FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Baltimore Ravens wanted the New England Patriots, told the world they would beat them and then went into their stadium and dominated the second half as no visiting team has done.
It didn't seem possible when they limped into the postseason as losers of four of five games, or when they trailed the Denver Broncos last week by a touchdown with under a minute to go, or during the first half Sunday night when they were having trouble getting quarterback Tom Brady off the field.
But it's reality now: The Ravens are going to the Super Bowl. Avenging last year's bitter loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game, Baltimore took apart New England in the second half, punching their ticket to New Orleans with a thorough 28-13 victory in front of a stunned announced crowd of 68,756 at Gillette Stadium.
"We know what it felt like walking off that field losers" last year, said Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. "They beat us and we said we weren't going to walk off again like that."
Instead, the Ravens bounced off, one by one, celebrating with their fans, who had come down to the first couple of rows at the stadium.
Safety Ed Reed, who will play in his first Super Bowl and do it in his home state, sang, "We got two tickets to paradise." Linebacker Terrell Suggs yelled, "We came, we saw and we conquered." Defensive end Arthur Jones held up a sign that read, "AFC champions."
In the Super Bowl for the second time in team history and the first time in 12 years, the Ravens will play the San Francisco 49ers, who beat the Atlanta Falcons, 28-24, in the NFC championship game. The game, Feb. 3 at the Superdome, will pit Ravens Coach John Harbaugh against his younger brother, Jim, the coach of the 49ers.
"I don't know if we had a dream this big," John Harbaugh said. "We had a few dreams, we had a few fights, we had a few arguments. We'll try to stay out of that business. We'll let the two teams duke it out."
John Harbaugh's team was at its best when it absolutely had to be, steamrolling Bill Belichick's Patriots — which led 13-7 at halftime — over the final 30 minutes. Belichick had been 72-1 when leading at halftime at Gillette Stadium and the Patriots had been undefeated in four previous conference championship games on their home field. But they had no answers for quarterback Joe Flacco, or for a Ravens defense that not only forced three turnovers in the second half, but forced several Patriots to the sidelines.
A week after outshining the Broncos' Peyton Manning and two weeks after getting the better of Indianapolis Colts phenom Andrew Luck, Flacco outplayed Brady, completing 15 of 24 passes in the second half for 159 yards and three touchdowns after the coaching staff made the decision in the second half to put the game on the fifth-year quarterback's shoulders.
"We realized we needed to put some pressure on them," Flacco said. "We didn't come all the way here to play it safe."
Still trailing by six points about midway through the third quarter, Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta for a five-yard touchdown that gave the Ravens a 14-13 lead that they never relinquished. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he found Anquan Boldin for a three-yard score and then a little more than three minutes later, the pair connected for an 11-yard touchdown. Boldin said during the week the Ravens would win, and those two touchdowns made sure of that.
"For us, it wasn't a secret what we were trying to accomplish," Boldin said. "We came here last year and we left with a bitter taste in our mouths. We felt like this team took something away from us. We wanted to come back and make that right. It would have been great to do it in front of our fans in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium, but we thought the proper way was to come back here and to win at Foxborough, and we were able to do that."
Leading 28-13 with 11:13 to play, the Ravens' defense stopped the Patriots on fourth down to get the ball back, and then got interceptions on New England's final two possessions. Brady finished 29 for 54 for 320 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
"It's our time, it's our time," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, whose retirement tour will go right down to the season's final day in New Orleans. "Every man out there sacrificed this year for each other. And we did it, we did it, we did it. We're on our way to the Super Bowl. That's awesome."
Trailing 13-7 in the third quarter, the Ravens caught a break when Wes Welker dropped an easy pass from Brady that would, at the very least, have put New England in field-goal position to take a two-possession lead. They punted instead.