 passer rating and helped keep the Ravens in the game.
The Patriots took that three-point lead when Brady capped a 63-yard drive with a 1-yard run on the first series of the fourth quarter. But their next two drives ended when he threw an interception then couldn’t get a first down when the Patriots got the ball with 2:46 remaining.
They punted and Flacco led the Ravens from their 21 to a second-and-1 at the Patriots 14. But then he threw two incompletions, the first when Lee Evans was stripped of the ball in the end zone, and Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt on the next to last play.
In their most recent meeting, the Patriots led 30-21 on Sept. 23 in the fourth quarter but punted on their last two possessions. The Ravens then scored 10 points in the last 4:01 and won 31-30 on Justin Tucker’s 27-yard field goal on the final play.
That was typical of Ravens-Patriots matchups — close with the outcome determined late in the game.
Five of Brady’s seven games against them were won by six points or less. Two of the last three were won on last-play field goals. The third was decided when Cundiff missed his field goal attempt with 11 seconds remaining in last year’s AFC title game.
“They’re as good as any team we played this year, better than most,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We’re playing a team that we had a great, great game with earlier in the season. It came down to the last play. We don’t really expect much less than that this time around.”