The Ravens were there first. They'd clinched a berth in the AFC championship game a day earlier.
While no player admitted they had a preference of opponent after their 38-35 upset victory at the Denver Broncos on Saturday, deep down they did.
“I think we kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said of watching the Patriots beat the Houston Texans. “If we were to go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough and win there. ... Hopefully, we can get it done this time."
Tight end Dennis Pitta started out well. He had a major lull near mid-season that lasted until recently. He 3 catches for 55 yards in the divisional playoff win in Denver, but no catch he has had all season may be bigger than his one in the first overtime.
With the Ravens facing 3rd-and-13 from their own 6 and in danger of punting the ball back to the Broncos and giving Peyton Manning the ball around midfield, Pitta rose up and snatched a 24-yard reception as he crashed to the ground.
Even though the drive later stalled, it allowed the Ravens to get out of that jam. Sam Koch had a 52-yard punt that buried the Broncos at their own 7. Corey Graham then would intercept Manning and set the stage for the Ravens to win on a field goal in double-overtime.
Pitta had 5 catches for 41 yards, including a 6-yard TD pass that tied the score at 10 in last year's AFC title game. He had 5 catches for 40 yards and 1 TD in the Ravens' 31-30 comeback victory vs. the Patriots in Week 3 this season. Pitta hurdled Steve Gregory en route to a 20-yard TD in that game.
At one point, it didn't appear the Ravens could get back to the AFC title game. They'd lost Ray Lewis (triceps), Terrell Suggs (biceps), Marshal Yanda (ankle), Dannell Ellerbe (ankle) and Ngata (knee/shoulder) at various points. They limped into the playoffs at 10-6, losing four of their last five games, but have gotten healthy again just in time.
"It's been a little longer road for us. We've had to play two games already, and last year we had the bye and got a little more rest," said Pitta, noting the Ravens finished two games better at 12-4 and had a first-round bye in last year's playoffs. "But we really feel good about the road that we've taken, and we're sitting here as a confident football team and excited for this game."