Ravens win with defense
Playing defense and protecting the football are what they do best, and that formula led to a 20-13 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday, putting Baltimore in the AFC title game against the New England Patriots.
“I always say there is a right way to do things, there is a wrong way to do things, and there is just the Ravens’ way of doing things,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It wasn’t pretty but we’re not really a pretty team. We got the ‘W’ and now it’s on to the AFC championship.”
The Ravens (13-4) had almost as many punts (nine) as first downs (11) and scored only three points over the final 46 minutes. But Baltimore wasn’t penalized once, didn’t commit a turnover, intercepted rookie quarterback T.J. Yates three times and totaled four takeaways—two in the first quarter and two over the final eight minutes.
“If we didn’t get any of those turnovers it would probably be a different game,” Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.
Baltimore visits New England next Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
The Patriots lead the series 6-1, but Baltimore’s lone win came in the postseason.
Veteran defensive stars Ed Reed and Ray Lewis led a unit that yielded only one touchdown and came up with the big play when one was needed. Lewis had a team-high seven tackles and Reed sealed the victory with the Ravens’ fourth takeaway, an interception near the goal line in the closing minutes.
“It’s winning by any means necessary,” Reed said. “That’s what it’s got to be.”
The Ravens finished 9-0 at home, but this one was anything but easy. Baltimore led 17-3 after the first quarter, and interceptions by Lardarius Webb and Reed in the final 7½ minutes helped the advantage stand up.
Reed has eight interceptions in 10 playoff games, few bigger than the last one.
Arian Foster ran for 132 yards, the first player ever to rush for 100 yards against the Ravens in the postseason. But Yates’ three interceptions matched the total he had in six regular season games.
“I can’t have the turnovers,” Yates said. “If we don’t turn the ball over like that, we have a chance to win. And we still had a chance to win.”
If I’d done a better job of protecting the football, I really think we’d have come out with the win today. We did a good job of moving the ball and we had some big plays, but you can’t have that many picks.”
Down 17-13 at halftime, Houston twice held the Ravens without a first down in the third quarter before driving to the Baltimore 32. From there, Neil Rackers’ 50-yard field goal try hit the crossbar and dropped into the end zone.
Baltimore then launched a drive in which seldom-used Lee Evans made a sensational one-handed catch for a 30-yard gain on third-and-5 from the Houston 39. On fourth-and-goal inside the 1, Ray Rice was stuffed by linebacker Tim Dobbins for no gain.
“That’s a huge play,” said Houston defensive end J.J. Watt of Wisconsin. “Those are the type of plays that win playoffs games. Obviously, we wish it had gone the other way, but those are the type of plays that you remember.”
The Texans couldn’t move the ball, and the Ravens took the ensuing punt at the Houston 49. But three plays netted only 4 yards, and Sam Koch punted for the seventh time.
Minutes later, the Ravens went three and out for the fourth time in five second-half possessions. Fortunately for Baltimore, the defense compensated for the team’s inability to add to its early lead.
“You have to do whatever you have to do to win a football game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
Webb’s second interception came with 7½ minutes left and the Ravens clinging to 17-13 advantage. Baltimore moved 45 yards to get a field goal by Billy Cundiff with 2:52 left.