Ravens take over in second half, beat Steelers 30-17 in AFC wild-card game

The Ravens warned anybody who would listen that things would be different if they made it to the postseason.

The offense, which struggled so mightily in the final couple of weeks of the regular season would find its rhythm. The defense, which gave up yards in bunches all year, would stiffen and become disruptive.

By late in the fourth quarter of an AFC wild-card game Saturday night, Heinz Field had thinned out considerably, and most of those who did stay were strangely silent. The Ravens had made their point against their biggest rival, and was it ever emphatic.

Joe Flacco recaptured his past postseason form with two touchdown passes and no turnovers and the Ravens put away the Pittsburgh Steelers, dominating the second half in a 30-17 victory in front of an announced 62,780. It was their first postseason victory over the Steelers in four tries.

"This is a very special victory for us because of who it comes against: our very-respected rival," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

The victory means that the Ravens have won at least one playoff game for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. They are 7-4 on the road in the postseason under Harbaugh and 10-4 overall. But in a jubilant locker room, the only thing that seemed to matter was that the sixth-seeded Ravens are moving on, while the AFC North champion Steelers begin a long offseason.

The Ravens will play the top-seeded New England Patriots in the AFC divisional round Saturday at 4:35 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

"We all know the matchup that the NFL wants to see," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, seemingly referring to a Patriots-Denver Broncos AFC championship game. "Let's see if we can disrupt some people's plans."

Suggs and the Ravens defense certainly disrupted the Steelers' and the NFL's second-ranked offense. They forced three fourth-quarter turnovers, including an interception that Suggs cradled between his legs. They also sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times, knocking him out of the game for a couple of plays at one point.

Meanwhile, Flacco was protected well and added to his already-impressive postseason resume. He was 18-for-29 for 259 yards and two touchdown passes. His 11-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith late in the third quarter gave the Ravens a 20-9 lead.

His 21-yard connection with reserve tight end Crockett Gillmore — which came on the play following Suggs' interception — made it a 30-15 game and sent Steelers fans heading to the exists.

"We have a good football team, and I think we are getting better every time we take the field," Flacco said. "We were on top of our game today. We played a nice, patient football game. We were able to kind of break through in the second half."

In his past five postseason games, Flacco has thrown 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. In the process, he's outdueled the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck, the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning, the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and now Roethlisberger.

"What can you say? He's the best quarterback in football," Harbaugh said. "We'll take him any day of the week, twice on Sundays."

Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak told the offense Friday night that the Ravens were going to stay aggressive and keep their foot on the gas pedal. In the fourth quarter alone, the Ravens went for it on fourth-and-1 near midfield, threw a bomb into the end zone on third-and-1, and then kept passing in the fourth quarter even with a two-possession lead.

Ravens left guard Kelechi Osemele, who sprung Bernard Pierce for a first-quarter touchdown run, applauded the aggressive play-calling and joked that he wished the team would have played like that all year.

The Ravens led 10-9 at halftime, but they seemingly took control of the game on their first two drives of the second half. On their first, they had a third-and-14 from their own 12 when Flacco hit Torrey Smith for 17 yards.

Smith then drew a pass-interference call in Steelers territory to convert another third down. The Ravens eventually settled for Justin Tucker's 45-yard field goal and a 13-9 lead.

After the defense forced a quick punt, Flacco went to work again. On the first play from scrimmage, he hit Steve Smith down the right sideline for 40 yards. Two more completions — a 6-yarder to Steve Smith and a 9-yarder to fullback Kyle Juszczyk — set the Ravens up on the Steelers 14.

Then, on third-and-7 from the 11-yard line, Flacco spun off a sack attempt and found Torrey Smith alone in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

That made the score 20-9 with 4:13 to play in the third quarter and marked the fourth straight scoring drive for the Ravens, not counting the late second-quarter kneel-down.

When the Ravens defense held again, the offense got the ball back intent on delivering the knockout blow. Harbaugh decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 49, and a quarterback sneak by Flacco picked it up.

However, on the very next play, Justin Forsett ran into teammate Owen Daniels and lost control of the football. Ryan Shazier recovered the ball on the Ravens 45. It was Forsett's first lost fumble this season and his first since 2009.

Given new life, the Steelers wasted no time taking advantage. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 44 yards on the very next play from scrimmage. It was originally ruled a touchdown, but after review Brown was ruled down at the 1-yard line.

After a false-start penalty, Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant, who outmuscled Lardarius Webb, for a 6-yard touchdown pass. A failed 2-point conversion kept the Ravens' lead at 20-15.

But, after seemingly losing the momentum, the Ravens responded. They picked up 23 yards on a third-and-13, thanks to a reception by Daniels. Tucker made it an eight-point game by making a 52-yard field goal.

The defense then gave the offense the ball right back when Suggs made his interception at the Steelers 21.

On the very next play, Flacco rolled out and hit Gillmore for the 21-yard touchdown reception with just under eight minutes to play.

"I don't think there was ever a doubt," Gillmore said. "As soon as the game plan was put in on Monday and Tuesday, we were ready. We knew what we could do and we came here to do it."

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