Ravens headed to Super Bowl after beating Patriots in AFC title game

January 21, 2013|Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — They wanted the New England Patriots, told the world that they would beat them and then went into their stadium and dominated the second half as no visiting team had ever done.

It didn't seem possible when they limped into the postseason losers of four of five, or when they trailed the Denver Broncos last week by a touchdown with under a minute to go, or during Sunday night's first half, when they were having trouble getting quarterback Tom Brady off the field.

But it's reality now: The Ravens are going to the Super Bowl. Avenging last year's bitter loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game, the Ravens took apart New England in the second half, punching their ticket to New Orleans with a thorough 28-13 victory in front of an announced 68,756 at stunned Gillette Stadium.

“We know what it felt like walking off that field losers” last season, Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said. “They beat us, and we said we weren't going to walk off again like that.”

Instead, the Ravens bounced off, one by one, celebrating with their fans who had come down to the first couple of rows at Gillette Stadium. Safety Ed Reed, who will play in his first Super Bowl and do it in his home state, sang, “We got two tickets to paradise.” Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs yelled, “We came, we saw and we conquered.” Defensive end Arthur Jones held up a sign that read, “AFC champions,” and shouted, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah” to no one in particular.

In the Super Bowl for the second time in team history and the first time in 12 years, the Ravens will play the San Francisco 49ers, 28-24 winners over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game, Feb. 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game will pit Ravens coach John Harbaugh against his younger brother, Jim, the coach of the 49ers.

“I don't know if we had a dream this big,” John Harbaugh said. “We had a few dreams, we had a few fights, we had a few arguments. We'll try to stay out of that business. We'll let the two teams duke it out.”

John Harbaugh's team was at its best when it absolutely had to be, steamrollering Bill Belichick's Patriots — who led 13-7 at halftime — over the final 30 minutes. Belichick had been 72-1 when leading at halftime at Gillette Stadium, including 67-0 with Brady at the helm. But they had no answers for quarterback Joe Flacco or for a Ravens defense that not only forced three turnovers in the second half, but forced several Patriots to the sidelines.

“We felt like the most physical team was going to win,” said Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin. “I don't know if they know it or not, but the Ravens are a physical team. That's just the way we play, like it or not, offensively or defensively. If you think you're going to come in here and knock us around, you have another thing coming.”

A week after outshining the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning and two weeks after getting the better of Indianapolis Colts phenom Andrew Luck, Flacco outplayed Brady, completing 15 of 24 passes in the second half for 159 yards and three touchdowns after the coaching staff decided in the second half to put the game on the fifth-year quarterback's shoulders.

“We realized we needed to put some pressure on them,” said Flacco, who has now thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three playoff games. “We didn't come all the way here to play it safe.”

With his team still trailing by six points about midway through the third quarter, Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta for a 5-yard touchdown that gave the Ravens a 14-13 lead that they never relinquished. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he found Anquan Boldin for a 3-yard score, and a little more than three minutes later, the pair connected for an 11-yard touchdown. Boldin had said during the week that the Ravens would win, and his two touchdowns made sure of that.

“For us, it wasn't a secret what we were trying to accomplish,” Boldin said. “We came here last year and we left with a bitter taste in our mouths. We felt like this team took something away from us. We wanted to come back and make that right. It would have been great to do it in front of our fans in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium, but we thought the proper way was to come back here and to win at Foxborough, and we were able to do that.”

Leading 28-13 with 11:13 to play, the Ravens stopped the Patriots on fourth down to get the ball back, then got interceptions on New England's final two possessions. Brady finished 29-for-54 for 320 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

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