By defeating the New England Patriots 28-13, the Baltimore Ravens have punched their tickets to the franchise's second Super Bowl appearance. They will face off against the San Francisco 49ers in two weeks, ensuring that Ray Lewis gets to end his career on the biggest stage possible.
This was a game of two halves. There was the low-scoring defensive struggle in the first half where the Patriots looked to be marginally better as they were off to a 13-7 lead.
Then there was the second half where the Ravens outscored the Pats 21-0. Not only did the Ravens shut out one of the NFL's most explosive offenses, but they also handed the Pats their first home loss under Tom Brady when leading at halftime.
To beat your playoff rivals is one thing, but to dominate them in their own house when it matters most is truly amazing. As the Ravens prepare for the lengthy two-week break leading to the Super Bowl, here's a look at the winners and losers from this week's win.
Contract negotiations have gotten a lot more interesting for Joe Flacco after the postseason he's had.
Flacco now has eight touchdowns to zero interceptions and one fumble lost this postseason. Over these three games, he has a QB rating of 116.0 and he has topped 240 passing yards in every game.
This game was actually his worst game this postseason stats-wise. The first quarter saw Flacco and the Ravens' offense only accumulate two first downs, and they did not enter New England territory.
Once Flacco got in his groove, his performance improved. He completed long passes to Dennis Pitta and Torrey Smith for the first drive of the second quarter, a drive which culminated in a Ray Rice touchdown.
In the second half, Flacco threw for all three Ravens touchdowns. He capitalized on the Aquib Talib injury by targeting Anquan Boldin, who had five catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns. Pitta got involved with his own receiving touchdown and Torrey Smith led the team in receiving yards with 69.
With the AFC Championship win, Flacco now has an NFL-record six road playoff games. His playoff win-loss record stands at 8-4 and much like Eli Manning, Flacco has developed a tendency to play his best when it matters most.
It suddenly doesn't sound all that far-fetched to suggest Flacco may be an elite quarterback, and also like Manning, his offseason comments could contain an element of foreshadowing.
Although this was mostly a good showing by the Ravens' defense, it was not because of help from their pass rush. Tom Brady wasn't sacked once, and on most plays, he had more than enough time to make his reads.
The line failed to get much pressure on Brady; however, they did a decent job against the Patriots running game. They were able to close gaps, and they held Stevan Ridley to 70 rushing yards and the Patriots running game as a whole to 108 rushing yards.
While he made a good play tipping the ball for a Brady interception, Pernell McPhee didn't record a single tackle. Fellow defensive end Arthur Jones wasn't much better either, with only two tackles on the day.
While both of the Ravens' starting receivers had big games, Dennis Pitta again proved himself to be an X-factor on offense. For the second game in a row he totaled 55 receiving yards, and this time he had a touchdown to go with it.
Pitta showed a lot of heart in the game, especially after a vicious hit from Jerod Mayo. Despite being hit incredibly hard, Pitta was able to get up and haul in a five-yard touchdown the very next play.
Joe Flacco frequently took advantage of Pitta's mismatches as he was usually covered by either safeties or linebackers throughout the game. With his ability to get open down the field and his physical toughness, Pitta remains a dangerous receiving option on a Ravens passing offense that has been explosive this postseason.
The Ravens' offense experienced the most success against the Patriots when they moved to the shotgun and aired the ball out. It seems Jim Cadwell didn't figure this out until the second half, though, as he stubbornly kept with the running game, including a tendency to seemingly always run on first down.
It was not at all the best of rushing days for the Ravens. Bernard Pierce actually outperformed Ray Rice as he had 52 rushing yards to Rice's 48.
It was incredibly difficult for either back to get holes in the middle of the line, so most of their substantial runs came outside around the tackles. Even for Rice's touchdown, he had to break tackles and get around several New England defenders.
The line did decent in pass protection though, with Joe Flacco only being sacked twice. The first is on Bryant McKinnie as he was outplayed by Ninkovich, who took Flacco down on a key third-down play late in the second quarter. The second sack was more of the same as Ninkovich again took down Flacco.
It was a better day for penalties as the offensive line didn't have any false starts or holding penalties. They were even able to draw the Patriots offsides for an offsides penalty that gave the Ravens a first down.
Despite being a receiver who has been called old and slow, Anquan Boldin has put together quite an impressive postseason run this year. He now has 276 receiving yards and three touchdowns over the past three games.
Even if he is a little older, Boldin provides such a great physical presence that no other Ravens receiver has. He was frequently able to make the tough catches, and once Aquib Talib got hurt, the Patriots had no answer for Boldin. He went on to score two second-half touchdowns, the second of which was essentially the nail in the coffin for the Patriots.
With his reliable hands and physical skills, Boldin continues to be a go-to target for Flacco. Let's also not forget that he's a veteran player and he can draw from his Super Bowl experience four years ago to help the team prepare for the biggest game of their careers.
Though they held Tom Brady to only one passing touchdown, the Ravens struggled in coverage early in the game. They seemed to have trouble with both Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez as both players had more than 80 receiving yards.
On the Welker touchdown, Corey Graham was nowhere near him. It's amazing that the Ravens repeatedly seemed to not account for Welker, who is arguably the Patriots' most dangerous receiving threat with Rob Gronkowski injured.
We also saw some questionable coverage decisions with both Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger being asked to go into coverage. In the future, Dean Pees would be wise to stick with corners covering the opposition's best players.
Now, credit should be given for the improvement made by the secondary, which contributed to the shutout in the second half. Cary Williams also iced the game with a pick, despite having some dumb plays where he let the receiver catch the ball before tackling him.