Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (right) celebrates with inside linebacker Ray Lewis (52) after intercepting a New England Patriots pass during the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens lived up to their team of destiny image on a field where their 2011 season ended painfully. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is headed to a Super Bowl matchup with his brother. And Lewis can hold his retirement party in New Orleans.
Flacco threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns Sunday as the Ravens, who struggled mightily at the end of the season, beat the New England Patriots 28-13 Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens, Super Bowl champs in their first and only previous trip to the championship in the 2000 season, will play for NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, coached by John Harbaugh's brother, Jim.
Lewis, who has announced he will retire after 17 NFL seasons at age 37, missed the last 10 games of the regular season with a torn triceps in his right arm. But he's returned to the playoffs to inspire a Baltimore defense that held Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady to one touchdown pass with two interceptions. New England had never lost an AFC title game at home.
Last season, the Patriots edged the Ravens 23-20 here in the AFC Championship Game. In the final seconds, a potential winning touchdown pass to Lee Evans was stripped away in the end zone and Billy Cundiff missed a potential game-tying 32-yard field goal for Baltimore.
Flacco, now 8-4 as a starting quarterback in the playoffs in five season, outplayed Patriots star Tom Brady a year ago.
After the Ravens trailed 13-7 at the half, Flacco led three consecutive touchdown drives in the second half to break the game open..Flacco's 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta put Baltimore ahead 14-13 in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Flacco connected with wide receiver Anquan Boldin on touchdown passes of 3 and 11 yards.
Flacco took criticism on the radio talk shows in Baltimore during the team's second-half skid, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired and replaced from the staff by assistant Jim Caldwell, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts. But the Baltimore offense came to life in the playoffs.
Running back Ray Rice and rookie backup Bernard Pierce led the Ravens running game against Patriots. Flacco spread out his big throws between Pitta, Boldin and wide receiver Torrey Smith.
The Patriots forged their 13-7 halftime lead on the strength of a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brady to wide receiver Wes Welker and a pair of field goals by Stephen Gostkowski. Baltimore got a 2-yard touchdown run by Rice early in the second quarter.
But the second half was all Baltimore. Flacco, who led the Ravens to an overtime win over the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs, finished 21-for-36 with no interceptions.
Brady, a three-time Super Bowl winner, was 29-for-54 or 320 yards. But his final pass was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Cary Williams.
In defeat, Brady became the NFL's all-time leader in postseason passing yards with 5,949.