Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice chatted with Mut & Merloni on Thursday to give his prediction for Sunday’s AFC championship game and discuss other NFL news.
“I know you guys are in Boston, but this is going to be a great game between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens,” Rice said. “I know the last game was questionable just a little bit. I think Tom Brady‘s going to come out and exceptional like he always does, but I think they’re going to get edged out a little bit by the Baltimore Ravens.
“I think the Ravens right now are just playing exceptional football. I look at Joe Flacco and the thing that really impresses me with him is that he doesn’t have any INTs. Ray Rice is running the ball well, and all of a sudden Torrey Smith — they stretch the ball downfield, throwing it deep, he’s making plays. I’m sure Anquan Boldin‘s going to be a factor. On defense, Ray Lewis and [Ed] Reed, those guys are going to be ready and I think they’re inspired with this might be Ray Lewis’ last football game. They feel like they have an opportunity to do something special, so it should be a great football game.”
Reed and his fellow defensive backs will attempt to shut down Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker. Welker had eight receptions for 131 yards in this past Sunday’s win over the Texans.
“I don’t like him breaking my records,” Rice joked. “I had an opportunity to meet this guy, he’s such a great individual, he’s a hard worker and you just cannot cover this guy one-on-one. He’s going to continue putting up big numbers like that if you try to line him up with a linebacker or safety because he’s just too quick off the line of scrimmage and he’s too explosive and he’s going to make plays.
“He can pretty much take over a ballgame, and that’s really what you ask for in a playmaker that’s a receiver on the football field, and he’s capable of doing that. Like I stated, he is not going to be covered and I know Tom Brady is always going to go to him. He’s like that security blanket for him and he knows that this guy is going to get open and make plays. So, I think he pretty much has earned his money and they should pay him a lucrative contract.
“I think he’s in the top five [receivers in NFL] without a doubt. What he brings to that team, and also he sets the standards. The way this guy prepares, his preparation, his hard work during practice, and that carries over to the game on that given Sunday or that Monday. Those are the types of guys you want to give the big contracts and you want the other guys to look at these guys and say, ‘Wow, this is the way to be a professional and this is how you should conduct yourself.’ ”
Following are more highlights from the interview.
On current NFL rules: “I think with football today, it benefits the wide receivers because I think the defensive backs, defensively they have to be on the same playing ground. They have to be able to be physical at the line of scrimmage, but after five yards they have to take their hands off the receivers, or if they’re downfield past five yards they can’t touch the receiver. I preferred it back in the day where I knew exactly where the defensive back, where he was at, at all times by being physical downfield. So, the game has changed a lot, but overall they’re trying to protect players and do all of that, but still it boils down to playing football. I think defensive backs need to be on a level field as the wide receivers are.”
On Colin Kaepernick: “You see a lot of the wildcat happening out there with the San Francisco 49ers. Forty-five percent of their offense last week was wildcat against Green Bay. So you’ve got to deal with Kaepernick, you’ve got to expect this guy to be able to get outside, extend plays, but also he can win a football game with is feet. … With these quarterbacks running with the football, they’re going to be looked at as a runner and you’re going to have defenses that really start teeing off on these guys and hitting these guys no matter if they have the ball or if they don’t have the ball.
“I think he’s going to go [to Atlanta] and he’s just going to play football. He’s way ahead of his time, he doesn’t get rattled. When he threw that interception to Sam Shields I said, ‘Oh man, here we go.’ But this guy came right back and moved the ball downfield and scored. So, he believes in himself, there’s a swagger to this team and they really look at this like, ‘We can go into Atlanta and win this football game.’ ”
On which rookie quarterback he would put the most stock in: “I would go with the guy that’s going to be around a long, long time, and that’s Andrew Luck. I think with [Robert Griffin III], Russell Wilson, Kaepernick, all those guys, they have shown something that’s right now caught everyone off guard. I remember when Tim Tebow was running the wildcat, everybody just went crazy over that. But now you have these guys that can run the pistol, the read option, but they can also throw the football. So there’s now that extra threat there, but I just feel like [Griffin, Wilson and Kaepernick] are not going to last that long and they’re going to be susceptible to injury.”
To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots. WEEI-FM 93.7 will broadcast the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Ravens on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
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