BALTIMORE - The radio blares with criticism and praise, with questions about quarterback Joe Flacco’s abilities and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s play-calling, and with love and belief in the hometown team. There is faith, amidst the wondering and worrying, faith in the Ravens, even against a favored Patriots team playing at home.
But when they talk about New England, about the team that has dominated the NFL much of the past decade, there is something that shines through. There is a healthy respect, sure, an acknowledgement of all the Patriots have done with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
There is also a belief that the Patriots can be toppled, and the refrain, again and again, is that the Ravens were the ones that did it in the past and can do it again.
Because even though the Patriots are 6-1 against the Ravens all time, that one loss came in the playoffs, Jan. 10, 2010. And that gives this city hope.
Well, that and the Patriots’ failings on defense.
“As the Ravens showed a few years ago, they can beat them in Foxborough, and they have,’’ said Ravens fan Michael Coons, 36, who lives in Baltimore. “It all comes down to Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh, what kind of game plan they put together.’’
The pride can be seen all over the city, from the Ravens jersey on Coons as he walked around the Inner Harbor area yesterday to the “Go Ravens’’ lettering outside the suburban Burger King.
And despite all of the success up in New England, no one in Baltimore - neither the fans nor the Ravens - will admit to being cowed by any organization in particular, or at least to that fact mattering Sunday.
“People look at the Patriots, and they’ve won three Super Bowls, they see that they’ve done so much in so little time, especially since they came from nothing,’’ said 23-year-old fan Ben Soistman. “I believe that’s also a downfall.’’
Though Soistman labeled Brady as “cocky,’’ that’s a rare insult for the team that the Ravens will face this weekend. Mostly there is admiration.
“They are a great football team,’’ said Harbaugh, the Ravens head coach. “They have great players. They’re very well-coached.
“We know, because we’ve been there so often, what kind of challenge that entails. They’ve beaten us plenty of times there, too. They understand that.
“It’s going to be a heck of a football game. It’s going to be our job to make sure we make it that.’’
Said linebacker Terrell Suggs, “We’re playing against a phenomenal player [Brady], we’re playing against a phenomenal team. You can’t make that many mistakes, or else they’re going to expose you.’’
The question that seems prevalent here is whether the Patriots defense can expose Flacco and the Ravens offense, or whether Flacco and the Ravens offense can expose the Patriots defense. There is concern about Flacco, worry about his ability to carry a team in the postseason, especially given his history.
There is respect, of course, for the Patriots offense. There is the acknowledgement that, as good as the Ravens defense is, there will be points scored. And no one is denying the fact that New England has had a successful decade.
“They’re the Patriots,’’ said center Matt Birk. “They’re like the New York Yankees - great team, been great for a long, long time - and we’re going up there to play them.
“But the road to the ultimate goal for any team is very hard, very difficult, and you have to meet all the challenges.’’
The Patriots certainly will be that, as they showed Saturday against the Broncos. Even for the Ravens, who are seeded second in the AFC.
The Ravens and their fans know that their team has won a Super Bowl before. But they know, too, that the Patriots did it three times, and, again, that the Patriots have had the kind of success that most franchises see only in their wildest fantasies.
“There always is an intimidation factor with the Patriots just because of their legacy, Bill Belichick as well as Tom Brady,’’ Coons said. “Their legacy together, there’s always intimidation with those two individuals. But I think Ray Lewis can overcome that and Flacco can as well. I believe that.’’
Because, as everyone in Baltimore emphasizes, it’s not all about the Patriots. It’s about the Ravens, too. They’re a good team, a skilled team, a team that’s been there before, a team with experience in the biggest of games.
“They have to play their best game, too,’’ said running back Ray Rice. “They know that’s what the playoffs are about. If they don’t play their best game, they’ll get beat. And that’s not taking anything away from them.
“There’s a reason why 1 [New England] and 2 [Baltimore] are playing each other. It’s not David and Goliath. We are right up there with them.’’