When the game was over, the Ravens had showed more heart and desire than the New York Giants.
The Ravens' 33-14 win at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday can be dissected and overanalyzed, but the Ravens were much more resilient and determined than the Giants.
Both teams were fighting for division titles and playoff position, and both had been embarrassed the week before in lopsided losses. But this is the time of the season when good teams respond and go forward, and bad ones lose and go home.
"The difference was, for us, I just think we had a little bit more sense of urgency because we knew what was at stake," Ravens running back Ray Rice said. "This was a championship game for us. This solidified a home playoff game and back-to-back division titles. That's huge around here. We'll humble ourselves, we'll enjoy this win and we'll get back to work on Cincinnati because, obviously, they're our next opponent, but playoff football essentially started today."
When you look at both teams, there isn't much difference in talent, though the Giants might have the edge because of the numerous injuries to Ravens starters, especially on defense.
A week earlier, the Giants had been beaten, 34-0, by the Falcons in Atlanta. The Ravens were humbled even more by losing to the Denver Broncos in a game so lopsided that M&T Bank Stadium was half-empty midway through the fourth quarter.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was booed several times. There were times in the fourth quarter when receivers didn't run full-speed across the middle of the field, and Denver gutted the Ravens' defense by consistently running the ball between the tackles.
If there was a time to quit, it was Sunday — the Ravens already had a handy excuse because of injuries. But instead, they pounded the defending Super Bowl champions into submission with 533 yards of total offense and controlled the ball for almost 20 minutes longer.
Except for the Ravens' yielding one touchdown late in the first quarter and another late in the fourth, this was no contest. The Giants could have uttered "no mas" after the Ravens built a 24-7 lead at halftime.
"Huge, man, it's huge to get it this way after what we've been going through, what we've been fighting," safety Ed Reed of the Ravens' winning another AFC North championship. "We knew this was a journey — this season is a journey. We still have a game left. Hats off to the Giants, but we just have to build on this."
That's what the Giants have always been able to do in the past. They are known for peaking in December and building momentum heading into the postseason. They were expected to start another run after beating the New Orleans Saints, 52-27, on Dec. 9, but then they lost to Atlanta.
And now they've lost to the Ravens.
New York looked like a team that had lost its edge. It was never more evident than when Ravens running back Bernard Pierce had a 78-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn could have at least closed the hole by taking on fullback Vonta Leach, but instead, he dropped to the ground like a cornerback who sees a giant guard pulling around the corner.
He wimped out. After the game, the Giants were trying to find some answers and some heart.
"I think we just didn't come to play today," running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "We had a late start, and we couldn't get it going after that. It was a big game. This was one we needed. They wanted it more than we did. The next game, if it's our last, whatever happens, we just want to leave out with pride."
That's what Sunday's game was about for the Ravens, maybe more than anything else. They had dropped three straight, including back-to-back losses to hated rivals Pittsburgh and Washington, and they had been outscored 65-45 in the past two games.
The Ravens were in such a panicked state that they fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron two weeks ago, and they barely got a first down in the first half a week ago.
They were on the verge of completing The Great Collapse of 2012.
"This is just a really special group of men," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Sunday. "How far we take each other, we'll find out. That remains to be seen."
There is a pulse again, and the Ravens showed they still have some fight. Flacco had a strong performance in rebounding from three straight poor showings. The Ravens' passing and running games complemented each other, and the offense attacked the middle of the field.
Poor Corey Webster. The Ravens were unmerciful in attacking the Giants cornerback.
On defense, there weren't a lot of exotic blitzes or pressure schemes. The Ravens simply won a lot of one-on-one matchups without Ray Lewis, Bernard Pollard, Lardarius Webb and Jameel McClain in the starting lineup.
The win was impressive against a New York team that had beaten San Francisco, Washington, Dallas, Green Bay and New Orleans.
No, the Giants aren't the caliber of Houston, New England or Denver, but at least the Ravens showed Sunday they are still capable of making one final run.
Injuries have forced them to be low on talent, but they found their heart and desire again Sunday.
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