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And so it begins. In a development that surprised nobody, the Baltimore Ravens kicked off the trash talk before the Patriots had even finished defeating the Houston Texans on Sunday. Ravens Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo sent out several tweets ripping the Patriots’ offense, calling them “a gimmick” and saying that their style of play was akin to a “cheap shot b4 a fight”.
Of course, Ayanbadejo would later retract his statements, apologizing for his “selfish comments” that “reflected poorly upon” himself and the organization. Although this backtracking was to be expected in today’s politically correct world of professional sports, it still serves to highlight one of the fundamental differences between the two teams that will be squaring off in this weekend’s AFC Championship Game.
Teams (and organizations in general) tend to derive their character from their leaders, and in the case of the Patriots and Ravens, this could not be more evident. The Patriots take their cues from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and would never tolerate any kind of chatter like that coming out of their locker room. Meanwhile, on the other sideline, you have Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and John Harbaugh, ferocious competitors that have never been shy about saying exactly what they think.
The Ravens roll into Foxboro on the seemingly never-ending “Ray Lewis Victory & Farewell Tour,” having already won a pair of playoff games to prolong what Lewis has said will be his last season in the NFL. The brash, outspoken, and controversial middle linebacker is famous for his intensity and passion for the game. Whether with his famous pre-game dance, his speeches, or his trash talk out on the field (even with Brady), he brings a team with him into Gillette Stadium that many believe is playing motivated, inspired football.
While no NFL player should ever need to use another player’s personal narrative to motivate himself for a game, Lewis’ retirement has certainly been one of the major storylines of this NFL postseason, and cannot be totally overlooked going into the game. Baltimore has overcome a sluggish finish to the regular season, going 1-4 in their final five games, and are coming in with loads of confidence and swagger. They are one of the few teams that are truly not awed by or afraid of the Patriots.
Despite all this, we know that nobody will get in the head of the Pats for as long as they maintain their Belichickian disregard for anything in the media, but for a second straight week, their opponent has proven incapable of this same self-control.
After Arian Foster’s public display of Dan Shaughnessy’s article on his Twitter account, and now the smack talk from Ayanbadejo, it is clear the Patriots remain the most professional, well-oiled machine in all of football. Some may point out certain off-the-field antics by Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes and Aqib Talib, but their various transgressions have been unrelated to football, and they continue to say the right things to press, so the point remains: no New England Patriot would publicly talk trash before any football game. Even Chad Johnson (or Ochocinco? who really cares at this point) was quiet and well-behaved during his brief stint here.
So, no matter what else may be said before Sunday’s Championship tilt, you can count on the Patriots to provide professional (and boring) responses to all questions, while the Ravens will continue to get loads of attention for the chatter and emotion of Ray Lewis.
Somewhere, in Gray Hoodie Cave, Bill Belichick is smiling.