The Baltimore Ravens repeatedly stole the ball, and snatched victory from Houston, beating the Texans 20-13 on Sunday to advance to the AFC championship game for the second time in four years.
Baltimore will visit the New England Patriots — led by star quarterback Tom Brady — next Sunday, with the winner moving on to the Super Bowl.
“We know we have a big test next week,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Tom is playing excellent up there, and what they did to the Broncos last night, they sent a message to whoever was coming up there. So, we’ve got our hands full.”
The Ravens have been in the playoffs for four years running, but this was their first home game since 2006. It was anything but easy.
Baltimore forced two turnovers in the first quarter in building a 17-3 lead thanks to touchdown passes by Joe Flacco, and interceptions by Lardarius Webb and Ed Reed in the fourth quarter helped the advantage stand up.
“We knew what was coming,” Lewis said. “This young team, they are so freakin’ fiery. They’ve got so many great pieces over there. I just take my hat off to them, just simply for the way they came out and fought today.
“More importantly, I take my hat off to my team, as well, because we came out and we knew it was going to be tough. We made some plays, they made some plays and at the end of the game, we made the plays that counted.”
One week earlier, in the first playoff game in Texans history, Houston (11-7) didn’t commit a turnover in a 31-10 home rout of Cincinnati. Against Baltimore, the Texans’ couldn’t hold onto the ball and quickly fell behind by two touchdowns.
Arian Foster ran for 132 yards, the first player to rush for 100 yards in the playoffs against the Ravens. But rookie quarterback T.J. Yates threw three interceptions.
Houston’s Danieal Manning muffled the record crowd of 71,547 by taking the opening kickoff 60 yards to the Baltimore 41-yard line. Yates then completed two straight passes, and after the Ravens defense held them up on a third-and-1, Neil Rackers kicked a 40-yard field goal to put Houston on the board.
Baltimore failed to get a first down on its first possession and had to punt, but Houston’s Jacoby Jones inexplicably attempted to field the bouncing ball at the 13-yard line. He was immediately hit and lost the ball, which was recovered by the Ravens at the 2.
On the subsequent third down, Flacco threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kris Wilson — the tight end’s first catch of the season — to put Baltimore ahead for the first time.
After a Houston punt, Flacco then completed a 21-yard pass to Anquan Boldin to set up a 48-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead.
Later in the first quarter, Webb intercepted at the Houston 35. Five plays later, Flacco tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Boldin in the right side of the end zone and it was 17-3.
Houston responded, as Yates completed a pair of third-down passes during a 59-yard drive that ended with a field goal to make it 17-6.
Yates then led a 12-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Foster to make it 17-13.
Yates went 17 for 35 for 184 yards. Johnson had eight catches for 111 yards.
There was no further score until Webb’s second interception came with 7½ minutes left and the Ravens still clinging to 17-13 advantage. Baltimore moved 45 yards to get a field goal by Billy Cundiff with 2:52 left which completed the scoring.
Reed ended the Texans’ subsequent drive with his eighth career playoff interception inside the 5-yard line.