Ed Reed sealed a 20-13 victory Sunday with Baltimore’s fourth takeaway, and when he finally limped off the field, the Ravens were assured their second trip to the AFC championship game in four seasons.
Baltimore (13-4) will visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots next Sunday, with the winner moving on to the Super Bowl.
“We know we have a big test next week,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Tom is playing excellent up there, and what they did to the Broncos last night, I think they sent a message to whoever was coming up there. So, we’ve got our hands full.”
The Patriots lead the series 6-1, but Baltimore’s lone win came in the postseason.
The Ravens have been in the playoffs for four years running, but this was their first home game since 2006. It was anything but easy.
Baltimore forced two turnovers in the first quarter in building a 17-3 lead thanks to touchdown passes by Joe Flacco, and interceptions by Lardarius Webb and Reed in the fourth quarter helped the advantage stand up.
“We knew what was coming,” Lewis said. “This young team, they are so freakin’ fiery. They’ve got so many great pieces over there. I just take my hat off to them, just simply for the way they came out and fought today.
“More importantly, I take my hat off to my team, as well, because we came out and we knew it was going to be tough. We made some plays, they made some plays and at the end of the game, we made the plays that counted.”
One week earlier, in the first playoff game in Texans history, Houston (11-7) didn’t commit a turnover in a 31-10 home rout of Cincinnati. Against Baltimore, the Texans’ couldn’t hold onto the ball and quickly fell behind by two touchdowns.
Arian Foster ran for 132 yards, the first player to rush for 100 yards in the playoffs against the Ravens. But rookie quarterback T.J. Yates threw three interceptions.
Down 17-13 at halftime, Houston twice held the Ravens without a first down in the third quarter before driving to the Baltimore 32. From there, Neil Rackers’ 50-yard field goal try hit the crossbar and dropped into the end zone.
Baltimore then launched a drive in which seldom-used Lee Evans made a sensational one-handed catch for a 30-yard gain on third-and-5 from the Houston 39. On fourth-and-goal inside the 1, Ray Rice was stuffed by linebacker Tim Dobbins for no gain.
The Texans couldn’t move the ball, and the Ravens took the ensuing punt at the Houston 49. But three plays netted only 4 yards, and Sam Koch punted for the seventh time.
Minutes later, the Ravens went three and out for the fourth time in five second-half possessions. Fortunately for Baltimore, the defense compensated for the team’s inability to add to its early lead.
Webb’s second interception came with 7 1/2 minutes left and the Ravens clinging to 17-13 advantage. Baltimore moved 45 yards to get a field goal by Billy Cundiff with 2:52 left.
Reed ended the Texans’ subsequent drive with his eighth career playoff interception inside the 5-yard line.
“When we got up 17-3, the No. 1 thing I told them is: `They’re going to make a rally. Every great team makes a rally,'” Lewis said. “And this is what playoff football is all about. I mean, year after year and time after time, great competition going against each other, it really does get no better.”
Houston’s Danieal Manning muffled the record crowd of 71,547 by taking the opening kickoff 60 yards to the Baltimore 41. Yates then completed two straight passes, and after the Ravens stuffed Foster on a third-and-1, Rackers kicked a 40-yard field goal.
Baltimore failed to get a first down on its first possession and had to punt. Jacoby Jones inexplicably attempted to field the bouncing ball at the 13-yard line, was immediately hit by Cary Williams and lost the ball, which was recovered by rookie Jimmy Smith at the 2.
On third down, Flacco threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kris Wilson – the tight end’s first catch of the season.
After a Houston punt, Flacco completed a 21-yard pass to Anquan Boldin to set up a 48-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead.
Later in the first quarter, Webb stepped in front of Andre Johnson for an interception at the Houston 35. Five plays later, Flacco tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Boldin in the right side of the end zone.
Yates then completed a pair of third-down passes in a 59-yard drive that ended with a field goal.
After Yates misfired on third down from the Baltimore 10, the rookie came off the field he was greeted by coach Gary Kubiak, who put a hand on the back of the quarterback’s jersey while chatting.
Yates returned after a Baltimore punt to direct a 12-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Foster, who accounted for 66 yards – including 54 on the ground.
Yates went 17 for 35 for 184 yards. Johnson had eight catches for 111 yards.