Cary Williams, Brandon Lloyd

The Patriots' Brandon Lloyd, right, makes a catch in the first quarter against Ravens cornerback Cary Williams in the first half of the AFC championship game. (JIM YOUNG, REUTERS / January 21, 2013)

Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard lived up to his intimidating reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL, knocking New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley out of Sunday's AFC championship game with a devastating fourth-quarter tackle.

During the Ravens' 28-13 AFC victory at Gillette Stadium, Ridley was down on the ground for several scary minutes before finally walking off the field under his own power.

"Bernard, man, he's a hitter," Ravens free safety Ed Reed said. "He's a thumper."

The crushing tackle by the man nicknamed "Bonecrusher" provided a huge shift of momentum for the Ravens. Ridley fumbled, and the ball was recovered by defensive end Arthur Jones. That turnover led to quarterback Joe Flacco's 11-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin on the ensuing possession for the Ravens' final score.

"That was the turning point of the game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That was the turning point of the fotball game there. It was just a tremendous hit. It was football at its finest. It was Bernard Pollard making a great physical tackle, just as good a tackle as you're ever going to see in football right there. That just probably turned the game around right there."

The win propels the Ravens into the Super Bowl, where they will face the San Francisco 49ers after winning the AFC title game rematch with the Patriots.

Pollard shrugged off praise after his intimidating, impactful shot that rendered Ridley woozy, saying he was just doing his job and following his traditional hard-nosed approach to the game.

"That's football," Pollard said. "That's how we play the game. We're just excited to be going to New Orleans. We didn't want to have that feeling again from last year. This team, we're about hitting. We're about running fast, playing hard for four quarters."

On the tackle of Ridley, Pollard accelerated to full speed before unleashing a huge shoulder hit on the running back that separated him from the football and left him lying on the ground, obviously disoriented.

"That's just a tackle," Pollard said. "It's football. He broke the hole. Us as safeties, we have to fill where we're needed. I hope he's OK. We as players are competitive in the moment. You want that guy to be OK. That is our brother."

Pollard was flagged in the third quarter for a personal foul, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty for a hit on wide receiver Wes Welker that could put him in the crosshairs of the league office for a potential fine.

"I think it was time for us to step up, and in the second half we didn't flinch," Pollard said. "I think we came out swinging and we did a really good job as a team."

Usually one of the feistiest players on the field, Pollard was in an unusual role in the first quarter: peacemaker.

An intimidating enforcer, Pollard typically will mix it up with any player.

In this case, though, with tempers flaring, Pollard defused the situation through a conversation with Patriots linebacker Tracy White after a confrontation with other players during a punt.

"I think we did a really good job as a team coming into a hostile environment," said Pollard who finished with nine tackles. "We know what it felt like last year. We didn't want to have that feeling again walking off that field. I really believe as a team we came together. We're gracious enough to be heading to New Orleans."

Michael Phelps, Adam Jones salute Ravens

Waiting patiently outside the locker room after the Ravens' win, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps and Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones paid tribute to the AFC champions.

Phelps and Jones have attended several games this season and made the trip to Foxborough to support the Ravens again.

"This is the coolest thing," Phelps said. "This is one of the most incredible things I've seen in my entire life. It's pretty special. It's an emotional time for us. It's going to be a great two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. We're fighters. They did it."