If defense wins championships, the Baltimore Ravens must be feeling pretty good about their chances.
The Ravens forced four turnovers and beat the Houston Texans 20-13 Sunday in the AFC divisional round at Baltimore, where they are 9-0 this season. Ed Reed’s interception late in the fourth quarter sealed it, and the Ravens (13-4) didn’t commit a penalty or have a turnover. The only scoring in the second half was Billy Cundiff’s 44-yard field goal with 2:52 remaining.
“When we got up 17-3, the No. 1 thing I told them is: ‘They’re going to make a rally,’ ” linebacker Ray Lewis said to his teammates. “Every great team makes a rally. And this is what playoff football is all about. I mean, year after year and time after time, great competition going against each other, it really does get no better.”
Baltimore’s prize: a trip to Foxborough next Sunday for a berth in the Super Bowl.
On Saturday, New England silenced Tebowmania 45-10 as Tom Brady tied an NFL record with six TD passes and broke another with five in the first half.
“We know we have a big test next week,” Lewis said. “Tom is playing excellent up there, and what they did to the Broncos last night, I think they sent a message to whoever was coming up there. So, we’ve got our hands full and we’ve got to go up and get ready to play in the AFC championship.”
The Texans (11-7), who made the playoffs for the first time in their 10-year existence, had five sacks and held the Ravens to 227 yards. But Joe Flacco’s TD passes of 1 yard to Kris Wilson and 10 to Anquan Boldin, plus Cundiff’s field goals of 48 and 44 yards were enough offense for Baltimore.
Later Sunday, defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay hosted the New York Giants, with the winner advancing to the NFC title game next weekend against San Francisco. The NFC West champion 49ers rallied in the final moments to beat New Orleans 36-32 in an epic playoff game Saturday.
Home teams won the first seven games in these playoffs, the first time since the current format in 1990 was adopted. Home teams have never won all eight in the first two rounds.
49ers 36, Saints 32
The 49ers rekindled memories of their glory days, when Dwight Clark made “The Catch” and Terrell Owens made “The Catch II.”
Alex Smith, never before confused with Hall of Famers Joe Montana (the original catch) or Steve Young (the second one), threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis with 9 seconds left just after Drew Brees put the high-powered Saints ahead,
“You’ve got to call it ‘The Grab,'” Davis said. “We were down. I had to make it happen to take my teammates where we want to go.”
It looked like the Niners (14-3) were headed to the conference championship game when they, uh, grabbed a 17-0 lead thanks to mistakes by the Saints and Smith’s TD throws to Davis and Michael Crabtree. But the record-setting Brees and his offense came back, with a 44-yard catch-and-run by Darren Sproles giving them a 24-23 lead with 4:02 to go.
Smith put the 49ers back on top with a 28-yard run on third down, but the 2-point conversion failed. That put New Orleans (14-4) in position to retake the lead on a 66-yard connection with Jimmy Graham — only to see Smith and Davis win it.
The Niners become the first team in NFL history to score two lead-changing touchdowns in the final three minutes to win a playoff game.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and that’s all I kept telling myself over and over and over: ‘Vernon, you got to step up, the team needs you,'” Davis said.