BALTIMORE -- For the most part, the numbers don't add up.
The upstart Houston Texans, playing in their
second postseason contest since entering the league as an expansion
franchise in 2002, had more yards than the more battle-tested Baltimore Ravens (315-227), registered more first downs (16-11), more sacks
(5-0), got a 132-yard performance from tailback Arian Foster, and
generally outplayed their opponents most of the day here Sunday
afternoon in the divisional-round matchup.
So how did the Texans, who provided the
second-seeded Ravens plenty of nervous moments, lose to the home club
by a 20-13 score? Easy: They led in turnovers, 4-0, and allowed an
uneven Baltimore offense to largely play with a short field, especially
in the first half, when the Ravens jumped to a 17-3 edge, then held on
for dear life.
"It's the playoffs," said eight-time Pro Bowl free
safety Ed Reed, who had one of three Baltimore interceptions, the
pickoff coming on the Texans' penultimate drive, at the Ravens'
four-yard line on a long pass intended for wide receiver Andre Johnson.
"You win by whatever means necessary."
On this day, the Ravens advanced to their second
AFC championship game in four seasons, a date next Sunday at New
England, by making just enough defensive plays to advance to within one
victory of their first league title appearance since defeating the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. The "any means necessary" was to fall
on enough Houston fumbles and step in front of enough errant T.J. Yates
aerials to essentially overcome a fairly ordinary performance by an
In addition to Reed, the Ravens got two
interceptions from cornerback Lardarius Webb, and a fumble recovery by
nickel cornerback and first-round selection Jimmy Smith. The latter
came early in the first quarter, when Houston return man Jacoby Jones
first allowed a Sam Koch punt to hit the ground, decided late to scoop
it up and try to run, and then had the ball dislodged by Cary Williams.
The recovery by Smith, at the Houston two-yard
line, led to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to No. 3 tight end
Kris Wilson, a score that negated an early field goal by the Texans.
And, which more importantly, set a tone.
"Our whole mentality is to take the ball away and
score," Webb said. "And it you can't get it in the end zone yourself,
give the offense a chance to do it."
Sitting in front of his stall in a Houston locker
room where the frustration was palpable, his head buried in his hands,
Jones, who eked out just four yards on a half-dozen returns, had little
to say. But his coach, Gary Kubiak, was anything but silent. Said
Kubiak: "There's no excuse. He shouldn't even be around the ball once
(it hits the ground). He just made a mistake. I don't know what to say.
We basically gave them points."
Seventeen of them, in fact.
Both of the Baltimore touchdowns, and one of the
two Billy Cundiff field goals, came after Houston turnovers. The
Raven's score came on drives of just two, 30, 34, and 45 yards. Two of
the four scoring possessions originated in Houston territory. On the
day, the Ravens' offense had just two drives for more than 40 yards on
15 possessions. The unit, with Flacco throwing for only 176 yards, and
with tailback Ray Rice bottled up (60 yards on 21 carries and four
catches for only 20 yards), was far more opportunistic than it was
Notable, too, was that the Ravens weren't flagged
for a single penalty.
For much of their history, particularly in recent
seasons, the Texans have been undone by turnovers. So it seemed only
appropriate that in the first playoff game in franchise history, the
tragic trend would hold.
"We gave them the ball in great places to score,
and they did," said Yates, who inherited the starting job after
injuries to starter Matt Schaub and primary backup Matt Leinart. "We
had some chances, but ..."
But unlike the Ravens, the Houston defense --
which mostly won the battle at the line of scrimmage, harassed Flacco,
and executed superb run-blitz calls, many of them in the second half --
couldn't manage a game-changing takeaway.
Three times the Ravens fumbled, including on the
kickoff after a Neil Rackers field goal staked the Texans to a 3-0 lead
on the game's first possession, and all three times Houston failed to
recover, despite being in position to do so. The Texans also failed to
come up with two would-be interceptions that hit defenders in the hands.
Otherwise, the defense played outstanding
football, turning in a goal-line stand with backup linebacker Tim
Dobbins stuffing Rice from the one-yard line in the third quarter, and
getting 2.5 sacks each from a pair of rookie standouts, end J.J. Watt
and linebacker Brooks Reed. The club's first-round draft choice last
April, Watt had an exemplary performance, with a game-high 12 tackles
(three for losses) in addition to the sacks and three hurries after
also starring last week in the wild-card win over Cincinnati.
Not only did the Texans corral Rice, they also
thwarted Baltimore rookie deep threat wide receiver Torrey Smith,
limiting him to one catch for nine yards. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin,
who missed the final two regular-season games for the Ravens after knee
cartilage surgery, provided some key catches, posting 73 yards on four
grabs, but the offense managed more than two first downs on just one
"We did most of the things we wanted to do ... but
just not enough," lamented inside linebacker Brian Cushing. "Just not
The Ravens, who won a home playoff game first the
first time since New Year's Eve 2000, and who have won 19 of their last
20 home games, have experienced some success in recent seasons at
Gillette Stadium. In 2010, the Ravens took the Patriots to overtime
before dropping a 23-20 decision. Baltimore ran roughshod over New
England, with Rice bursting 83 yards for a stunning score on the
opening play from scrimmage in a lopsided 33-14 victory in a 2009 wild
The Pats had just 17 giveaways, fewest in the AFC
and third-least in the league, in the regular season. Despite two
turnovers in their dominating win over Denver on Saturday night in the
division-round game, the Pats aren't likely to be as butter-fingered or
generous as were the Texans.
Several Baltimore players, and Harbaugh,
acknowledged that the Ravens will have to play significantly better
against the Patriots next week if they are to advance to Super Bowl
XLVI on Feb. 5 at Indianapolis. Reed, who had been criticized locally
for his poor tackling in recent weeks, but who came up with his eighth
interception in 10 playoff games, seconded that emotion.
"We have to play a lot better than today, man,"
Reed said. "A lot better."
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