Ravens beat Patriots, reach Super Bowl behind Joe Flacco's 3 TD passes
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Joe Flacco kept pace with Tom Brady, refusing to concede that he isn't every bit the elite quarterback he has touted himself to be.
Flacco entered Sunday night's AFC Championship Game with one goal: to knock off a future Hall of Fame quarterback for a second straight week en route to the Super Bowl. And he succeeded.
Flacco defeated Brady in the New England quarterback's own stadium, just as he beat Peyton Manning the previous week in Denver. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-13 comeback win over the Patriots that sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl for the first time since they won it after the 2000 season.
The upset set the stage for the NFL's most anticipated matchup: the "HarBowl" between brothers John and Jim Harbaugh after Jim's 49ers beat the Falcons Sunday. It will be the first time that brothers are opposing head coaches in a Super Bowl.
Flacco's record sixth road playoff win improved his postseason mark to 8-4. "We've put ourselves in position so many times," he said. "Eventually, you're going to push through."
In some ways, it was fitting that these Ravens returned to Gillette Stadium unafraid and unwavering. They fell to the Patriots, 23-20, in last year's AFC title game in unimaginable fashion, thanks to a batted-away Flacco pass to Lee Evans in the end zone and Billy Cundiff's missed field goal that would have tied it in the final seconds.
"It was the longest plane ride home ever," linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. A few days later, John Harbaugh emailed all his players, seeking suggestions for the 2012 season. Ayanbadejo encouraged him to take a page from Tom Coughlin's playbook.
"The great coach Coughlin took a wild-card team last year that was built on love and won the Super Bowl," he said. "They beat this Patriots team. So I sent an email to coach Harbaugh. I said, 'If we just loved each other a little bit more, I think we could win a Super Bowl.' "
Harbaugh took heed. According to Ayanbadejo, on the first day of camp, Harbaugh said: "Have I told you guys I love you yet? I love this team. I love you men . . .""I think love is the one thing that just put us over the edge to be a great team," said Ayanbadejo.
The Patriots, who trailed 28-13 with 6:49 to go, had plenty of time to orchestrate a Brady-like comeback. But the quarterback had a pass tipped and intercepted by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to seal New England's fate. With 1:06 left, Brady was intercepted by cornerback Cary Williams.
"In the AFC, you know who you have to go through," said Terrell Suggs, who repeatedly took shots at the Pats -- sometimes in jest -- on the way to the locker room. Asked if he was surprised by the upset, the linebacker deadpanned: "No. Are you?"
Brady -- who was 66-0 when leading at halftime at Gillette Stadium -- completed 29 of 54 for 320 yards, a TD and two interceptions. Flacco was only 6-for-12 for 81 yards as the Patriots took a 13-7 halftime lead. But Baltimore then scored 21 unanswered points on three TD passes.
Baltimore marched 87 yards in 3:49 in the third quarter, capping a 10-play drive with a 5-yard strike from Flacco to Dennis Pitta to make it 14-13 Ravens. Flacco followed with 3-yard and 11-yard TD passes to Anquan Boldin for the 15-point edge.
The win ensured that Ray Lewis' career will last another two weeks. The heart and soul of the Ravens' defense plans to retire at season's end.
"Everything this guy brings to this organization has been amazing,'' safety Ed Reed said. "His leadership is like no other that I've been around. We as a team wanted to make sure he goes out in class."