'Ravens' Way' won't cut it in New England

January, 15, 2012
1/15/12
8:00
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Lardarius Webb Mitch Stringer/US PresswireLardarius Webb's two interceptions helped Baltimore survive the Texans.
BALTIMORE -- Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs summed up the Baltimore Ravens' ugly 20-13 divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans the best.

"There's a right way to do things, there's a wrong way to do things," Suggs said, "and there's the Ravens' way to do things."

The "Ravens' Way" was good enough to beat a Texans team without its top two quarterbacks and top defensive player (Mario Williams). The "Ravens' Way" was good enough to win a Super Bowl 11 years ago.

But the "Ravens' Way" won't cut it next Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at top-seeded New England. This isn't to say that the Ravens can't win at New England. The Ravens have the talent to beat anyone this season (they're 7-0 against playoff teams). They just have to play much better than they did against the Texans to do so.

The fans know it. The media knows it. And, most importantly, the players know it, too.

How much better do the Ravens need to play to beat the Patriots? "A lot better than today," safety Ed Reed said before repeating himself. "A lot better than today."

The Ravens won't outscore New England if Joe Flacco completes 14 passes and Ray Rice averages 2.9 yards per carry. Baltimore won't slow Tom Brady and the jazzed-up Patriots' offense if it can't stop the run (Arian Foster gained 132 yards) or the top receiver (Andre Johnson had 111 yards receiving). And the Ravens definitely won't beat Bill Belichick if they can't punch the ball into the end zone (like Baltimore failed to do late in the third quarter against Houston).

Wait, how exactly did the Ravens beat Houston on Sunday? The Texans turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions by rookie T.J. Yates, and Baltimore converted those turnovers into 17 points. It was the classic case of the Texans losing the game more than the Ravens won it.

"It's winning by any means necessary," Reed said succinctly.

The Ravens will get beat up by their critics for a performance like this, especially coming off of a bye and playing their first home playoff game in five years. But no one should beat up Baltimore like the Texans did Flacco, who was sacked five times (which ties a season high).

Baltimore outlasted Houston because it capitalized on Houston's mistakes. A fumble on a punt return deep in Texans territory led to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to blocking tight end Kris Wilson. An interception by cornerback Lardarius Webb resulted in a 10-yard scoring pass from Flacco to Anquan Boldin.

Those two touchdowns put the Ravens ahead 17-3 in the first quarter, but they needed another big play from Webb in the fourth quarter. His interception was converted into a 44-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff that gave Baltimore a 20-13 cushion.

The Ravens started to bristle at the line of questioning that they should have beat the Texans resoundingly.

"You all are acting like we beat a team that eked into the playoffs," Suggs said. "We played a good team; we played a very good team."

All of the Ravens' positives from this game have to be lumped in with the fact they dropped five passes and failed to record a sack. They managed 11 first downs and were outgained 315-227.

"We're confident about the things that went well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "But we're humbled about the things that we need to improve on."

The Ravens didn't need to be humbled. They didn't need a wake-up call. It's not like Baltimore was playing its best entering the postseason. It's been the "Ravens' Way" for weeks now.

There was the rout in San Diego (a 34-14 loss) and close calls against Cleveland (20-14 win) and at Cincinnati (24-16 victory). So, how the Ravens beat the Texans fit their trend.

"That's a good football team over there," Rice said, "and I'm never going to apologize for a win."

The Ravens don't need to apologize. They need to shake out of this funk.

Baltimore is the most balanced team left in the playoffs. Only the Ravens had an offense and defense ranked in the top half of the NFL in the regular season. The Patriots, 49ers and Giants all didn't.

The Ravens also have the confidence to win in New England. They did it two years ago when they upset the Patriots 33-14 in January 2010. That's why the time is now for the Ravens to make their Super Bowl run.

"The only reason you play this game -- the only reason you play this game -- is for the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We have that opportunity right now."

But, in order for the Ravens to capitalize on that opportunity, the Ravens have to play better than the "Ravens' Way."

"[The Patriots] have to play their best game, too," Rice said. "They know that's what the playoffs are about. If they don't play their best game, they'll get beat. If we don't play our best game, we'll get beat. There's a reason why No. 1 and No. 2 are playing each other. It's not David and Goliath. We are right up there with them."

If both teams play their best game, who wins?

"That's what Sunday will tell," he said.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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