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Patriots travel to Baltimore for AFC Championship Rematch with Ravens

Tom Brady scored his only touchdown of the 2011 AFC Championship on a QB sneak (Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency)

After the first-ever home-opening loss at Gillette Stadium, New England looks to bounce back in primetime Sunday night against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in a rematch of the 2011 AFC Championship.

The Patriots were heavy favorites against the Arizona Cardinals at home last week, but failed to reach the end zone until the fourth quarter. Arizona capped off the 20-18 upset after Stephen Gostkowski sailed a potential game-winner wide left from 42 yards out.

In the last meeting, it was the Ravens’ kicker who missed a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter, when Billy Cundiff sent a potential game-tying kick wide left as well.

The Patriots not only lost the game, but will also be without tight end Aaron Hernandez for at least a few weeks. Hernandez injured his ankle in the first quarter last week. As a result, New England signed veteran Kellen Winslow this week.

Things will not get easier for the New England offense this week against Baltimore. While team statistics are hard to trust after just two games, facing any defense as talented as the Ravens is cause for concern.

Baltimore intercepted two Tom Brady passes in last year’s AFC Championship and held him to no touchdowns on 239 passing yards. Brady’s lone interception last week came off a deflection by Darnell Dockett after Patrick Peterson made a diving catch.

The Ravens are coming off a loss of their own at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. Like the Patriots, Baltimore is also 1-1 and tied for the lead in their division. Here are some keys to this Week 3 contest.

When New England has the Ball

The offense struggled against Arizona without Hernandez. The Patriots were unable to utilize the two-tight end set after his injury, and the offense had to adjust accordingly. With a week of preparing the offensive attack minus Hernandez, New England should look smoother. Stevan Ridley, who is averaging 98 yards a game on the ground, may carry an even bigger role in Hernandez’s absence. The Ravens’ historically stout run defense has given up more than 90 yards apiece to the starting running backs Baltimore has faced in this young season. If Ridley can continue his fast start it will force the Ravens to respect play action, which could open things up for Brandon Lloyd and company.

When Baltimore has the Ball

While the Patriots average 388.5 yards per game, the Ravens are not far behind with a 377.5 average through two games. Joe Flacco is off to a good start to the season, with 531 passing yards and 3 touchdowns. He is currently completing just over 60 percent of his passes with just one interception. The Patriots held Arizona’s Kevin Kolb to 140 yards last week. While Kolb is no elite passer, it is something for New England’s defense to build on.

But stopping Baltimore’s offense starts with Ray Rice. Rice causes concern because he can not only run, but he is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. Rice has racked up 245 offensive yards this season, and containing him may decide the game.

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