FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots gets tackle by Bernard Pollard #31 of the Baltimore Ravens during their AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The Patriots' Sunday-night matchup with the Ravens suddenly takes on new importance. It's not like Baltimore snuck up on New England -- they've been on the schedule since this spring -- but the urgency to win is heightened after the Pats laid an egg against the Cardinals in the home opener five days ago.
Despite playing in different divisions, the two teams are intimately familiar with one another. The Ravens whipped the Pats at Gillette in a divisional playoff game in January 2010 and they should've won again last January in the AFC Championship game but a Lee Evans dropped touchdown and a Billy Cundiff honked 32-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter conspired against them.
Oh, and there's another thread connecting the two teams: Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard. Four years ago, Pollard was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. During a Week 1 matchup, Pollard was blocked into quarterback Tom Brady's leg, ripped his ACL in the process and the future Hall of Famer was lost for the season. New England turned to Matt Cassel, who led the team to 11 wins but they still missed the playoffs.
There's more: Pollard was on the field with the Texans when wide receiver Wes Welker tore his ACL late in the 2010 season, and during last January Ravens-Pats matchup, Pollard tackled tight end Rob Gronkowski when he suffered the high-ankle sprain that limited him in the Super Bowl.
So, yes, as far as New England fans are concerned, this puts Pollard in the same company as Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone.
Pollard, meanwhile, doesn't consider himself the bad guy.
“They can think I’m a villain all they want to,” Pollard said during an appearance on NFL Network. “I think the fans have to understand that we as players, we don’t come out and look to hurt anybody. … Anything that I’ve done, I don’t celebrate with that," he continued. "I don’t laugh when people come up to me and call me ‘The Brady Killer.’"
That's not the only tie that binds these two clubs together; Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees spent six seasons with the Pats (2004-2009).
"It’s always an emotional day,"Pees said, according to the Baltimore Sun. "I’m not going to lie about that and act like it’s just another game. It’s a big game for me. I think I mentioned it once before, it’s kind of like when you go out and you play golf against somebody and you want to win, but when you play your brothers, you really want to win.
"There’s a lot of friends over there on the other sideline, a lot of old colleagues, a lot of players that I coached. So, yeah, sure it’s an emotional game. It always is.”
His last game working for Bill Belichick? The Ravens 2010 playoff win. And while it's still unclear why he left the Patriots he maintains a good relationship with their coach.
"My relationship with (Belichick) is great," Pees said. "We still speak on occasions when we’re playing a team that’s a common opponent and we aren’t playing each other. In certain years, we’ll discuss things. It’s a great relationship."