CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason, speaking with Dennis & Callahan Monday morning, said he foresees the Patriots beating the Ravens on Sunday in the AFC championship game. Esiason said Tom Brady has a renewed intensity and will lead New England back to the Super Bowl.
"He didn't have a great game against Baltimore in the playoffs a couple of years back. He did not have a great game last year against the New York Jets in the playoffs. But this is a different Tom Brady," Esiason said. "And I've been using this kind of theme over the last month or so, about how Tom said last year after the Jet loss [that] it was the worst loss of his career. And I think it's fueled a very competitive Tom Brady.
"[Chad] Ochocinco made mention of that last week in some interview -- I forget where it was -- that he has never seen a quarterback so intense in practice. Well, I extrapolate that as saying here's a guy that is extremely -- I mean, extremely -- determined to get back to the Super Bowl and win the game, if for nothing else than to cement a legacy that will be on par of Joe Montana's if he's able to do it."
Added Esiason: "He's always been a very competitive player, you can see that when he plays. But the last few weeks and the way that he's played and some of the things that have come out of the New England locker room this past week, he has taken it to another level. It's almost as if he is obsessed with winning the Super Bowl, which is exactly the level of commitment that you need in order to do it. And maybe he's recognizing that he has a very special team around him and this is the year it's going to get done again."
The Patriots came out and took it to the Broncos right from the opening snap Saturday.
"When I watched the game on Saturday night, when you see the Patriots come out and play like that offensively, there was a determination there," Esiason said. "It was almost like they were pissed that they were playing against Tim Tebow, who got all the headlines going into the game. And it's about us making sure everybody remembers that we're still here. I don't necessarily really feel like that's their motivation, but that was something to behold. That was vintage Tom Brady in his finest hour. He probably played as well Saturday night, against a team that he should have played well against, as any game we've ever seen him play.
"That level of intensity is there for the offense. I thought that the defense met it for the first time in a long time this year, where they really came to play, and they were saying, 'There's no way that Tim Tebow's coming into this building and beating us.' Now they're going to have to have the same kind of mindset with Joe Flacco. And this is going to be a much tougher game. Don't think for one moment that it won't be. Baltimore presents so much different challenges defensively."
With the New England offensive line also coming off perhaps its best game, the Patriots appear to be peaking at the right time.
"If the Patriots defense can do what they did against Denver, and do what Houston did yesterday to Joe Flacco, then I don't see how the Ravens can stay with the Patriots offense," Esiason said. "This is Tom Brady, this is the guy that's going to be standing back in the pocket. And if you ask me, maybe the most impressive performance -- other than Tom's six-touchdown performance on Saturday night -- is that of the offensive line of the Patriots. Tom might have gotten hit maybe once or twice in that game. That's what a healthy offensive line can do for you."
Following are more highlights from the interview.
On the Patriots routing Tim Tebow and the Broncos: "Listen, that was a scrimmage. They were playing against a kid that's not ready for prime time yet. If you look at the Denver Broncos, they lost four out of their last five games. Their offense was terrible in those games, with the exception of the Pittsburgh game; Tim made some plays. But he was not ready to compete on a level that you need to compete at in order for them to win on Saturday night."
On the Patriots' resurgent defense: "I thought the Patriots defense played great on Saturday night. It was probably the best performance that we had seen all year. They really ramped up the intensity, it seemed to me. There were a lot more guys rallying to the football. [Rob] Ninkovich had a great first half. [Gerard] Warren and [Vince] Wilfork played their asses off in the middle."
On the aging Ravens defense: "They're not the players that they once were; nobody ever is. But I will say this: Ray Lewis made some great plays yesterday. In watching how he was hitting Arian Foster, somebody 15 years younger than him. I think about Ray Lewis and I think about it in conjunction with my own career. My last game was against him. I think it was Ray Lewis' second year. And that's when I realized, I said, 'Oh, my God. I don't necessarily know that I belong on the field with this kind of player out here.' I had never seen anybody like him. Now, he's not that player that he was some 14 years ago, but I'll tell you what, he's still a very formidable foe. And the one thing that he knows, is he knows how to communicate with the guys around him. In other words, nothing that the Patriots throw at them I think will surprise him simply because he will have the presence and he will have the poise to be able to react to it. I just don't think he has the speed that he used to have."
On the surging Giants: "They're playing so well right now, it's scary. The fact is is that they are healthy at the right time. And they do have such an athletic defensive line that when they're on their game, they can make plays. They can make plays like stripping the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands -- that's how smart Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are. This is still a team that has a penchant for giving up big plays. … Don't be surprised if San Francisco gives them a hell of a game. I think it's going to be a really close game."