Winning ugly has been a staple for past offensively challenged Baltimore Ravens teams. The 2011 postseason includes more of the same as the Ravens defense pulled out the 20-13 win over the Houston Texans.
After the first quarter, the Ravens offense fell flat, only scoring one field goal for the remainder of the game. What gave the Ravens the win was their excellent second-half defense, which shut out the Texans offense. This included two interceptions from Lardarius Webb that led to 10 points.
The turnover battle may have been the key factor in this defensive slugfest. While they got four turnovers from the Texans, the Ravens didn't give up the ball and weren't flagged for a single penalty.
Despite their success stopping rookie quarterback T.J. Yates and the Texans' passing attack, the Ravens did not do a good job defending the run. Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster had 132 rushing yards, which is by far the most the Ravens have allowed in a postseason game. This included a second quarter where Foster had 79 yards and a touchdown that brought the Texans within four points.
The offense repeatedly seemed unable to capitalize on the help given by the defense. Joe Flacco had a rough day, finishing 14-of-27 for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Even Ray Rice's game was a little off as he only had 60 rushing yards.
It was definitely a flawed win with both good and bad things to take away from it. Here are some of my observations from the game.
What I Liked
Ed Reed just has a tendency to make his presence known when the stakes are highest. After having been criticized for not playing as well toward the end of the season, he showed up yesterday with several big plays. One was an interception late in the fourth quarter. The other was the final play of the game where he batted the ball to the ground.
With the interception, Reed had his eighth postseason pick, which is the fourth most all time. With how well he played, it was very worrying to see Reed crumple on the field after the last play of the game. This injury could cause him to miss the AFC Championship, where his presence will definitely be missed against the high-scoring New England Patriots offense.
The return of Anquan Boldin was also very welcomed. Despite just having knee surgery, Boldin still grabbed four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. His numbers were the best of any Ravens receiver as no one else had more than 30 receiving yards.
Despite this, some unlikely receivers had good catches. Third-string tight end Kris Wilson had his first reception of the season go for a one yard touchdown. And finally Lee Evans stepped up and made that one big catch that justified bringing him to Baltimore; in this case it was a beautiful one-handed catch for 30 yards.
Of course there was also Webb's crazy game. He got two interceptions, giving him seven total for the year. Webb also contributed four tackles and he contributed to special teams by returning a kickoff 25 yards.
Billy Cundiff was also important today, on a day where the Ravens offense had eight three-and-outs. Cundiff converted both of his field goal attempts, one from 44 yards and one from 48 yards. It was encouraging to see him make these after previous doubts about his kicking ability from beyond 40 yards.
What I Didn't Like
The offense in general was weak yesterday. Flacco was constantly under pressure, getting sacked five times. Flacco's 50 oercebt completion percentage was awful, although some of that was due to awful drops by some of his receivers.
Rice was also contained with only 60 rushing yards and 20 receiving yards. And when it most mattered that he score, he was stopped on a fourth-and-goal rush. For the Ravens to beat the Patriots next week, he will need to have a better game.
The Ravens are back in the AFC Championship for the second time in four years. This time they will face the Patriots in Foxborough, a team that the Ravens have never beat in the regular season (0-6 record). They have, however, beaten the Patriots in a memorable playoff victory two seasons ago.
It will be a challenge for them to contain a Patriots offense that seemingly scores at will. When considering the Ravens road struggles this year and their offensive issues, the Patriots look like pretty big favorites. But it's playoff time and the Ravens certainly are capable of beating the Patriots and going to their second Super Bowl.