Despite being at least nine point underdogs the past two weeks, the Baltimore Ravens shutout the New England Patriots in the second half and scored 21 unanswered points in route to a 28-13 victory and punching their ticket to Super Bowl XLVII. It will be Baltimore's first Super Bowl appearance since the 2000 season where Ray Lewis and company beat the New York Giants.
Trailing 13-7 at halftime, the Ravens had only mustered one offensive drive worth much as Ray Rice ran it in for a score from two yards out capping off a 13 play, 90 yard drive in the second quarter, but that was the only time Baltimore threatened in the first half offensively. New England drove into Baltimore territory five times in the first half, but the Ravens defense held strong with their backs against the wall as they only allowed one touchdown and two field goals in those five drives to keep the game close heading into the second half.
Ahh the second half, much like many games in the NFL, the second half almost seemed like it was a completely different game, and last night, it was. The Ravens scored a touchdown on three of their five real drives in the second half (not counting the end of the game when Ravens were kneeling on the ball) and Baltimore's defense forced three turnovers and didn't allow a single point. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hooked up with TE Dennis Pitta from yards out in the middle of the third quarter to take a 14-13 lead. The touchdown capped off a 10 play, 87 yard drive and Pitta caught the touchdown pass after nearly getting his head knocked off a play or two before.
Flacco and the Ravens offense did not stop there however, as Flacco hooked up with Anquan Boldin on the first play of the fourth quarter for a three yard touchdown and gave Baltimore an eight point 21-13 lead with pretty much the entire fourth quarter left to play. I am sure most of the viewers thought well here we go, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is going to do what he always does and lead his team back in the fourth quarter for a victory, but Baltimore had other plans. On the ensuing drive, Ravens S Bernard Pollard delivered a massive hit on Patriots running back Stevan Ridley forcing a fumble and Baltimore recovered. Flacco, grasping the moment by the neck, drove his team down the field and threw his third touchdown pass of the night, and second to Boldin from 11 yards out to give his team a 15 point lead at 28-13 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game.
A lot of the viewers probably still felt that Brady was going to do something magical, but once again the Ravens defense had other ideas as New England drove down to the Baltimore 19 yardline, but the Ravens held on fourth down to force a turnover on downs. Following a Baltimore three and out resulting in a punt, New England was driving again but Pernell McPhee got a hand on Brady's pass intended for Aaron Hernandez and Dannell Ellerbe intercepted the pass for another turnover and all but sealing the victory for the Ravens. Cary Williams later intercepted Brady to officially put the nail in the coffin in garbage time, but Baltimore's defense did what it has done all season, it bends but does not break and makes the plays when they have to.
Brady came into the game with a 67-0 record at home when leading at halftime, well Ray Lewis and company didn't care as Brady is now 67-1. Flacco, for the second consecutive AFC Championship outplayed Brady in New England as Joe completed 21 of 36 pass attempts for 240 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions as opposed to Brady's 320 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. In this postseason, Flacco has thrown for an average of 284.3 yards per game and has eight touchdowns with ZERO interceptions, that sounds pretty elite to me. Coming into the game everyone wanted to see Flacco "win the big one" and get over that hump and take his team to the Super Bowl, well task achieved as Flacco has led his team to at least one playoff victory in each of his first five seasons in the NFL, three AFC Championship appearances, and now a Super Bowl appearance. Although neither Baltimore running back ran for more than 55 yards (Pierce 52 yards, Rice 48 yards with a touchdown), the running game helped Flacco and in the second half the Ravens took advantage of their matchups over the middle and looked fantastic. One final statistic for Joe, he now has six road playoff wins in his career, the most in NFL history for a quarterback.
Ray Lewis led all players in tackles with 14 in the game and has led all players in tackles in each of the Ravens three postseason games and now has 44 total in the playoffs. It may be Lewis's last ride, but he is playing like the Lewis of old. Ellerbe and Williams came away with an interception each and Arthur Jones recovered a fumble for the Ravens defense.
Baltimore's victory has set up, for the first time in NFL history, a Harbaugh Bowl in which two brother's will face off against each other as head coaches of different teams in a Super Bowl. There could not have been a better route for the Ravens to make the Super Bowl as they beat the Colts, Peyton Manning, and the New England Patriots. As aforementioned, this will be the Ravens first Super Bowl appearance since the 2000 season when they blew out the New York Giants 34-7 with a dominant defense, but this time around Baltimore has a good defense with a spectacular offense. The Ravens will be facing a dynamic read option offense in the San Francisco 49'ers and have already been labeled as five point underdogs, but just ask this Baltimore team if they care what the spread is!
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