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Harbowl Established: Ravens Defeat Patriots In AFC Championship

Law Murray |
January 20, 2013 | 11:01 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Ray Lewis is headed back to the Super Bowl one last time after the Ravens defeated the Patriots in the AFC Championship. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Ray Lewis is headed back to the Super Bowl one last time after the Ravens defeated the Patriots in the AFC Championship. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes, all in the second half, as the Ravens shut out the New England Patriots in the second half of the AFC Championship, winning 28-13.

The playoff road win, the sixth of Flacco and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh's career, puts the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, where they will face the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, coached by John's brother Jim.

The 13 points scored by the Patriots was a season low, and they lost in the AFC Championship for the first time at home in five games.

The game started slow for the Ravens, as the Patriots led 3-0 after the first quarter and 13-7 at halftime. Flacco had only 81 yards on 6-of-12 completions, and outside of a second quarter drive that ended in a short TD run by running back Ray Rice, the Ravens wound up punting four times. The Patriots owned field position and possession in the first half, but they scored only one TD on three red zone trips.

The Patriots would lose cornerback Aqib Talib in the first quarter to a hamstring injury. New Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell tends to take some time to figure out how to exploit matchups; despite the loss of Talib, Ravens wideouts only had 25 yards receiving at halftime (all on one catch by WR Torrey Smith).

The light flashed on after halftime, though. The two teams traded punts to start the second half, but then the Ravens started taking the Patriots' candy in the secondary.

Flacco featured tight end Dennis Pitta three times on the Ravens' second drive, culminating with a five-yard TD pass to give the Ravens a 14-13 third quarter lead that they would not relinquish. Then, following a three-and-out series by the Patriots, Flacco led another drive that ended in a short TD pass, this time a jump ball to WR Anquan Boldin in between tiny Patriots defensive backs Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory. Then, after the Ravens recovered a fumble by RB Stevan Ridley forced via knockout by Patriots nemesis safety Bernard Pollard, Flacco found Boldin again for a TD pass that gave the Ravens a 28-13 lead with just over 11 minutes left in the game.

The Ravens' scoring was over, but the Patriots' meltdown was not. 

The Patriots were forced to come back without Ridley, thrusting RB Shane Vereen into action for a second straight week. Last week versus the Houston Texans, Vereen put in work (124 total yards on 12 touches, three TDs). Vereen didn't have the same impact this week (38 yards on six touches). While the Ravens didn't sack Patriots QB Tom Brady at all, they made Brady inefficient and ineffective in the second half, as Brady completed only 15-of-30 passes for no TDs and two INTs after halftime. After the Ravens took a 15-point lead, the Patriots had three more possessions. They failed on fourth down, then Brady was intercepted twice (once by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe on a tipped pass, and then again by CB Cary Williams in the end zone).

In the end, this win is about Flacco, a 2008 first-round pick who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. No QB has ever won more road games in the postseason than the fifth-year pro out of Delaware, and Flacco went 15-for-24 for 159 yards and three TDs in the second half of this game. His WRs (Boldin, Smith and Jacoby Jones) combined for 110 of those yards. Flacco and the Ravens also didn't turn the ball over, marking the first time all season that the Patriots didn't force at least one turnover. Rice was bottled up (48 yards and one TD on 19 carries), but he was complemented well by rookie RB Bernard Pierce (52 yards on nine carries).

For the Patriots, the loss marks another lost opportunity in what is becoming a fading Super Bowl window for Brady. The Patriots are only 8-7 in the postseason since the franchise's last Super Bowl win in the 2004 season, and Brady has thrown 30 TDs and 19 INTs in those 15 games. WR Wes Welker, who had 117 receiving yards and a TD, had multiple critical dropped passes in what may have been his final game as a Patriot.

Normally, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff get better as a game progresses. In this AFC Championship, the Patriots execution went from shaky (first half, especially the end in which the Patriots mismanaged the clock and had to kick a FG) to inept (three turnovers, zero points in six second half possessions). Belichick's most regrettable decision may have been punting at the Baltimore 34 in the third quarter after Welker dropped a pass on 3rd-and-8. The Patriots were trying to keep a good field position game going, but New England never had the ball and the lead again. As much as the Patriots may have missed the presence of TE Rob Gronkowski and Talib, they simply failed to stop the bleeding once the Ravens got going. I know Ravens (and former Patriots) defensive coordinator Dean Pees was joking when he said the only way to stop Brady was to "hire Tonya Harding," but it sure looked like Harding showed up in the Patriots' locker room at halftime.

With the win, the Ravens return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2000 season, where they beat the New York Giants 34-7. The only player still remaining on the roster since they won that game is LB Ray Lewis, who is set to retire at the end of the season. Both the Ravens and 49ers are undefeated in the Super Bowl (49ers are 5-0, Ravens are 1-0). Like the Ravens, the 49ers shut out their opponent on the road in the second half and scored 28 points while eliminating the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons. The Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6 last season in Baltimore, the first matchup between two head coaches that were brothers in NFL history. Both teams wound up losing their respective conference championship games last season. This time, it's on in New Orleans.



Reach Staff Writer Law Murray via email or follow him on Twitter.



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