Five Things We Learned from the Ravens' 28-13 win over the New England Patriots
Baltimore Sun reporter/blogger Matt Vensel analyzes the Ravens' victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.
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1. Eight weeks ago, I said that something special was happening with this team. And despite more key injuries, a coaching staff shakeup, and a three-game losing streak, the Ravens never stopped believing in themselves. Now, here they are -- already a special team -- back in the Super Bowl with a chance to seize their football immortality.
It seems like so long ago that Ray Rice did the highly improbable, catching a dump-off from Joe Flacco and evading seemingly everyone on the San Diego Chargers active roster as he picked up 29 yards to keep the Ravens alive in Week 12 so they could win in overtime. That crazy play best represents what the Ravens have pulled off this season. Despite seemingly long odds, they never took their eyes off where they wanted to go, they never stopped battling for each other, they never stopped churning their legs.
I said in this space then that something special was happening with this team. That looked foolish for a few weeks, when the Ravens lost four games in December, but it now seems more prescient than ever.
These Ravens are a special group of special players with a special bond, and it didn't take another miracle for them to get where they are today (though that bomb to Jacoby Jones last weekend may beg to differ). They flat-out earned it. The Ravens were the better team when they schooled Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. They were the better team when they wore down Peyton Manning and made a mockery of the Denver Broncos defense. And they were the better team when they took all that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots could give them and then attacked back, dominating the second half in Sunday's 28-13 win in the AFC championship game to get to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001. Even after a difficult December tested them, the Ravens knew they would be there all along, that the last ride of Ray Lewis would end in New Orleans, even though an ice-cold reality suggested otherwise.
They heard their critics and doubters (I was among them at times) talk. That the mounting injuries to stars like Lardarius Webb, Haloti Ngata and Lewis would be too much to overcome. That they were crazy for firing Cam Cameron with three weeks left in the regular season. That a champion had to coming screaming into the playoffs on a six-game winning streak to win the Super Bowl. That the defense was too old, Flacco was too enigmatic, Rice was fumble-prone. They heard it all. They filed it away. And then they unleashed a fury on the football field.
"We came, we saw, we conquered," Terrell Suggs said Sunday as the Ravens spilled into the locker room.
Suggs recently admitted that he believed last year's team was better than this year's bunch, at least in terms of talent. And maybe it was on paper, whatever that is good for. But these Ravens, after a trying 12 months since the last time they were in Foxborough, are on the verge of putting their fingerprints all over the Lombardi Trophy, reaching "football immortality" as Suggs likes to put it. All that stands in their way are the San Francisco 49ers, and it figures to be one heck of a game, especially if you enjoy Harbaughs.
But even if the storybook ending isn't written for Ray and the Ravens, they are already special for battling their way to the Super Bowl despite all of the obstacles they had to overcome along the way.