AFC North: 2012 Divisional Rapid Reaction



DENVER -- My thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 38-35 victory at the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The Ravens' improbable Super Bowl run continues. After losing four of their final five regular-season games, the Ravens advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the third time in five seasons with quarterback Joe Flacco and coach John Harbaugh. A nine-point underdog, the Ravens beat the AFC's top seed for the third time in their playoff history. Baltimore will play at the winner of Sunday's New England-Houston game.

Capitalizing on turnovers: The Ravens pulled off the upset on Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal with 13 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the second overtime. The winning score was set up by Corey Graham's second interception of Peyton Manning. The Ravens converted 17 points off three Denver turnovers.

Fourth-quarter heroics: With 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Flacco stepped up in the pocket and heaved a 70-yard touchdown to Jacoby Jones, who got behind two defenders (Tony Carter and Rahim Moore) to tie the game at 35. Flacco's third-down pass traveled about 60 yards in the air. It was a game of big downfield passes for Flacco.

Red-zone defense struggles: The Ravens uncharacteristically allowed three touchdowns inside their 20-yard line. Baltimore had ranked second in the NFL this season in red zone defense and stopped the Colts on three trips inside the 20 in the wild-card game. The third one given up by the Ravens came with 7:11 left in the fourth quarter and put the Broncos ahead, 35-28. Ravens safety Ed Reed missed a tackle on Demaryius Thomas, who scored on a 17-yard catch.

Touchdown Torrey: Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith scored two touchdowns in the first half against 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, reaching the end zone on catches of 59 and 32 yards. This is the first time a Ravens receiver scored two touchdowns in one playoff game.

Not-so-special teams: It was a bad time for the Ravens to allow their first touchdowns on special teams this season. The Broncos' Trindon Holliday became the first player in NFL playoff history to score touchdowns off a punt and kickoff return in the same game. The Ravens allowed three special-teams touchdowns in 2011, but they ranked in the top half of the NFL in punt and kickoff coverage this season.

Unreal start: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this was the first playoff game in NFL history with an offensive, defensive and special-teams touchdown in the first quarter. The Ravens and the Broncos combined to achieve this feat in the first 5 minutes, 11 seconds. Holliday returned the game's first punt 90 yards for a touchdown, Smith caught a 59-yard touchdown on the second drive and Graham brought back an interception 39 yards for a score on the third drive.

The big chill: The temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees, the second-coldest start to a home game in Broncos history. By halftime, it dropped to nine degrees with a minus-three windchill.

What's next: The Ravens know they will play the AFC championship game on the road next Sunday. Their opponent is to be determined. The Ravens will face the winner of Sunday's New England-Houston game. During the regular season, the Ravens beat the Patriots (31-30) and lost to the Texans (43-13).
BALTIMORE -- Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 20-13 win over the Houston Texans in the divisional playoff game:

What it means: It was an ugly and unimpressive win by the second-seeded Ravens, especially on offense. But Baltimore stepped up when it needed to do so, converting 17 points off three Texans turnovers. The Ravens improved to 9-0 at home and won a playoff game in Baltimore for the first time in 11 years. This also marked the fourth straight season that Baltimore has won a postseason game.

Coming up big: Cornerback Lardarius Webb became the third Ravens player to make two interceptions in a postseason game. His first one led to a touchdown in the first quarter, and his second one turned the momentum in the fourth. Ed Reed picked off Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates in the final two minutes of the game for the fourth forced turnover by Baltimore.

Flacco struggles: Joe Flacco threw two touchdowns but finished 14-of-27 for 184 yards. He didn't get much help from his teammates. There were five drops by receivers. He also was sacked five times. His counterpart, Yates, was 17-of-35 for 175 yards and three interceptions.

Getting run down: The Ravens' usually stout run defense showed major cracks against Houston. Arian Foster ran for 132 yards and one touchdown to become the first running back to gain more than 100 yards against the Ravens in 16 playoff games. The most rushing yards that Baltimore had given up to one running back was 91 against Eddie George in January 2001.

Critical call: Leading by four points (17-13) late in the third quarter, the Ravens decided to go for the touchdown instead of settling for the field goal at the 1-yard line. Ray Rice chose to drive into the middle of the line rather than leap and got stopped short. It ultimately didn't hurt Baltimore.

Converting on mistakes early: The Ravens jumped out to a 17-3 first-quarter lead because they converted two turnovers into two Flacco touchdown passes. A fumble on a punt return (deep in Texans territory) led to a 1-yard Flacco touchdown pass to blocking tight end Kris Wilson, and a Yates interception resulted in a 10-yard scoring pass from Flacco to Anquan Boldin.

What's next: The Ravens advance to their second AFC Championship Game in four seasons. Baltimore plays at top-seeded New England next Sunday at 3 p.m.

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