Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes and the Baltimore Ravens defeated Houston 20-13 on Sunday, advancing to an NFL playoff showdown next week at New England for a berth in Super Bowl 46.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, a 16-year NFL veteran, made a team-high seven tackles and Baltimore's trademark defense forced four turnovers, two of them interceptions by Ladarius Webb, that set up 17 points for the hosts.
"We knew what was coming. We knew it was going to be tough," Lewis said. "When we got up 17-3 the No. 1 thing I told everybody was they were going to make a rally. At the end of the game, we made the plays that counted."
Baltimore qualified for next Sunday's American Conference final against the host Patriots to decide a berth in Super Bowl 46 on February 5 at Indianapolis. The Patriots eliminated Denver 45-10 on Saturday.
"What they did to the Broncos, they sent a message to whoever was coming up there," Lewis said. "We have to be ready for them."
The championship spectacle's other team will be decided in next Sunday's National Conference final between San Francisco and the winner of Sunday's later game between the New York Giants and defending champion Green Bay.
The Ravens won a regular-season home game against Houston 29-14 and took charge again early in the rematch on the way to spoiling the first playoff appearance in the Texans' 10-year history.
Three plays later, Flacco flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kris Wilson to put Baltimore ahead 7-3 just 5:09 into the game and the Ravens added to the margin only 3:42 later on Billy Cundiff's 48-yard field goal.
Webb intercepted a pass from Houston rookie T.J. Yates at the Texan 34-yard line and the Ravens took advantage on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Anquan Boldin for a 17-3 lead after the first quarter.
Rackers closed the gap for Houston with a 33-yard field goal 3:18 into the second quarter and the Texans drove 86 yards to reach the end zone on a 1-yard Arian Foster run 9:30 later to pull within 17-13 at half-time.
"Nobody holds onto a four-point lead in this league like that except the Ravens," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said.
Defenders seized command in the second half.
Houston could not close the gap as Rackers hit the crossbar to miss on a 50-yard field goal attempt 9:06 into the third quarter.
Baltimore followed by driving 59 yards to the Houston 1-yard line but Ray Rice was stopped inches from the goal line by the Texans on a fourth-down run, thwarting the Ravens after they decided not to try a short field goal kick.
Webb picked off Yates again midway into the fourth quarter and Cundiff put the Ravens ahead 20-13 by kicking a 44-yard field goal with 2:42 remaining.
Pushing for an equalizing touchdown, the Texans were thwarted when Ed Reed intercepted a Yates pass at the 4-yard line.
Baltimore could not run out the clock and punted to the Texans, who reached the Ravens 44 but turned the ball over on downs after a desperation throw fell incomplete at the goal line with 11 seconds remaining.
Source: AFP Global Edition