Sunday’s 20-13 win was ugly and it was too close for comfort, but that’s how the Ravens roll. And thanks to the play of Lardarius Webb, Ed Reed and the Baltimore defense, the Ravens are rolling to their second AFC championship game in coach John Harbaugh’s four seasons as head coach. They will play the New England Patriots on the road next Sunday, and if the Ravens pull off the upset, they are headed to the Super Bowl.
First things first, though, here are my quick-hit thoughts on Sunday’s big Ravens win at M&T Bank Stadium:
1. It might have been frustrating to watch the Ravens drop so many defenders into coverage, but it’s hard to argue with the results. The Ravens limited the Houston Texans to 13 points and picked off rookie quarterback T.J. Yates three times. This is just an educated guess, but it looked like the Ravens felt that Yates would make enough critical mistakes on his own without blitzing him every play, and that’s exactly what happened. That’s not meant to take credit away from Houston’s offensive line, which shut down Baltimore’s pass rush.
2. Now that was a gutsy performance from Reed, who tried to tackle like someone who knew he was three wins away from the Lombardi Trophy -- and possibly retirement. And despite a sore shoulder and a mystery ailment that popped up when he dropped a pick in the first half, Reed knocked down four passes and finally got an interception late in the fourth quarter that would have sealed the game if the offense did its part.
3. Props to Webb, too, for his two interceptions, which tied a Ravens single-game playoff record, though that first interception was such an awful throw that Webb could have called for a fair-catch before bringing it in.
4. Even though the Ravens offense sputtered after the first quarter, I thought Joe Flacco played a pretty good game. Sure, he needs to make quicker decisions to avoid sacks, but he threw two first-quarter TD passes and didn’t commit any turnovers. He completed 14 of his 27 attempts for 176 yards and his stat totals would have been better had Torrey Smith and Ed Dickson pulled in a couple of catchable passes in the first half.
5. Houston has one heck of a front seven and the Texans outperformed the Ravens up front in this one. J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, Houston’s first two picks in the 2011 draft, combined for five sacks, and the Texans held Ravens running back Ray Rice to 60 yards on 21 carries. His longest gain on the ground was 9 yards. The offensive line will have to bounce back against the Patriots, who had five sacks and 10 tackles for loss in their blowout win over the Denver Broncos on Saturday. Flacco can’t outplay Tom Brady if he’s on his back.
6. Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith turned the tide early when Williams hit Texans punt returner Jacoby Jones as he fielded a bouncing ball and Smith pounced on the fumble. That, folks, is why Smith is on special teams.
7. If you would have told me that Arian Foster would rush for 132 yards and that Andre Johnson would catch eight balls for 111 yards, I would have assumed that I would be watching the Ravens clean out their lockers on Monday. But the Texans couldn’t generate any offense outside of those two very, very talented players.
8. Billy Cundiff made a couple of huge kicks on Sunday -- and Billy is confident his road woes won’t continue.
9. Terrell Suggs and the Ravens had zero sacks and hit Yates just twice. That’s not going to cut it against the Patriots. The Ravens must get the pass rush going -- and somehow confuse Brady -- to knock off the Patriots.
10. Speaking of that, does anyone remember the last time the Ravens traveled to Foxborough in the playoffs?