By: Bob George/
January 15, 2012

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Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more."

Excerpt from "The Raven" (1845) by Edgar Allan Poe

It is one thing to savor a rematch, and it is another thing to know what is coming and not be able to do anything about it.

When the old (real) Cleveland Browns relocated to Baltimore after the 1995 season, the team was nicknamed the "Ravens" to honor the great short story author Edgar Allen Poe, who lived much of his life and died in the city of Baltimore. One of Poe's most noted works is his poem entitled The Raven, penned in 1845. The title of this poem is the inspiration for the new name of the Browns.

The most chilling element of this poem is the usage of the term "nevermore". The unnamed raven pays a visit to this man who is coming to grips with the loss of his love. To extrapolate this into the 2011 AFC Championship Game, the man is Tom Brady, his "love" is a trip to Super Bowl XLVI, and the raven is Ray Lewis, telling Brady "nevermore", as in his chances of continuing his pursuit of his fourth NFL Holy Grail.

The Patriots managed to dodge one half of the AFC North double whammy, but it couldn't dodge the other, and more dangerous, half. The Baltimore Ravens withstood a game effort from the Houston Texans on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Texans shot themselves in the feet with foolish mistakes at the game's beginning and end which sent the Ravens to Foxborough next Sunday, winning 20-13 over Houston in their first ever playoff season.

The top two teams in the AFC will play at Gillette Stadium next Sunday for the right to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. New England and Baltimore should be playing in this game. Houston gave it a good try, but Patriot fans who were hoping to avoid having to play Baltimore have to deal with another playoff date with Lewis, Ed Reed, Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata and all those rough and tough Ravens who will be anything but afraid of the Patriots, or having to play this game on the road.

Before expressing early thoughts on this matchup for next weekend, it might be a good idea to further examine how Baltimore got to play in this game.

One single play early on in the game nearly cost Houston the game, and if it had not happened, the game might have turned for the Texans thanks to what followed over the course of the game. After getting an early field goal by Neil Rackers to take a 3-0 lead, the Texans held the Ravens to a three-and-out. But on the ensuing punt, Jacoby Jones foolishly -- no, make it stupidly -- tried to field a bouncing punt at his own 10 with a defender in his face. He muffed the punt, and Baltimore recovered at the Houston 4. Three plays later, Joe Flacco hit Kris Wilson from one yard out to make it 7-3 Baltimore. Jones' costly gaffe prevented Houston from establishing themselves early in the game, and Baltimore would eventually run up a 17-3 lead with this muffed punt being the linchpin.

Give Houston credit for coming back. Arian Foster would become the first running back ever to gain over 100 yards rushing against Baltimore in the postseason (he would finish with 132 yards rushing on 27 carries). T.J. Yates, the rookie third string quarterback from North Carolina who wound up being a playoff quarterback with both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart on the shelf, brought Houston back to within four points, 17-13. But Yates threw two very ill-advised interceptions in the fourth quarter, one to Lardarius Webb as he tried to force a ball into double coverage, and one to Ed Reed late in the game despite Houston having fourth down and 2 around midfield with plenty of time to drive for a tying touchdown.

The bottom line is that Baltimore beat Houston because Houston made critical mistakes at the worst possible time, not because Baltimore dominated Houston and beat them into submission. Houston was able to play with Baltimore for most of the contest, but in the end showed their playoff yips and could not finish the job against Lewis, Reed and the other Baltimore defensive stalwarts.

Now, how will this come into play next Sunday at Foxborough?

Patriot Nation needs to understand two very important elements of this matchup. First of all, Houston has a much better defense than the Patriots and is better equipped to hold Baltimore to only 20 points on the road than the Patriots would have been. Second, Baltimore came up here in 2009 and whipped the Patriots, building up a 24-0 lead in the first quarter and cruising from there. The Ravens know they can win here and won't be the least bit intimidated.

If anything will help the Patriots, they were hamstrung offensively in 2009 because Wes Welker blew out his knee in the regular season finale against Houston and was unavailable in this game. They will have Welker available for this game, including Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Another thing is that Flacco is a quarterback who can be dealt with, which means that the worst pass defense in the league won't be tested too severely and the defense can concentrate on Rice, who blistered the Patriots in the 2009 playoff game.

One nice thing about Sunday's game is that whichever team came to Foxborough, the other team provided some nice blueprints as to how to slow down the other team's offense. It was, as predicted, a tight defensive struggle. Rice was held to only 60 yards rushing and an average under three yards per carry. Houston did stuff Baltimore on fourth and goal inside the one. Flacco was sacked five times for 36 yards lost. The Patriots have some wonderful game film to look at thanks to the Texans, who played valiantly overall in defeat.

All week long, the focus will be on Lewis and Reed, and their playoff window gradually drawing shut. They are sort of like the Celtics, a bunch of veterans who have won one title in the past and are desperately trying to win one more before they head off to NFL's Valhalla. If Tom Brady reacts to this like he did the brouhaha surrounding Tim Tebow last week, that will help the Patriots greatly. The memory of 2009 won't hurt, either.

But Lewis will be out there, in the media for all to see, and on the playing field on Sunday. And you will do well to heed the words of the great Poe one more time.

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!