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The Baltimore Ravens gave their fans something to cheer about as they booked themselves a meeting with the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, after a hard fought victory over the Houston Texans. Baltimore, playing in their first home playoff game since 2006, won the game 20-13, and largely relied on their overpowering defense after scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter.
The Texans almost had the perfect start to the game when Danieal Manning looked as if he was going to break through the Ravens defense for a touchdown return from the opening kickoff, but was eventually bumped into touch after making 60 yards on the return. The return gave Houston good field position, but the Texans were unable to convert the field position into a touchdown, having to settle for a field goal to take the first lead of the game.
The Ravens then capitalized on a mistake by Jacoby Jones who, under immediate pressure from Cary Williams, attempted to collect a punt and fumbled the ball, allowing rookie Jimmy Smith to dive on the ball and give the Ravens a first and goal. Baltimore showed good composure in the red zone, with Joe Flacco finding Kris Wilson for a 1-yard touchdown pass and move Baltimore into the lead, which the home side would go on to maintain for the rest of the game.
Baltimore then extended their lead through wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who was on the end of a 10-yard touchdown pass to make the score 17-3 to the Ravens. Boldin proved to be the most effective receiver for Baltimore, finishing the game with one touchdown and 73 yards on four receptions.
Houston were determined to get back into the game however, and a field goal and an Arian Foster rushing touchdown in the second quarter brought them to within four points of Baltimore.
They looked as if they might retake the lead on several occasions, and were only kept at bay by the much vaunted Ravens defense, with Baltimore’s secondary in imperious form, Ladarius Webb picking up two interceptions and Ed Reed collecting one as well on a critical deep pass to Andre Johnson that would have certainly been a touchdown if the safety had not intervened. A late field goal in the fourth quarter then gave Baltimore a little more security and their defense saw out the game.
Although thoroughly disheartened to have lost a game which they seemed to be the more dominant team in, the Texans will be encouraged by their performance in their debut season in the playoffs. Foster was dominant in the running game, clocking up 132 yards on 27 carries, and Johnson was comfortably the most proficient receiver in the game, registering 111 yards on eight receptions.
Despite now being in contention for the AFC Championship, the Ravens will not be happy with their offensive performance, and will have to improve dramatically if they are to overcome the in-form Patriots away from home, who demolished the Denver Broncos in their divisional round match up.
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