FOXBOROUGH - Bill Belichick gave his players Sunday off, a day to rest and enjoy their dominating divisional round win over the Denver Broncos the night before.
But when they returned to Gillette Stadium yesterday, the message was clear:
“[It’s a] one-game season,’’ linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. “You can’t dwell on the Broncos; it’s over with. We have to move on. We have a good team coming in here, so we have to prepare for them.’’
The Patriots went to work preparing for the Baltimore Ravens, who come to town Sunday for the AFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XLVI on the line, and to a man they were focused on the task at hand, not Saturday’s victory, which ended a three-game postseason losing streak, or their 2009 wild-card loss to the Ravens, the second game of said streak.
“Really haven’t given it much thought, because it’s a different season, a different team,’’ cocaptain Matthew Slater said. “They have different players, we have different players. You do remember the sting of getting embarrassed at home and those guys beat us from the opening snap all the way through. So we’ve got to try and avoid that.’’
The opening snap Slater referred to is likely seared into many a Patriot fans’ memory: running back Ray Rice took the first play from scrimmage 83 yards for a touchdown, the first of 24 points Baltimore would score in the opening quarter.
For some Patriots, saying 2009 isn’t a thought is entirely true: only 19 players on the 2009 roster are on the 53-man roster today, just 24 months later (and three others, Dan Koppen, Mike Wright and Myron Pryor, are on injured reserve).
For others, as Slater acknowledged, the sting of 2009 lingers.
“It was unfortunate,’’ Ninkovich said. “We didn’t start that game off the way we wanted to on defense. Obviously that’s something we need to focus on, is not letting up any big plays like that, especially to start the game off.’’
Tom Brady, who will face the Ravens for the sixth time as the Patriots’ starting quarterback, gave Baltimore’s defense a healthy dose of respect, but he wants his teammates to be looking inward as they prepare.
“A lot of the emphasis this season has been on us and what we need to do better,’’ Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI. “Look, the Ravens, they’re the best team we’ve faced all year and there’s no one that’s going to overlook a team like that. It would be impossible to do.
“They present a ton of challenges in all three phases of the game, and when you watch them, like [Sunday against Houston], they’re physical, they’re tough, they can cover and they’ve got some of the best players in the history of the NFL at their positions, in [Terrell] Suggs and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata - you’ve got phenomenal players there. So we’ve really got our work cut out for us. We’ll be excited about the challenge, we’ll use the week to prepare like we always do, and then really try to be at our best, hopefully be better than we were this past Saturday night.’’
And though Brady has said it takes him a long time to get over playoff losses - if he ever really does at all - he insists he won’t draw on the past this week. Getting to Indianapolis to face the NFC champion is all that’s necessary.
“That’s all we need. This is nothing about ’09 or ’10, this is nothing about last week or last season or last month or 10 years ago, it’s about this week, and the clock’s ticking and every second that goes by we’re one second closer to getting to that game,’’ he said. “So we’ve got to use our time wisely to prepare, get our rest, and be ready to go out and face our biggest challenge of the season.’’