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.
The Ravens’ trademark defense forced four turnovers, two of them interceptions by Ladarius Webb, that set up 17 Baltimore points as the hosts spoiled the first playoff appearance in the Texans’ 10-year history.
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.
The gridiron championship spectacle’s other team will be decided next Sunday in the National Conference final between the San Francisco 49ers and the winner of Sunday’s later game between the New York Giants and defending champion Green Bay.
The Ravens won a regular-season matchup at home 29-14 against the Texans and took charge again early in the rematch.
Houston opened the scoring 2:36 into the game on a 40-yard Neil Rackers field goal but the Texans’ Jacoby Jones fumbled a punt and Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith recovered at the Texans’ 3-yard line.
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.
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.