The Baltimore Ravens finally put the ball in Joe Flacco’s hands in the big time spotlight, and he got them a berth in the Super Bowl.
Trailing the New England Patriots by a 13-7 score at the half, Flacco directed two long third quarter drives, the second one culminating with an Anquan Boldin touchdown catch on the first play of the 4th quarter for a 21-13 lead on the way to winning his first AFC Championship.
On the ensuing drive, Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was knocked out on a hit by Bernard Pollard, causing Ridley to lose control of the ball. Baltimore recovered and had the ball at the New England 47 – then Flacco drove the nail in the coffin. Flacco hit Boldin once again, this time from 11 yards out for an insurmountable 28-13 lead.
Flacco was sensational in the second half after a so-so 1st half. Overall he went 21 for 36 for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
After Patriots’ cornerback Aqib Talib left the game with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, Flacco started picking on the smaller Kyle Arrington, who played well and always had good position, but just wasn’t able to match the athleticism of Boldin, who went high for both scores.
Tight End Dennis Pitta abused Patriots’ Safety Steve Gregory for five big catches for 55 yards and an easy score.
Brady had an atrocious game hitting on only 29 of 55 pass attempts for 320 yards, one touchdown to Wes Welker and 2 interceptions. The offensive line kept the Baltimore pass rush away from Brady, but the defensive linemen deflected several passes, including one that was intercepted.
Wes Welker, who may have played his last game for New England finished with 8 catches for 117 yards – but also dropped a key 3rd down pass that set Baltimore up for their first 3rd quarter touchdown.
Trailing 28-13 the Patriots were able to mount a drive with just under 10 minutes left in the game, but it stalled at the Baltimore 11 yard line as Brady threw a ball harmlessly to the turf on 4th and 4. On New England’s next drive starting with 7:25 to go, they threatened again, only to have a tipped ball turn into an interception by Danelle Ellerbe.
Brady threw his second interception in the end zone with just over a minute to play, marking the 5th time they had driven down inside the Ravens’ 25 yard line and came away without a touchdown.
The loss of Aqib Talib was the key to the Ravens’ second half surge, as Flacco constantly picked on the smaller Patriots’ defensive backs. Without the big corner Talib, Flacco threw a lot of high balls that he knew only Boldin could get to. On the other side, Alfonzo Dennard was a bright spot for the Patriots, as he held speedster Torrey Smith to 4 grabs.
Normally, 28 points isn’t enough to beat the Patriots, but the Baltimore defense combined with many Patriots’ miscues doomed them to their lowest point total of the season.
A turning point in the game came with 11 seconds left in the 1st half, when clock mismanagement cost the Patriots a chance at a touchdown – settling for 3 points and the 13-7 haltime lead.
The four points left on the field turned out to be huge, as the Patriots fell behind by fifteen points instead of 11, affecting the play calling, particularly on the 4th and 4 that the Patriots had to try for a 1st down. Had they been down by only 11, they could have kicked a field goal in that situation, but instead came away with nothing.
And that was the beginning of the end.
Now the Baltimore Ravens have earned a shot at a world title, as brothers John and Jim Harbaugh, coaches of the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers respectively, meet in Super Bowl 47 at the Superdome in New Orleans.