SO MUCH FOR THOSE WHO THOUGHT THE RAVENS WERE A ONE-AND-DONE PLAYOFF TEAM. BALTIMORE IS GOING TO SUPER BOWL XLVII IN NEW ORLEANS to face the Niners, thanks to a complete and convincing 28--13 shellacking of the Patriots in Foxborough.
This is what the NFL's postseason seemingly has become. Every year a team comes out of nowhere. The Ravens are this season's unlikely Super Bowl entry as the 10--6, No. 4 seed, which is not much different from last year's 9--7, No. 4--seeded Giants in the NFC or 2010's 10--6, No. 6--seeded Packers. Both of those teams won the big one.
"Even after those three losses [in Weeks 13--15], I told everyone, 'Don't panic,' " said receiver Anquan Boldin. "We're going to win the division, we're going to make it to the playoffs, and we're going to be a team to reckon with. ... Today you saw that. We got down early, but this team didn't blink. We knew this was our game."
Trailing 13--7 at halftime and forced to punt on its first possession of the third quarter, Baltimore then exploded for three consecutive touchdowns while also stunning a Tom Brady--led offense that went scoreless in the game's final 30 minutes.
"We hadn't gotten much going on offense, but the defense was playing really well," said Joe Flacco. "We knew we didn't come here to play it safe and hope to win. We came here to play to win. You have to play to win in these championship games."
After sticking primarily to the ground game in the first two quarters, the Ravens opened things up in the second half by putting the game on Flacco's shoulders. The fifth-year quarterback responded well, finishing with 240 yards and three touchdown passes after throwing for just 81 yards on six completions in the first half.
The Ravens were helped by the fact that the Patriots' best cornerback, Aqib Talib, left the game in the first quarter with a thigh injury, providing Baltimore with an opportunity to exploit more downfield patterns to Boldin (five catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns), Torrey Smith (four for 69) and tight end Dennis Pitta (five for 55 and a touchdown).
"We kind of made a decision in the second half to cut it loose a little bit more," said coach John Harbaugh. "We were running the ball with some effectiveness, but they were doing a good job on defense. They were stopping us. We had to get away from challenging them [up front] and give Joe a chance to make some plays."
Harbaugh has a Super Bowl team on his hands. It didn't seem possible five weeks ago, but the Ravens now care more about where they are going this season than where they have been. They're dangerous, and they know it.