FOXBOROUGH — If retiring linebacker Ray Lewis is the emotional ringleader of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl-bound defense, then strong safety Bernard Pollard is its unabashed knockout artist.
When Stevan Ridley was knocked unconscious in the fourth quarter on a scary hit that left the Patriots running back crumpled on the turf, no one among the Gillette Stadium crowd of 68,756 was surprised to learn Pollard was responsible for the jarring collision.
The hit caused a controversial fumble that led to the final touchdown in Baltimore’s 28-13 victory in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
“This is what we’re about,’’ said Pollard. “We’re about hitting and we’re about running to the football and guys playing hard for four quarters and I think we did a really good job as a team, coming into a hostile environment.
“We know what it felt like last year,’’ Pollard said, referring to Baltimore’s 23-20 loss to the Patriots in the AFC title game. “We didn’t want to have that feeling again, walking off that field.’’
So Pollard did what he does best, particularly against the Patriots. He brought the pain, even though it stands to cost him money if the league reviews his hit on Ridley and a third-quarter hit on Wes Welker that was flagged for a personal foul.
“They were good hits,’’ Pollard said. “I mean, the league will look at it. Nevertheless, this is how I play. If they fine me, they fine me. I can’t change my game.’’
“Bernard Pollard, man, that guy is a hitter,’’ said free safety Ed Reed. “He’s a hitter, he’s a thumper, we’re going to have to do something about these rules.’’
Pollard’s hit on Ridley was the latest in the safety’s punishing blows against the Patriots.
Who could forget how he maimed Tom Brady in the 2008 season opener when he was with Kansas City? How his mere presence in the Texans secondary caused Welker’s knee to buckle while making a hard cut on Reliant Stadium’s awful turf in the 2009 regular-season finale? Or how he rolled over Rob Gronkowski’s ankle in last year’s AFC Championship game?
When it comes to playing the Patriots, Pollard is a one-man wrecking crew.
“It’s football,’’ Pollard said. “This is how we play the game. First of all, we give all thanks and glory to God for allowing us to get through this game injury free. I mean, for us, we’re just excited to be going to New Orleans.’’
Pollard tried to downplay the impact made by his hit on Ridley. The Ravens recovered the fumble, and Joe Flacco found Anquan Boldin on an 11-yard touchdown pass that gave Baltimore a 15-point lead with 11:13 to go.
“It’s just a tackle, it’s football,’’ Pollard said, when asked to describe his hit on Ridley. “He broke through a hole and us, as safeties, we have to fill in where needed, and that’s fine. That’s football. I hope he’s OK.
“We as players are competitive in the moment, but when everything calms down you want that guy to be OK, because that is our brother, that is our brother.’’
But does he relish his reputation as a Patriot Killer?
“I don’t think about that,’’ Pollard said. “This is football, man. Like I said, me as a player, I might laugh and do everything else in the moment and be excited and ready to go. But when it’s all said and done, I just really hope their guys are OK, because they play in this game just like we do. It’s a very physical game, a violent game, and I just hope he’s OK.’’