Since '07 Patriots-Ravens fireworks, matchup has been one of NFL's best

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When considering a starting point for what has become one of the NFL’s better rivalries of the past decade -- New England Patriots versus Baltimore Ravens -- the last meeting between the teams on ESPN’s Monday Night Football seems like the right place to start.

Rewind the clock to Dec. 3, 2007, set the scene at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, and consider the dynamics in play.

The Patriots were 11-0 and had been putting up big offensive numbers before a late-season slowdown, and there was widespread talk of a possible undefeated season. The Ravens, under then-coach Brian Billick, were 4-7 and essentially playing for pride.

It all turned into an unforgettable night, with Billick, at one point, blowing kisses in the direction of Patriots safety Rodney Harrison.

What made it unforgettable, more than anything else, was the ending. The Ravens led 24-17 early in the fourth quarter, then 24-20 with less than two minutes to play, before an epic meltdown. On fourth down, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan called a timeout before the Patriots' snap, negating what would have been a stop to win the game. But on the next play, the Patriots appeared to be stopped on fourth-and-1, only to have the play not count because of a false-start penalty.

Tom Brady made the most of the Patriots' third chance, ultimately finding receiver Jabar Gaffney for an 8-yard score with 44 seconds remaining. As emotions boiled over after New England scored the go-ahead touchdown, Ravens linebacker Bart Scott picked up an officials’ penalty flag and fired it into the crowd.

He was penalized twice for unsportsmanlike conduct, as Baltimore imploded.

And after the 27-24 Patriots victory, the rivalry, some would say, was officially on at that point.

Fast-forward to this coming Monday, which marks the 10th Patriots-Ravens game since the start of the 2007 season, and it’s fitting that the game will be aired on ESPN. The two games are perfect bookends of a decade of memorable meetings between the franchises that at one point had Patriots coach Bill Belichick referring to the Ravens as being like an AFC East opponent.

There’s familiarity.

Plenty of respect (Belichick recommended John Harbaugh for Billick's old job back in '08).

Some contempt.

And usually some form of high stakes involved. This season is no different: The 10-2 Patriots are chasing AFC home-field advantage, and the Ravens (7-5) are playing some of their best football and positioning themselves for their own postseason run.

Since the ’07 game, the teams have met in four playoff games, all at Gillette Stadium, with a 2-2 split. The Ravens’ 28-13 win on Jan. 20, 2013, in the AFC Championship Game set the stage for their Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

The Patriots, of course, exacted a measure of revenge on Jan. 10, 2015, in the divisional round of the playoffs. In the game, the Pats used trick plays in which they declared eligible receivers ineligible, enraging Harbaugh in the process. That helped spark a come-from-behind, 35-31 win en route to the Pats' Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Three seasons before, in the AFC title game, Billy Cundiff missed a potential game-tying 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining, ending Baltimore's season in heartbreak. The kick wouldn’t have been needed had receiver Lee Evans made a touchdown catch two plays before, but defensive back Sterling Moore broke up the play in the end zone.

Those games, and those moments, really just scratch the surface of the rivalry. In terms of total years, the history isn’t plentiful between the Patriots and Ravens, but it has still emerged as one of the best things the NFL has had to offer over the past decade.

So get your popcorn ready.

Patriots-Ravens, since ’07, has not failed to produce memorable moments.