They lowered that to 15 in their last eight regular-season games. Talib, who played in the last seven after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helped.
“He’s a good football player, good teammate,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s very well respected because of his professionalism. He studies hard and prepares well. He’s tough. He competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. Smart kid. I like him. The team likes him. He’s a good guy to be around.”
His addition allowed the Patriots to move McCourty from cornerback, where he struggled at times, to safety, where he’s solidified the secondary.
But the Ravens (12-6) have hurt teams with the long ball all season — from their very first offensive play. That was a 52-yard completion from Flacco to Smith that started a 44-13 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals.
“One of (Smith’s) biggest strengths is his speed,” McCourty said. “If you give him a step or two, it will turn into three or four. You just have to be aware of how fast he is.”
Two weeks later against the Patriots, Smith caught passes of 38, 32 and 25 yards, Jones had receptions of a 41 and 24 yards and Anquan Boldin added a 24-yarder. And in the final minute, McCourty was penalized for defensive pass interference, moving the ball 27 yards to the Patriots 7-yard line. Two plays later, Justin Tucker’s 27-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 31-30 win as time expired.
Flacco will be facing the Patriots for the third time in the postseason and sixth time overall. So he knows how Belichick likes to defend Baltimore’s passing game.
“They’re going to probably come up and put pressure on our receivers,” Flacco said. “They always, throughout the years, like to get up and not allow our tight ends and our inside guys to get off the ball very well and play over the top of the outside guys.