John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens set up a family reunion at the Super Bowl, shutting down the New England Patriots 28-13 Sunday in the AFC championship game.
The Ravens reached their first Super Bowl in 12 years, thanks to three touchdown passes from Joe Flacco and a defense led by Ray Lewis that made Tom Brady look downright ordinary.
Next up for Harbaugh and the Ravens is baby brother Jim and the San Francisco 49ers, who beat Atlanta 28-24 earlier in the day for the NFC title.
They’ll meet in two weeks in New Orleans – what a place for a party to celebrate the first brother-vs.-brother coaching matchup in Super Bowl history.
It also will be quite a last game for Lewis, the emotional linebacker who will retire after the matchup with the 49ers, who opened as a 5-point favorite.
Driven by Lewis’ pending departure from the NFL, Baltimore’s defense stepped up in the playoffs. Brady was 67-0 at home when leading at halftime, but this was no contest in the second half.
As in the previous two playoff wins against Indianapolis and Denver, the Ravens (13-6) were brilliant offensively in spots. This might be 17-year-veteran Lewis’ team, but it’s also Flacco’s, and the quarterback’s six road wins are the most in playoff history.
Flacco, the only quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, was dynamic with his arm and precise with his decision making. Looking much more the championship passer than Brady did, his throws of 11 and 3 yards to Anquan Boldin and 5 to Dennis Pitta all were perfect.
New England (13-5), which hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, had four injuries, the scariest when running back Stevan Ridley was knocked flat by Bernard Pollard in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble. Baltimore turned that into the final touchdown, on the only short scoring drive it had, 47 yards.
The Ravens gained just 130 yards in the first half.
Brady guided a 13-play drive to Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Neither defense yielded a big play, and punters Zoltan Mesko and Sam Koch were the busiest guys on the field.
That changed when the teams switched sides for the second quarter. Baltimore again was pinned deep, at its 10, but Flacco led a 13-play drive. Ray Rice, whose 83-yard run on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage in their wild-card round victory here three years ago, ran left untouched for the TD.
Awakened by Baltimore’s march, the Patriots staged a long one of their own, 79 yards, aided by a 15-yard personal foul by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Wes Welker picked up 24 yards on a short pass, then got free in the right corner of the end zone after a mix-up in the Ravens’ secondary, making it 10-7.
It was 13-7 by halftime as Gostkowski connected from 25 yards, with New England outsmarting Baltimore several times. Danny Woodhead ran for 7 yards on a direct snap on fourth-and-1 in the drive. Defensive end Paul Kruger, who’s good at sacks, not much in coverage – found himself downfield on Aaron Hernandez on what became a 17-yard reception.
But Brady made a mental error himself, not calling timeout quickly enough after a short scramble. So the Patriots didn’t get a shot at the end zone and Gostkowski made his second kick.
Shockingly for an offense that scored 557 points this season, that was it for New England.
The touchdown by Pitta capped the Ravens’ best drive of the game, covering 87 yards in 10 plays and made it 14-13. It started with a 15-yard defensive pass interference penalty.