FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - When the Ravens went into halftime down 13-7, it seemed like they were lucky to be in a game so close.
Despite outplaying Baltimore, the Patriots let the Ravens hang around until the moment they began performing more like the team that topped the Colts and Broncos in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Ravens won the second half in remarkable fashion, outscoring the Patriots 21-0 and outgaining them 226-214 en route to a 28-13 victory that gave them the AFC championship and a berth in the Super Bowl in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
New England, the NFL’s leader in yards and points during the regular season, reached the end zone just once in the contest and failed to register a single point over the last 30 minutes.
“It went our way in the second half,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We played really good ball. We were connecting and hitting on all three phases and we kept it going.”
Said center Matt Birk of the second-half shutout: “When is the last time that happened at Foxborough? Like, never? It’s unbelievable.”
One of the main reasons the Ravens were able to blank New England after halftime was three forced turnovers.
The most significant one turned out to be Stevan Ridley’s fumble one possession after Baltimore had taken a 14-13 lead. A massive hit by Pollard jarred the ball loose and knocked the Patriots’ leading rusher out of the game.
Four plays later, the Ravens extended their lead to 21-13 on an 11-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.
“That was the turning point of the game,” coach John Harbaugh said of Pollard’s forced fumble. “It was a tremendous hit. It was football at its finest. It was Bernard Pollard making a great physical tackle, just as good a tackle as you’re ever going to see in football, and that’s what probably turned the game around.”
The Patriots failed on a fourth-down try their next possession, turning it over on downs when Tom Brady’s pass to Deion Branch fell incomplete in the end zone.
The Ravens intercepted Brady on each of the Pats’ last two possessions - Dannell Ellerbe hauled in a tipped pass and Cary Williams picked one off in the end zone to essentially seal the win.
“We knew it was going to be tough because Brady’s a great quarterback that you really have to disguise things and pretty much be perfect,” safety Ed Reed said. “He puts the ball on his receivers in their chest. So we knew we had to have perfect coverage and we knew it was going to be a 60-minute game. We always play these guys tough and they always play us tough. So we expected it.”
The offense played as big of a role, experiencing a complete reversal from its 130-yard first half.
Quarterback Joe Flacco went 15-for-24 for 159 yards and three touchdowns in the second half alone, leading the team back from a six-point deficit.
Boldin contributed with five catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns after being held off the stat sheet in the first half.
“We got a pretty good feel for what they were trying to do,” Boldin said of the second-half boom. “We came into halftime, it felt like we hadn’t played our best ball in the first half, but we were only down six points. So we wanted to come out and really play the way we’ve been playing. We wanted to up the tempo a little bit, put them on their heels, put the ball in the hands of playmakers, and we were able to do that.”
And because of that, the Ravens are headed to their second Super Bowl.
Flacco was thrilled to be able to win his first AFC championship in three tries.
“I think it’s pretty sweet having won one of these AFC championships. It’s probably pretty sweet no matter how you do it, no matter what factored into it,” Flacco said.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs relished being the underdog and surprising pundits who picked against the Ravens.
“We knew what we were capable of,” he said. “We know you all had them picked to win. Unfortunately, the bandwagon is full and we want you all to come in two weeks and bet against us again.”