BALTIMORE - If style points and offensive fireworks meant anything, the Baltimore Ravens wouldn't stand a chance of making it to the AFC championship.
Playing defense and protecting the football are what they do best, and that formula led to a 20-13 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday, putting Baltimore in the AFC title game against the New England Patriots.
"I always say there is a right way to do things, there is a wrong way to do things and there is just the Ravens' way of doing things," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It wasn't pretty but we're not really a pretty team. We got the W and now it's on to the AFC championship."
The Ravens (13-4) had almost as many punts (nine) as first downs (11) and scored only three points over the final 46 minutes. But Baltimore wasn't penalized once, didn't commit a turnover, intercepted rookie quarterback T.J. Yates three times and totaled four takeaways — two in the first quarter and two over the final eight minutes.
SB XLVI (Giants 21, Patriots 17)
Baltimore visits New England next Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
The Patriots lead the series 6-1, but Baltimore's lone win came in the postseason.
"We don't play the game until next week," Suggs said. "I'm going to enjoy tonight."
Veteran defensive stars Ed Reed and Ray Lewis led a unit that yielded only one touchdown and came up with the big play when one was needed. Lewis had a team-high seven tackles and Reed sealed the victory with the Ravens' fourth takeaway, an interception near the goal line in the closing minutes.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The Ravens finished 9-0 at home, but this one was anything but easy. Baltimore led 17-3 after the first quarter, and interceptions by Lardarius Webb and Reed in the final 7½ minutes helped the advantage stand up.
Reed has eight interceptions in 10 playoff games, few bigger than the last one.
"You can't say enough about him," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "His big plays always seem to happen when you need one."
One week earlier, in the first playoff game in Texans history, Houston didn't commit a turnover in a 31-10 home rout of Cincinnati. Against Baltimore, the Texans couldn't hold onto the ball and quickly fell behind by two touchdowns.
Arian Foster ran for 132 yards, the first player ever to rush for 100 yards against the Ravens in the postseason. But Yates' three interceptions matched the total he had in six regular season games.
"I can't have the turnovers," Yates said. "If we don't turn the ball over like that, we have a chance to win. And we still had a chance to win. If I'd done a better job of protecting the football, I really think we'd have come out with the win today. We did a good job of moving the ball and we had some big plays, but you can't have that many picks."
Yates was the third starting quarterback used by Houston this season following injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. The Texans also lost wide receiver Andre Johnson for a spell and finished without sack specialist Mario Williams, who missed the last two-thirds of the season.
And still, the Texans got within a win of reaching the conference title game. After the game, team owner Bob McNair pulled aside coach Gary Kubiak and congratulated him.
Down 17-13 at halftime, Houston twice held the Ravens without a first down in the third quarter before driving to the Baltimore 32. From there, Neil Rackers' 50-yard field goal try hit the crossbar and dropped into the end zone.
Baltimore then launched a drive in which seldom-used Lee Evans made a sensational one-handed catch for a 30-yard gain on third-and-5 from the Houston 39. On fourth-and-goal inside the 1, Ray Rice was stuffed by linebacker Tim Dobbins for no gain.
"That's a huge play," Houston defensive end J.J. Watt said. "Those are the type of plays that win playoffs games. Obviously, we wish it had gone the other way, but those are the type of plays that you remember."
The Texans couldn't move the ball, and the Ravens took the ensuing punt at the Houston 49. But three plays netted only 4 yards, and Sam Koch punted for the seventh time.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
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