OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens’ locker room was an angry place following their loss last October to the New England Patriots.
The primary object of their fury: the officials.
The Ravens’ 27-21 defeat was keyed by a pair of controversial roughing the passer penalties on the defense for contact with star quarterback Tom Brady.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata grazed the side of Brady’s helmet.
When outside linebacker Terrell Suggs struck Brady in the knee area, it got the Patriots in position for a Sammy Morris touchdown run. Brady pointed at his knee and gestured before the official threw the flag, an obvious reminder about the point of emphasis instituted by the NFL competition of committee prior to the season.
Afterward, middle linebacker Ray Lewis called the officiating embarrassing.
"A personal foul and he isn’t even touched," Lewis said last year. "He’s a man. They can be hit, just like us. It’s embarrassing Tom Brady is laughing. It wasn’t no personal foul if he’s still smiling."
One year later as the Ravens (4-1) prepare to square off with the Patriots (3-1) again at Gillette Stadium, the Ravens say they won’t hesitate to go after Brady for fear of drawing penalties.
"If that’s the only way I’m going to get him down, I’m going to tackle him," Suggs said. "This is football. In my eyes, one man is not more important than the other. I got hit in my knee last year and they went on to the next game. I’m not saying I’m going to deliberately tackle Tom Brady in the knee.
"But if I’m falling and the only way to get him down is to grab him or whatever and it happens to be his foot or his shoestring, ankle, thigh, hip, stomach, anyway I can get him down, I’m going to get him down. I’m a football player and I’m going to play football."
Last year, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing with the officials about the calls.
On Wednesday, Lewis said he won’t concern himself about how the officials protect Brady.
"You know we don’t even think about that," Lewis said. "Whatever happens is going to happen, though. You know what I’m saying?
"Because if you do that, you’re thinking and you can’t think playing this game. You’ve got to react, and whatever comes with it, comes with it. You just hope the game is always called fair."
INJURY UPDATE: Although three starters were held out of practice Wednesday, they’re expected to play against the Patriots.
That includes Ngata (knee), running back Ray Rice (knee) and fullback Le’Ron McClain (shoulder, knee).
Ngata injured his knee going out for a pass against the Denver Broncos.
Rice has been dealing with a bruised knee for the past two games.
Also not practicing: cornerback Josh Wilson (strained hamstring) and defensive end Paul Kruger (sprained medial collateral ligament).
"I would say that I would definitely be surprised if I couldn’t play," Wilson said. "I’ve never had an injury to my hamstring before. It was definitely an awkward feeling. You don’t want it to be a long-term injury. It’s not terrible."
Linebackers Jameel McClain (knee) and Edgar Jones (bruised thigh) were limited.
Meanwhile, the Ravens ruled out offensive tackle Jared Gaither (upper back), wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth (broken foot) and inside linebacker Tavares Gooden (dislocated left shoulder).
Patriots running back Fred Taylor (toe) didn’t practice.
Brady (right shoulder) and cornerback Terrence Wheatley (foot) participated fully.
NO PROGRESS FOR GAITHER: Gaither remains sidelined with an upper back injury, a thoracic disc condition that has prevented him from practicing on a regular basis since the first week of August.
Gaither isn’t feeling any better at this point, saying the pain has been consistent.
"The pain has been kind of steady," Gaither said. "There really hasn’t been an increase or decrease in pain."
When asked if he’s hopeful that he might play this season, Gaither replied: "I’ll always have faith that it will clear up soon, that I’ll have no trouble soon. Whatever timetable that is, I have no control over. I’ll keep a positive head every day."
It’s unclear, though, how much longer the Ravens can afford to hold a roster spot for Gaither.
Harbaugh has said the team will need to make a decision in the next few weeks as to whether Gaither will be placed on injured reserve."
"I’m not sure," Gaither said. "I don’t control those things. I just work as hard as I can to get back on the field. That’s where I want to be. I don’t know about any of that stuff. All that stuff is really secondary to my health.
"IR would be disappointing to me terribly, but obviously things have to be done. Whatever needs to be done, I understand that part. Like I told them before, I’ll give them everything I’ve got every day and we’ll see."
Gaither said he has no history of back problems.
Gaither was asked if being placed on injured reserve might be his best option.
"I’m not really concerned about that," he said. "What concerns me is my health. Anything that can help me get better, I’m willing to do. Whatever needs to be done."
Gaither said that his Los Angeles back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins isn’t advocating surgery to fix the injury.
"He recommended no procedure," Gaither said. "I’m not going to put any words in that man’s mouth."
‘IT WILL BE HIS CALL’: The Ravens remain upbeat that star free safety Ed Reed will return to practice next week when he’s eligible to be activated from the physically unable to perform list.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year had offseason hip surgery.
"I’m hopeful and I’m optimistic and I feel like he’s doing great," Harbaugh said. "What I was trying to say is he’s working really hard and he looks good. But we don’t know. That will be up to Ed and the doctors and the trainers to see how it goes. ..
"I think he’s going to push himself as hard as he can. Then really, it will be his call. He’s a guy that’s been in the league forever. He knows what he can do and what he can’t do."
Meanwhile, Harbaugh said he’s hopeful that special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps) could return to practice next week.
Harbaugh said it’s more of a grey area for running back Matt Lawrence (knee).
HARBAUGH PAYS UP: Settling a bet on the Oregon-Stanford game after wagering that his brother’s Cardinal football team would win, Harbaugh wore a green-and-yellow "I Love My Ducks" Oregon T-shirt for his media session.
Harbaugh lost a bet to former University of Oregon players Ngata and Ed Dickson. Harbaugh’s brother, Jim Harbaugh, coaches Stanford.
Harbaugh also lost a small money bet to Ngata.
"I want you to know the ramifications for losses ring all the way across from coast to coast," said Harbaugh, who declined to use a special Ducks whistle. "But I’ve got to give the Ducks their due. They won the game fair and square. It was a nice victory. We’ll probably see you in the national championship game.
"If we hadn’t fumbled on the one-yard line, I think we’d have had a good shot when we came back down at the end again, but that’s past us. Beat USC last week, and we’re moving on."
SUGGS DENIES GETTING PAID BY AGENT: Suggs denied receiving any money from embattled agent Gary Wichard while he attended Arizona State.
Wichard has been the subject of allegations regarding the University of North Carolina and former assistant head coach John Blake.
Wichard was also prominently mentioned by a former employee, Josh Luchs, in a Sports Illustrated article titled, "Confessions of an Agent." Luchs lost a lawsuit to Wichard.
"I wish I had seen some of it, I swear," said Suggs, a three-time Pro Bowl pass rushers. "I didn’t get nothing. From what I heard was going on, people were getting cars and checks and stuff, I was like, ‘Yo, my dumb ass is really under the rug.’ Nah, I don’t even know what’s been said. I didn’t get no cake. I wish I was getting some cake."
Suggs said he signed with Wichard because of his representation of top pass rushers like Dwight Freeney and Jason Taylor, not because of extra inducements.
"Hey, it’s hard in college, know what I mean," Suggs said. "Gary Wichard didn’t give me [expletive]. He didn’t give me anything. I wish I had known this was going on. Like I said, I never heard anything about it. I guess I’ll have to read about it."
QUICK HITS: Former Ravens cornerback Frank Walker signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings. … Former Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes signed with the San Diego Chargers, taking Shawne Merriman’s roster spot as he was placed on injured reserve. … The Cincinnati Bengals tried out former Ravens outside linebacker Adalius Thomas. … Harbaugh praised six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk. Birk has toughed it out through several injuries, including neck problems. Birk replaced Jason Brown when he signed with the St. Louis Rams. "Matt’s a guy who has been great for us," Harbaugh said. "We lost a really good center and we were able to bring Matt in. And he’s been the anchor of our offensive line. He’s smart, he’s tough, he gets us going in the right direction most all the time. He has seen so much. He is able to make adjustments, but the thing I’m so impressed with is physically where he is at. He’s still got it. He’s been around for a long time, but nobody works harder in the weight room, nobody trains harder than he does. And that’s probably why he’s been able to play so well for so long." … The Ravens have been picking the brain of linebackers coach Dean Pees, a former Patriots defensive coordinator. How big of an advantage is it having Pees on the staff? "Well, yeah, we like to think so," Harbaugh said. "But then again, they know that we know that they know that Dean’s here. So, what will they change? The big thing we concern ourselves with is us. You study your opponent and you try to have an idea what you’re up against. And we do as good a job as anybody about that. But the main thing is how you play, how you execute the game plan and make some plays."