BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens raced to a lead, building an advantage of two touchdowns over the Houston Texans by utilizing short fields created by turnovers.
The reality of their offense being overmatched at many junctures would eventually become obvious during a tense 20-13 AFC divisional round playoff victory over the Texans on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens were limited to 227 yards of total offense as quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked five times and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice was held to a mere 60 yards on 21 carries.
“That was probably the best defense I’ve seen all year,” Rice said. “It was tough sledding and we knew it was going to be a big challenge.”
The right side of the Ravens’ offensive line had no answers for rookie defensive end J.J. Watt and rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed.
They each recorded 2 ½ sacks, combining for 20 tackles as Watt registered a dozen on his own.
“Those guys are talented,” offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “They ran some stunts and shot through some gaps. We’ll watch the film and make our corrections.
The Ravens also got stuffed in key short-yardage situations, failing to score on a fourth-and-goal opportunity.
“I think we can execute better,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We can block a little bit better. I thought we ran it up in there pretty good, for the most part. Really good defensive front, linebackers crash up in gaps and things like that. We need to find a way to get those guys blocked. Those are the things were are humbled by, and we have to keep working on it.”
REED TWISTS ANKLE: Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed suffered a left ankle injury that caused him to limp off the field after a rough landing following his last pass deflection of the game.
Reed emphasized, though that the injury isn’t serious. And the team announced that no further testing is scheduled at this time.
“I’ll be all right,” said Reed, who intercepted a pass and knocked down four passes. “I’ll go get treatment and I’ll be ready to go. I rolled my ankle, pinched it real bad. I was able to walk off at the end once it was all said and done.”
Offensive tackle Michael Oher said his knee is fine even though it was wrapped up after the game and he got treatment.
Defensive tackle Arthur Jones sustained a minor leg injury and also received treatment.
Inside linebackers Jameel McClain (sprained medial collateral ligament) and Brendon Ayanbadejo (strained right quadriceps), who were listed as questionable heading into kickoff, made it through the game without aggravating their respective injuries.
“On the injuries, we got through OK,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll have to check on Ed. Apparently, he seems like he’s in pretty good shape. The two guys who had the issues that were really nip and tuck before the game were the linebackers, Brendon and Jameel. They got through the game OK.”
BIRK DENIES REPORT: Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk denied a television report from former NFL general manager Charlie Casserly, stating that he would retire after this season.
“It could be 100 percent true or it could be zero percent true, and there’s probably no in between,” Birk said. “No, I haven’t made that decision yet and I don’t know Charlie Casserly. I know who he is, but he didn’t talk to me and that’s all I can say.”
Birk, 35, considered retiring prior to this season, but was talked into playing again.
The father of six is in the final year of his contract.
“I don’t think it’s unique for someone in my situation to contemplate it, but I’m just focused on the moment, on the now,” Birk said. “I’ve done it for a while and nothing is guaranteed in this game. You don’t know when your last play is going to be, or your last game. After the season, there will be plenty of time to figure out what I’m going to do next year.”
CONGRATULATIONS: Both the Harbaugh brothers won their playoff games this weekend.
And John Harbaugh congratulated his younger brother, Jim Harbaugh, following the San Francisco 49ers’ 36-32 win over the New Orleans Saints.
“We talked last night after the game,” John Harbaugh said. “He was pretty happy. I was happy for him, but I couldn’t get quite as happy as he was. He was fired up, and I think he was really proud of his team.
“I’m proud of him. I’m proud of Jim. I’m proud of his staff over there, but I haven’t been thinking that much about him, to be honest with you.”
BIG MISTAKE: Texans punt returner Jacoby Jones’ fumble of a 71-yard Sam Koch punt cost his team.
The fumble recovered by rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith at the Texans’ two-yard line led to Flacco’s one-yard touchdown pass to reserve tight end Kris Wilson.
“I was really trying to hurry and grab it and get down, but it hit off my face mask, and I let it roll,” Jones said. “Of course, I’m upset about it. It’s a turnover. That’s a play we didn’t make, and they went down and scored. The defense played lights-out, and I think that touchdown they scored is off me.”
NO PRESSURE: The Ravens never sacked rookie quarterback T.J. Yates.
And he was only hit twice as the Ravens rarely blitzed and didn’t generate penetration on a consistent basis with their defensive line.
"They got the ball out pretty quick most of the time," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "It was a great game plan for them. They know Yates is a rookie and they probably protected him a little bit with getting the ball out quick. They also did very well with play-action. They did a great job of adjusting and changing up the plays on us."
Ngata acknowledged that the Ravens will need to create more pressure next week in the AFC title game against the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady.
"We just have to have a great week of practice and work on getting to the quarterback," Ngata said. "We have to study well and try to get some."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens improved to 9-0 at home this season, winning 19 of their past 20 home games and are 28-5 at home under Harbaugh. … The Ravens scratched cornerback Chris Carr, which was somewhat of a surprise considering he’s not injured. … They also deactivated wide receiver Tandon Doss, cornerback Chykie Brown, running back Anthony Allen, linebacker Josh Bynes, center-guard Justin Boren and linebacker Sergio Kindle. … The Texans deactivated quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Jeff Maehl, cornerback Brandon Harris, safety Troy Nolan, offensive guard Thomas Austin, offensive tackle Andrew Gardner and tight end Garrett Graham. … The Ravens improved to 10-6 in the playoffs all-time, including a 2-2 mark at home, 7-4 on the road and 1-0 at a neutral site (Super Bowl XXXV). … Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are now 5-3 in the playoffs. … The Ravens averaged 26.6 points per game at home and allowed 14.3, outscoring opponents 239-132. … The Ravens had 33 sacks and forced 22 turnovers at home this season, allowing 17 sacks and turning the ball over 11 times for a plus-11 turnover margin. … Reed now has eight interceptions in 10 playoff games, ranking him as first among active NFL players ahead of Asante Samuel, Antoine Bethea and Brian Dawkins. … Texans running back Arian Foster became the first player to ever rush for 100 yards against the Ravens in the playoffs, gaining 132 yards on 27 carries. The Ravens’ previous opponent high for rushing was 91 yards by former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George during a divisional playoff game in 2001 in Nashville. … The Ravens weren’t penalized in the playoff game, a franchise postseason first.