Sports

Dan Shaughnessy

Ravens game will show us if Patriots are for real

Are the 2014-15 Patriots Super Bowl-bound, or are they Adams Division/Presidents’ Trophy “more days in first place” frauds?

We find out Saturday.

This game against the Ravens is a valid test. It’s going to tell us whether these Patriots are the real thing, or yet another January patsy, artificially inflated by the clown show that is the AFC East, unable to punch back when they get smashed in the mouth in the playoffs.

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There’s a lot to love about this Baltimore-New England matchup. It’s not another All-Access “try-the-burgers-at-the-CBS-Scene” layup. And that’s good. You’re supposed to win hard games in order to advance to the championship. And for all their regular-season success, it has been a while since the Patriots won the hard games in the playoffs.

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Try this on with your Patriot Place footie pajamas: Since running the table in 2007, the Patriots have one postseason victory against a quality opponent. One.

Sorry, it’s true. Starting with Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots are 4-6 in the postseason. Those wins include:

1. A 45-10 spanking of the Tim Tebow-quarterbacked Denver Broncos in 2012. That was an 8-8 Denver team that was outscored during the regular season;

2. A 41-28 win over the pitiful Houston Texans in 2013. The Patriots beat that same team, 42-14, a month earlier;

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3. Last year’s 43-22 laugher against the Colts, a team that couldn’t stop the run, and a team New England crushed in Indianapolis again this year.

The lone legit, hard-earned playoff win since 2007 is the 23-20 decision over the Ravens in the AFC Championship three years ago. To win that one, the Patriots needed Baltimore to drop a late-game touchdown pass, then miss a 32-yard field goal attempt as the clock ran out.

Naturally, all of these games were played at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots never win on the road in the playoffs, primarily because they never play on the road in the playoffs. New England’s last road playoff victory was eight years ago in San Diego.

During this entire magical run, Tom Brady is 3-3 on the road in the playoffs (which includes a game Drew Bledsoe finished for Brady).

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is 7-4 lifetime on the road in the playoffs. He has beaten the Patriots twice at Gillette in January. He has won his last five playoff games and has 20 touchdown passes to go with two interceptions in all of his playoff games since 2010. Brady is a mere 8-8 in all playoff games since Jan. 14, 2006.

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So there you have it, folks. For all their success in the cheeseball AFC East, the Patriots have been less than ordinary in the games that matter in January. A victory over the Ravens would change this disturbing dynamic.

Brady objected mildly when a reporter from New York this week asked, “How much is it a motivation for you personally since it’s been 10 years since your last championship as your career reaches this stage?’’

“This stage?’’ Brady asked, cheerfully as ever. “What does that mean? What stage is that? Like twilight years?’’

Brady went on to remind us that every year is important and that the Patriots always try to win their last game and that expectations are high. The usual stuff.

But Brady’s shrinking window is on everyone’s mind as the Patriots prepare to play the Ravens. The Patriots need to make a statement. They need to remind us that they are something more than fortunate sons in a noncompetitive division.

It’s time to put a stop to all the rhetoric about how the Ravens don’t fear the Patriots. The Patriots by now should be sick of hearing about how Flacco, John Harbaugh, and Terrell Suggs don’t fear New England.

The Patriots have been reminded a million times that the Ravens sent them home from Gillette twice in the last five years. It’s time for the Patriots to demonstrate that they are the better team.

There is considerable pressure on the Patriots because a loss would mean same-old-same-old, and another 100,000 miles on the Brady odometer. It would remind us that a closing schedule of Dolphins, Jets, and Bills might not be the best way to prepare for the playoffs. It would suggest that 20 days without a competitive down might not put a team in position to play its best football.

The Patriots are a better team than the Ravens. We expect them to win. And a victory against a confident, veteran team that is coming off a big road win would be a strong signal that the Patriots are prepared to go to Glendale and win the Super Bowl.

Follow Dan Shaughnessy on Twitter at @dan_shaughnessy.