FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Oh, brother!
John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens set up a family reunion at the Super Bowl, shutting down the New England Patriots 28-13 Sunday in the AFC championship game.
The Ravens reached their first Super Bowl in 12 years, thanks to three touchdown passes from Joe Flacco and a defence led by Ray Lewis that made Tom Brady look downright ordinary.
Next up for Harbaugh and the Ravens is baby brother Jim and the San Francisco 49ers, who beat Atlanta 28-24 earlier in the day for the NFC title.
They’ll meet in two weeks in New Orleans — what a place for a party to celebrate the first brother-vs.-brother coaching matchup in Super Bowl history.
It also will be quite a last game for Lewis, the emotional linebacker who will retire after the matchup with the 49ers, who opened as a 5-point favourite.
Driven by Lewis’ pending departure from the NFL, Baltimore’s defence stepped up in the playoffs. Brady was 67-0 at home when leading at halftime, but this was no contest in the second half.
It also was a first for the Patriots, who hadn’t lost an AFC championship at home. After they had avenged last year’s AFC title game loss at Gillette Stadium, many of the Ravens gathered on the field jumping, chest-bumping and whooping before several thousand fans wearing Ravens jerseys — mostly Lewis’ No. 52 — who remained in the stands.
As in the previous two playoff wins against Indianapolis and Denver, the Ravens (13-6) were brilliant offensively in spots. This might be 17-year-veteran Lewis’ team, but it’s also Flacco’s, and the quarterback’s six road wins are the most in playoff history.
“It was pretty awesome,” Flacco said. “We were here last year and thought we had it, but came up a little short. Guys came out in the second half and made plays. … We put pressure on them like that, and it worked pretty well.”
Flacco, the only quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, was dynamic with his arm and precise with his decision making. Looking much more the championship passer than Brady did, his throws of 11 and 3 yards to Anquan Boldin and 5 to Dennis Pitta all were perfect.
New England (13-5) lost a home AFC title matchup for the first time in five home games. The loss denied Brady and coach Bill Belichick a shot at their sixth Super Bowl. They’ve gone 3-2, losing their last two times in the big game.
Instead, it’s the AFC North champion Ravens heading to the Big Easy, seeking their second NFL championship. San Francisco has won five.
“This is our time. This is our time,” Lewis said as he and a few teammates were receiving the AFC championship trophy. “All these men out there, there might just be only five of us up here, but every man out there sacrificed this year for each other, and man, we did it and we’re on our way to the Super Bowl. That’s awesome.”
The Ravens have gotten there the hard way, with no post-season bye. Then again, five of the last seven Super Bowl champions took that route. They also were pushed into a second overtime in frigid Denver last weekend before eliminating Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Broncos. And now they’ve cast aside the league’s most successful franchise of the last dozen years.
New England (13-5), which hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, had four injuries, the scariest when running back Stevan Ridley was knocked flat by Bernard Pollard in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble. Baltimore turned that into the final touchdown, on the only short scoring drive it had, 47 yards.
The Ravens gained just 130 yards in the first half.
Brady guided a 13-play drive to Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Neither defence yielded a big play, and punters Zoltan Mesko and Sam Koch were the busiest guys on the field.
That changed when the teams switched sides for the second quarter. Baltimore again was pinned deep, at its 10, but Flacco led a 13-play drive. Ray Rice, whose 83-yard run on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage in their wild-card round victory here three years ago, ran left untouched for the TD.
Awakened by Baltimore’s march, the Patriots staged a long one of their own, 79 yards, aided by a 15-yard personal foul by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Wes Welker picked up 24 yards on a short pass, then got free in the right corner of the end zone after a mix-up in the Ravens’ secondary, making it 10-7. It was 13-7 by halftime as Gostkowski connected from 25 yards, with New England outsmarting Baltimore several times. Danny Woodhead ran for 7 yards on a direct snap on fourth-and-1 in the drive. Defensive end Paul Kruger, who’s good at sacks, not much in coverage — found himself downfield on Aaron Hernandez on what became a 17-yard reception.
But Brady made a mental error himself, not calling timeout quickly enough after a short scramble. So the Patriots didn’t get a shot at the end zone and Gostkowski made his second kick.