The Baltimore Ravens jumped out to a 17-3 first quarter lead and Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and the defense took it from there, denying the Houston Texans for a trip to the AFC Championship game.
Ed Reed wrapped up a 20-13 victory Sunday with Baltimore’s fourth takeaway, and when he finally limped off the field, the Ravens secured their second trip to the AFC title game in the last four seasons.
Baltimore (13-4) will head to Foxborough next Sunday to visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl.
The Patriots lead the all-time series 6-1, but Baltimore’s lone win came in the postseason two years
ago at Gillette Stadium.
The Ravens have been in the postseason for four years straight, but this was their first home playoff game since the 2006 season.
It was anything but a cakewalk.
Baltimore forced two turnovers in the first quarter to build their two touchdown advantage, thanks to a pair of touchdown passes by quarterback Joe Flacco, and interceptions by Lardarius Webb and Reed in the fourth quarter, which helped the lead stand up.
Just a week ago, in the first playoff game in Texans history, Houston didn’t yield a turnover in a 31-10 romping of the Cincinnati Bengals. However, against Baltimore, the Texans couldn’t had trouble holding onto the ball and quickly spotted the Ravens a two touchdown advantage.
Arian Foster ran for 132 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries, making him the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against the Ravens in the playoffs. But rookie quarterback T.J. Yates proved to be the Texans’ Achilles heel, as he threw three costly interceptions.
Trailing 17-13 at halftime, Houston forced two Baltimore three-and-outs in the third quarter before driving to the Baltimore 32-yard line. From there, kicker Neil Rackers’ 50-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar and fell short into the end zone.
Following the missed field goal, Baltimore began a drive, which was highlighted by the sparingly-used Lee Evans, who made a sensational one-handed catch for a 30-yard gain on a third-and-five from the Houston 39-yard line. A few plays later, the Ravens elected to go for a fourth-and-goal from inside the one, but running back Ray Rice was stuffed by linebacker Tim Dobbins for no gain.
The Texans couldn’t move the ball following the goal-line stand, and the Ravens received the ensuing punt at the Houston 49-yard line. But the Ravens offense was stymied, gaining four yards on three plays, and Sam Koch had to punt for the seventh time.
Minutes later, the Ravens went three-and-out for the fourth time in five second-half possessions. Luckily for Baltimore, the defense made up for the offense’s ineptitude to add to its early lead.
Webb’s second pick came with just over seven minutes remaining in the game with the Ravens nursing a 17-13 lead. After moving the ball 45 yards with a shade under three minutes left in the game, Billy Cundiff split the uprights on a 44-yard field goal, giving the Ravens a 20-13 advantage.
Reed ended the Texans’ following drive with his eighth career playoff interception inside the five-yard line.
Houston’s Danieal Manning silenced the record crowd of 71,547 at M&T Bank Stadium by running back the opening kickoff 60 yards to the Baltimore 41-yard line. The Ravens defense came up big on a third-and-one, when they stuffed Foster, forcing a Rackers 40-yard field goal.
Baltimore failed to pick up a first down on its first possession and was forced to punt. Koch booted a 75-yard punt, which Texans punt returner Jacoby Jones curiously attempted to field after the ball bounced at the 13-yard line, where Jones was decked by Cary Williams and lost the ball. Rookie Jimmy Smith jumped on top of the ball and recovered the fumble at the Houston two-yard line.
After a Houston punt, Flacco connected with Anquan Boldin on a 21-yard pass to set up a 48-yard field goal, giving the Ravens a 10-3 lead.
Late in the first quarter, Webb jumped in front of Andre Johnson for his first interception at the Houston 35-yard line. The Texans miscue, resulted in a Flacco 10-yard touchdown strike to Boldin in the right side of the end zone.
Flacco finished the game 14-of-27 for 176 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. After missing the Ravens’ last two games due to a knee injury, Boldin returned with a bang, hauling in four receptions for 73 yards and one touchdown.
Now, the Ravens must regroup and focus as they prepare for a New England Patriots team that is coming off a decisive 45-10 win over the Denver Broncos.