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Myth-busting the Patriots-Ravens matchup

01.18.12 at 7:55 am ET
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Bill Belichick is a win away from his fifth Super Bowl as head coach. (AP)

Bill Belichick is a win away from his fifth Super Bowl as Patriots coach. (AP)

One man’s attempt to debunk three myths (was going to be five, but no Wikipedia makes that kind of heavy mental lifting impossible) that have been posing as storylines this week …

1. A team with zero quality wins can’t make the Super Bowl

You really want to do this? OK, the Patriots did not beat a team with a winning record during the regular season. Absolutely accurate. And they have not defeated a team with a winning record during this postseason. Also true. But does it really matter? The Patriots have eight wins over teams that finished 8-8 this season (Denver twice, Oakland, San Diego, Jets twice, Philadelphia, Dallas). A festival of triumph over mediocrity. Does that tell you more or less about a team than, say, five wins over 9-7 teams or three wins over 10-6 teams? Who the hell knows? Also this: If the Patriots had lost just once to one of these teams this would be a non-issue. Would they be better off with a 12-4 record if it meant the Raiders were 9-7? Would that make you more confident 10 minutes before kickoff on Sunday? Sure, it would have meant playing in Baltimore instead of Foxboro, but who could pass up the chance to claim a win over a 9-7 team, right?

Look, this hasn’t been a killer schedule. Not even close. And the Patriots have lost to the two best teams they played this season (Steelers and Giants). That’s a fair criticism. But if it’s third-and-7 for the Patriots with 4:36 left in the fourth quarter of a 24-21 game on Sunday I really don’t think the fact that the Ravens beat the 9-7 Bengals three weeks ago is going to play a factor in the odds of Tom Brady successfully completing a pass to Rob Gronkowski.

2. The Patriots have a resiliency that didn’t exist in 2009 or 2010

This is a completely media-created angle. There was no one — not a single person — questioning the mental toughness of this team before the Jets game last January. In fact, we were reading and hearing and feeling just the opposite– the Pats got rid of Randy Moss and were winning with “character guys” like Deion Branch, Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Alge Crumpler. Here’s how it works: About two weeks ago the media — sick of trying to figure to define this defense, sick of writing, “We need to wait until the playoffs to find out what this team is” stories, sick of being stonewalled by Bill Belichick and the players day after day — figured a couple of comebacks against the Dolphins and Bills was evidence enough to declare that this team was different than the previous two playoff losers, that there were intangibles involved with this group that had been missing in 2009 and 2010. And guess what? If you ask the players what makes them mentally tough, they’ll probably give you a decent answer for a change. I don’t know. Brady threw a killer pick in the Jets loss, Crumpler had dropped a pass in the end zone and was beaten by Calvin Pace on a third-quarter sack and forced fumble of Brady and Jerod Mayo whiffed on Jerricho Cotchery‘s key 58-yard catch on the first play the fourth quarter. Anyone ever question the mental toughness of those three guys?

It’s all about personnel and making plays. If the Patriots win on Sunday it will because they made more plays than the Ravens. Oh, and win the turnover battle. That’s it, and everything else is mythology, plain and simple. I’m sure, for example, that every player and coach in the New England locker room care gently and would like to win the Super Bowl for Bob Kraft, given the year he’s had. But I reject the idea that the memory of Myra Kraft will suddenly help Danny Woodhead block a blitzing Ray Lewis on Sunday. It just doesn’t work that way. It strikes me that Lewis seems to give the same speech to that defense before every Ravens game, we always see CBS cut to it and treat it like it’s the announcement of The Truman Doctrine. Well, sometimes they win and sometimes they lose, so what does those words really mean? Nothing.

3. Being on the road means nothing to this Ravens team

You’ll hear this from the national media this week, almost certainly from Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (who is having a dreadful postseason, has he always been this confused?) and the five guys screaming at each other during the pregame show on NFL Network (unspeakably awful, who sits down and watches this stuff week after week?). The Ravens have a veteran group, they’ve been in a million NFL wars, playoffs wins on the road, no situation is going to scare them, all that stuff. And of course some of that is true, I suspect the red-seaters at Gillette (hey, you try cheering with brie stuffed in your mouth) aren’t going to terrify Lewis, Suggs and the rest.

“Intimidating? I don’t know. You never really stand on the field and look in the stands with big eyes and freak out, you know what I mean? There are places that are louder than others.”

That was Jarret Johnson on Monday, and that pretty much sums up Gillette Stadium. It’s never going to be the Boston Garden circa 1986 in terms of noise, but I’m not sure that matters when you look at this: Since that playoff loss in January 2010, the Patriots are 16-2 at home and the Ravens are 10-9 on the road. The Ravens split their eight road games this year (all four losses to non-playoff teams). And over the last two seasons the Ravens are 16-1 at home. Experience is swell and important and never hurts, but the Ravens have been terrific at home and a .500 team on the road over the last two years.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Ray Lewis, Tom Brady,
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