Quick question for the Baltimore Ravens: Exactly how many wishes were you granted by the Football Genie? Because if you have one left, I suggest you use it now.
Look, the Ravens have been accomplishing the improbable this season. They overcame the death of Torrey Smith's brother, potential season-ending injuries to Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, the loss of their best cornerback and the unexpected firing of their offensive coordinator three weeks before the end of the regular season.
Not only did they survive; they're in the AFC championship game for the second time in two years and the third in five.
But that's why they better look into collecting that next favor. It's not enough that they must vanquish Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium, where they're 10-2 in the playoffs and haven't lost a conference championship game.
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Nope, now they must beat Brady a second time in one season.
That can be harder than making trains run on time, and if you don't believe me take a look at that 9 1/2-point spread. Better yet, take a look at this: Since Brady took over as the Patriots' starter in 2001, only four opponents (Jets, Giants, Colts and Broncos) defeated him twice in one season.
That's not promising for Baltimore, but keep reading, people. Two of those four twice-in-a-season defeats occurred in the past two seasons -- the New York Jets in the 2010 playoffs and the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
So it can happen. It's just that it happens as often as a lunar eclipse.
Yeah, I know, the Ravens hung the first home playoff loss ever on Brady, and it wasn't close. But he was hurt, trying to play through broken ribs, and was without his favorite receiver, Wes Welker (sidelined with torn knee ligaments). Plus, it wasn't conference championship weekend. It was the wild-card round of the 2009 playoffs.
So the stakes were different, and so was Brady.
Now fast forward to the next season when the Jets beat him twice -- with the second game a playoff upset at Gillette Stadium. That was the divisional round. Nevertheless, the upset proved Brady can be mortal, and the Patriots can be beaten.
The Giants' victory, of course, followed a similar script to their Super Bowl XLII defeat of New England -- with a last-minute drive punctuated by a miraculous reception. Only this time it's the Ravens who need the miracle because they're trying to best Brady for the second time in four months.
"Brady has tremendous, tremendous fundamentals," said one source close to the Patriots, "because he's always working on them. You don't see him make the off-balance interception or blindly throwing the ball up. And he almost never throws the hellacious pick to lose the game. When he plays, it's usually a work of art out there."
Not against Baltimore it's not. In fact, Brady is flat ordinary against the Ravens. Since John Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008, Brady is 3-2 vs. the Ravens and 1-1 in the playoffs. Plus, he has more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5) -- with two TDs and five picks in two playoff games -- and a passer rating (74.69) far below his career regular-season average of 96.6. Moreover, the Patriots were outscored in those games 125-117.
In short, Tom Terrific he's not.
Then there's this: Brady's only loss in a conference championship game was in the 2006 playoffs when Indianapolis staged a furious second-half comeback for its second defeat of the Patriots that season. The Colts' quarterbacks coach was Jim Caldwell who, it just so happens, is the offensive coordinator for the Ravens.
One difference: The Colts were home.
The point of all this is that even though you can beat Brady, it doesn't happen often. And what happens far less is beating him twice in one season ... which is why Baltimore should hope there's one more wish to be granted.
Running back Ray Rice described these Ravens as "a team of destiny," and maybe they are. But they're destined for the mother of all challenges, and I understand why players are unconcerned. They just ended top-seeded Denver's 11-game winning streak and knocked off Peyton Manning for the first time since 2001.
But this isn't about sneaking one past Rahim Moore. This is about beating Tom Frickin' Brady for the second time this year ... at home ... in the playoffs ... in a conference championship game where he's 5-1.
"I don't have a list of all the things we have been through," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "A lot of teams go through a lot of things. There are challenges that get you to the point that you are as a football team, and make you who you are -- even as a person. And our guys have handled all those things extremely well. A lot of our guys have come out of it stronger and better men, and we're a stronger and better team."
Good. Because, now more than ever, they must be.