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Only fitting path to Super Bowl for Ravens is through New England

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 7:10 p.m.

Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata watched Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game between the New England Patriots and Houston Texans closely, homing in on what each offense was doing and the battles in the trenches.

He wasn't openly rooting for either team, but in his mind — and he says in the minds of other Ravens — there was one scenario that the team preferred: a trip back to Gillette Stadium for an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl.

“I think we, personally, kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,” Ngata said. “If we were to go the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough and win there. So it's another matchup that I think that we're excited about, and hopefully, we can get it done this time.”

It wasn't that the Ravens necessarily felt the Patriots are the better matchup. Their pedigree, after all, suggests they are the last team you'd want to see at this time of year. The Patriots have gone to the conference title game six previous times under coach Bill Belichick, and they are 5-1 in those games, including 3-0 at home.

It was one of those five Patriots victories that had the Ravens itching for another shot at New England. The Patriots beat the Ravens, 23-20, last January in Foxborough in one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in team history.

“We're excited about this game,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “It's been a long road getting back to this point, and the way we left it last year didn't sit well with us.”

Ravens Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda estimated it took him about two months to get over the loss to the Patriots in last year's AFC title game. John Harbaugh joked he didn't put a “red dot” on the calendar to commemorate the date, but the loss clearly lingered with the coach who had his team just seconds away from the franchise's second Super Bowl berth.

For those Ravens who don't remember any of the particulars from that day, including Yanda who claims he doesn't recall Week 1 of this season, they will surely get a reminder this week if they are anywhere near a television. The images — quarterback Tom Brady's 1-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots a fourth-quarter lead, Lee Evans getting the potential game-winning TD pass slapped out of his hands, and Billy Cundiff missing a game-tying 32-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds — will be fixtures this week in the lead-up to the game.

“The feeling that we had in that locker room, I think we all wanted to get back to the AFC Championship,” Ngata said. “And then to actually have it be back in Foxborough, it's a good story.”

The Ravens and Patriots have split two career playoff meetings, with the Ravens beating them, 33-14, in the divisional round of the 2009 playoffs.

Overall, the Patriots have beaten the Ravens seven times in nine meetings, but it was the Ravens who broke a six-game regular-season losing streak to their nemesis with a 31-30 victory in Week 3 this season.

“Last year's game was last year's game,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “We were a completely different team really all the way around. Us being there last year, it really doesn't matter. It is a completely new year.”

Jeff Zrebiec is a sports reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

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