FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts (AP) — There's something about the Baltimore Ravens that brings out the worst in Tom Brady.
Against most teams, he plays like one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Against the Ravens, he gets outplayed by Joe Flacco. So what's the problem? Start with the Ravens' inspirational, hard-hitting leader, Ray Lewis. Add a talented secondary led by Ed Reed. And throw in a strong defensive line with Haloti Ngata leading the charge.
"They have a lot of playmakers at each level of the defense," Brady said on Wednesday before his New England Patriots practiced. "It's not like you beat this team, 50-0. It's always a tight game. There's tight coverage. There's tight throws, tough reads because schematically they do quite a few things. So it's never easy."
He doesn't expect it to be in Sunday's AFC Championship game. "You play against a team like this, that's able to adjust because of their personnel and because they do a lot of things schematically, there are a lot of 'what ifs' in preparation throughout the course of the week," he said. "That's really what we're trying to hone in on this week."
Brady has a 5-2 win-loss record against the Ravens, not bad. But his personal statistics are among the poorest against any of the 31 teams he's faced in his 13-year career. His 58.6 completion percentage is his lowest against any opponent. The Ravens are the only team he's thrown more interceptions against (eight) than touchdowns (seven). They've sacked him 16 times, one of five teams averaging more than two a game against Brady.
In five games against the Patriots, Flacco is 2-3 but has completed 64.7 percent of his passes. He's thrown for nine touchdowns and just four interceptions. The Ravens know how good Brady can be even though he's struggled at times against them.
"We've got to play smart. We're dealing with a brilliant quarterback," safety Bernard Pollard said. "We have to understand ... the pieces he has around him. He can fire that ball to anybody, and they're going to play their tails off for him."
In last year's AFC Championship game, the Patriots beat the Ravens 23-20, but Brady threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, and helped keep the Ravens in the game. The Patriots took that three-point lead when Brady capped a 63-yard drive with a 1-yard run on the first series of the fourth quarter. But their next two drives ended when he threw an interception then couldn't get a first down when the Patriots got the ball with 2:46 remaining.
They punted and Flacco led the Ravens from their 21 to a second-and-1 at the Patriots 14. But then he threw two incompletions, the first when Lee Evans was stripped of the ball in the end zone, and Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt on the next-to-last play.
In their most recent meeting, the Patriots led 30-21 on Sept. 23 in the fourth quarter but punted on their last two possessions. The Ravens then scored 10 points in the last 4:01 and won 31-30 on Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal on the final play.
That was typical of Ravens-Patriots matchups — close with the outcome determined late in the game. Five of Brady's seven games against them were won by six points or less. Two of the last three were won on last-play field goals. The third was decided when Cundiff missed his field goal attempt with 11 seconds remaining in last year's AFC title game.
"They're as good as any team we played this year, better than most," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We're playing a team that we had a great, great game with earlier in the season. It came down to the last play. We don't really expect much less than that this time around."
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.