The scapegoats are gone.
The thirst for revenge is not.
Eight months after “The Drop” and “Wide Left” combined to rip the collective hearts out of the football-crazed citizens of Baltimore, wide receiver Lee Evans and kicker Billy Cundiff will be nowhere to be found at M&T Bank Stadium when the hometown Ravens seek retribution against the New England Patriots Sunday for that gut-wrenching 23-20 loss in the AFC championship back in January.
The Ravens’ players are doing their best to downplay that loss, claiming memories of “The Failure in Foxborough” have since evaporated with the arrival of a new season, new hopes and, to some extent, a new roster.
“It’s always hard to think (about getting even) when you have a totally different makeup as a team,” heart-and-soul linebacker Ray Lewis said the other day. “So we are looking at this game as a totally different game.”
The “different makeup as a team,” as Lewis calls it, includes the releases of both Evans and Cundiff in the subsequent months after that crushing setback to the Pats, one that cost the Ravens a berth in the Super Bowl.
Evans was the first to go, shown the door by the Ravens just six weeks after “The Drop” against the Pats.
Cundiff, meanwhile, is now a Washington Redskin, having lost his Ravens job to rookie Justin Tucker in training camp last month. The move probably was the best thing for Cundiff, who received death threats in Baltimore after his 32-yard field goal attempt with just seconds remaining in the AFC title contest was off target, a play horrifically remembered in Maryland as “Wide Left.”
No matter how much the Ravens spin the stance that the defeat to the Pats has been left in the past, don’t buy what they are trying to sell you.
Their fans, for one, certainly remember. After all, if you are livid (and dumb) enough to threaten the life of a player as they did to Cundiff, the painful images of that loss are certain to linger.
As for the players? For those of us who witnessed first-hand the emotional devastation in the visitors’ locker room at Gillette Stadium back in January, it’s hard to believe that nightmare has simply been erased.
Who can forget the image of Evans, fighting the tears welling up in his eyes, explaining how his potentially game-winning touchdown grab with 27 seconds remaining slipped through his fingers?
“I let everyone in this locker room and the entire city of Baltimore down,” Evans said.
And who can forget the image of the classy Cundiff, one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers, accepting full blame for shanking an easy chip shot that should have sent the contest to overtime.
“I think, in the end, the disappointment is letting my teammates down,” Cundiff said.
How does one forget these things, even if Cundiff and Evans are no longer on the scene?
Simple. You don’t. Deep down, the Ravens know they were the better team in that game. In the end, Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady. Yet, on the scoreboard, they fell short.
Despite the fact that New England was upset on home turf by the Arizona Cardinals last week, the 1-1 Ravens are aware that Brady’s 1-1 Patriots are the standard to which all other teams compare themselves. No NFL team, after all, has won more Lombardi Trophies (three) or made more Super Bowl appearances (five) in this century than the Pats.
At the same time, while the Pats deal with the absence of tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), an at-times wobbly offensive line and the controversy surrounding Wes Welker’s alleged diminishing role, the Ravens believe that, with their new no-huddle offence, they can become the class of the AFC.
As for Lewis, it was the future Hall of Famer who gathered the team together in an attempt to offer perspective moments after the final gun had sounded at the AFC championship game.
In his speech, he told teammates of a 17-year-old boy that he was mentoring who had come down with cancer. “I was supposed to see him after this game,” Lewis said. “Then I was told yesterday that he died. Do we take the game serious? Yes. But it’s just that — a game.”
A game that, deep down, Lewis and his teammates have not forgotten.
No matter what they might say to the contrary.
In eight previous meetings against the mighty New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens are just 1-7 all-time, the lone win coming during the 2010 playoffs in Foxborough.
Oct. 6, 1996 Pats 46 Ravens 38
Jan 2, 2000 Pats 20 Ravens 3
Nov. 28, 2004 Pats 24, Ravens 3
Dec. 3, 2007 Pats 27, Ravens 24
Oct. 4, 2009 Pats 27, Ravens 21
Jan. 10, 2010 Ravens 33, Pats 14*
Oct. 17, 2010 Pats 23, Ravens 20
Jan 22, 2012 Pats 23, Ravens 20*