Friday, December 6, 2013
The Associated Press
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Dont'a Hightower was two weeks removed from winning the national championship with Alabama in January when he sat down to watch the AFC championship game.
WHO: Patriots (1-1) at Baltimore Ravens (1-1)
WHEN: 8:20 p.m. Sunday
• Talk about the game with Staff Writer Mike Lowe in a live chat at noon Monday at pressherald.com
Now a rookie linebacker with New England, Hightower remembers the title game fondly, and not for the reason you may think.
When asked what he recalled most from that epic clash, a 23-20 win by the Patriots that propelled them to the Super Bowl, Hightower on Friday declined to mention former Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff shanking a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left that would have sent the game to overtime.
Instead, he focused on the whole thing.
"The definition of a football game," he said. "Hard-nosed, coming down to the wire, guys making big plays whenever they need to. Definitely proud of the outcome."
Hightower will play a pivotal part in the outcome of Sunday night's rematch against the Ravens, who like the Patriots enter this early season showdown coming off a setback. While New England (1-1) was busy losing, 20-18, to Arizona, Baltimore (1-1) allowed Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick to score with just under two minutes to play, leading the Eagles to a 24-23 comeback victory.
Too bad for the Patriots, too. As if Baltimore needed any extra motivation for a nationally televised home game under the lights against New England.
"I'm living my dream now, just being able to play in the NFL. Definitely looking forward to this game," Hightower said. "It's definitely going to be a big game. Those guys got a chip on their shoulder from this past season, so definitely it's going to be a real good game."
New England's defense is ranked second in the league in total yards allowed with 264.5, but is in for a true test trying to slow Baltimore's offense, led by quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice. The Ravens are averaging 33.5 points per game, tied for second in the league.
"Everywhere you look on offense, they have somebody that's special," Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "You're not talking about one guy, you're talking about the whole Ravens offense. We're going to have to do a real good job defensively."
New England knows it starts and ends with Flacco and Rice.
Traditionally a run-oriented team behind the nimble 5-foot-8, 212-pound frame of Rice, who is coming off three straight 1,200-yard seasons, Baltimore now operates more of a pass-heavy offense, allowing Flacco to flaunt a no-huddle attack that led to a convincing season-opening win over Cincinnati.
Flacco, now in his fifth season, has always been a threat, perhaps overshadowed by Rice and the Ravens menacing defense.
"He's very physically tough and mentally, don't let much get to him and that's a big-time leader when you can have a guy -- especially the quarterback -- who can be physically and mentally tough.
"That says a lot about that guy as an individual and a player," Wilfork said.
"We're going to have to play almost a perfect game to walk away on the road Sunday night with a victory," Wilfork said.
"If you like being in a tough, physical football game, well, here it is. Sunday night it will be one."