Joe Flacco is an aggressive passer for the Ravens. (Mitch Stringer/USA Today Sports)
FOXBORO — The last time Devin McCourty went up against Joe Flacco and the Ravens, the end result was great. But the journey to a 35-31 win in the AFC divisional round was like pulling teeth. It wasn’t an experience that McCourty tries to recall all that often, partially because Flacco and the Ravens were able to score at will on the Patriots secondary, a secondary that featured Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.
Flacco threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers and Baltimore had leads of 14-0 and 28-14.
“We won. That’s it. I mean it was a tough game,” McCourty recalled Wednesday. “We were down 14 twice but just kept playing. [We were] able to make some plays offensively and defensively that really decided that game, but a little bit different teams on both sides personnel-wise, so we’ll see if that even has any bearing on this one.”
That was the game McCourty picked off Flacco, the first playoff interception of Flacco’s career. In that game, Steve Smith caught the first of four touchdown passes from Flacco. What has made 37-year-old Steve Smith so good for so long?
“I don’t know him personally but I would probably guess his work ethic,” McCourty said. “To still play at a high level I think one thing is obviously he’s very competitive. He goes out there and competes his butt off every game for 60 minutes. To keep getting older and keep getting better you have to probably have a tremendous work ethic and he obviously has that and he [has been] a tough matchup for years in this league.”
Smith is also one of the biggest trash talkers in modern NFL history.
“I don’t even think I need to say anything. I mean guys are competitive,” McCourty said Wednesday. “You’ve just got to go out there and play. You know, each week you’ve got guys that talk and obviously he’s elite at it, definitely. You’ve watched him do it for years. But I think it starts with going out there and playing well. If we do those things then we don’t have to worry about anything that’s being said out there and just have to focus on what we’re doing. I think just from a total team standpoint and aspect, we understand how important that is to do what’s best for the team out there on the field and we’ve talked about that numerous times as players, and coaches tell us. So I don’t think that will be an issue for us.”
Flacco and the Ravens offense has been an issue for the Patriots. Flacco owns two of the three wins by visitors ever in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium. In Jan. 2010, Flacco came to town and beat the Patriots, 33-14. In Jan. 2013, the Patriots couldn’t hold onto a 13-7 halftime lead and lost the AFC championship, 28-13, when Flacco and the Ravens scored 21 unanswered points in the second half. After a 3-0 start, the Ravens lost four straight. But since then, the Ravens have won 4-of-5 and stand 7-5. They’re rejuvenated.
“They’re good. Joe Flacco is one of the top quarterbacks in the league,” McCourty said. “I think his ability to get the ball down the field and also his experience and understanding of what’s going on out there and knowing how to attack a defense. I think they’ve always had a good running game. They have very good skill players. Offensively that’s what you want. They want to be able to run the ball but they also know they can drop back and throw the ball. They have a bunch of weapons – Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, [Dennis] Pitta. Kamar Aiken was here, we know he’s a tough football player. He’s going to make plays for them catching the ball. It’s a good amount of guys to stop and we’re going to have to try to slow them down.”
Flacco is a modern day gunslinger. He’ll throw balls into tight spaces. He’ll also get picked off. He has 15 touchdowns this season to go with 11 interceptions.
“He’s definitely going to give his guys a chance,” McCourty said. “I think he knows what he can do on the field. He has a very strong arm. I think all the good quarterbacks, there have probably been times where they’ve thrown an interception and are like, ‘I thought I could get that in there,’ and I think that’s a part of what makes them good quarterbacks.
“You know, having that moxie about you that you want to try to make a play or that you believe in yourself, you believe in your guys that you’re throwing the ball to. He has a good amount of weapons to get the ball to so he’s definitely going to give his guys a chance to make some plays and they’ve shown that they’ve made them. We’ve got to definitely cover guys but also be ready down the field to go up there and challenge them and make our own plays.”