It was a game filled with big plays from both teams, but the Baltimore Ravens were the ones to prevail against the Denver Broncos in a slight upset. The Broncos and New England Patriots were viewed as the two Super Bowl favorites from the AFC side of the bracket, but only the Patriots remain alive. Their test comes today against the Houston Texans, but it is a considerably easier one. The Pats have already defeated the Texans in the regular season, and it was a 42-14 blowout on Monday Night Football in a game that Texans players called “the biggest in franchise history”.
The Ravens will now await the Pats, and it is going to be a great rematch of the AFC Conference Championship from last year in which the Patriots barely pulled it out on a big play from Sterling Moore. He is no longer with the team, but the secondary- and the team as a whole- is clearly stronger this season. The Pats are also a different team from when the Ravens defeated them 31-30 in a nail-biter early this season, due to the trade to acquire Aqib Talib that allowed Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington to excel in more comfortable positions in the secondary.
Joe Flacco elevated his stock with another strong playoff performance, as he finished with three touchdowns, no picks (he was nearly picked once in overtime, though), 331 passing yards, an average of nearly ten yards per attempt, and a terrific 116.3 QB Rating. Peyton Manning tossed 290 yards and three touchdowns, but he also had two picks. One was a terrible throw across his body, while the other was returned for a touchdown early in the game. Manning was actually solid in that game, but those two picks cost the Broncos dearly and will further cut into Manning’s playoff pedigree whether he deserves it or not.
To me, the reason why the Ravens won this game is because they ran the ball more effectively and always had a clear advantage in the running game. The Broncos running game is subpar, while the Ravens have one of the top backs in the league in Ray Rice. As a team, the Broncos averaged just barely above three yards per carry while the Ravens received 131 rushing yards in a workman-like performance from Ray Rice.
Trindon Holliday returned a kick and a punt for a touchdown for Denver, but it only takes a look at one key box score stat to see why the Ravens deserved to win. 6.5 to 4.6. That was the significant advantage that the victors held in yards per play, and they undoubtedly deserve to be the ones to face either the Texans or Patriots in the conference championship. And yes, I am a little bit nervous about the prospect of facing the Ravens, because they always play the Pats tough.
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