Ravens 20, Texans 13
Close enough to cry: Texans outplay Baltimore Ravens and still see dream seasonend
BALTIMORE — They'd stagger off the field, their sometimes unbelievable Next Man Up run finally done, ended in the most heartbreaking way possible.
So close. Never near enough.
The Houston Texans pushed the heavily favored Baltimore Ravens to the limit in the second round of the AFC Playoffs, but never could take the lead and walked off 20-13 losers. This was a bruising defensive game, one marked by a fitting comeback by these never-say-die, injury-riddled Texans and ultimately by a Ravens survival.
"I'm so proud of the heart and fight in this team," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said. "We fought and fought, until we couldn't fight any more.
"The heart is there."
Houston gained more yards (315 to 227), collected more first downs (16 to 11), out toughened the Ravens in many ways Sunday — and still lost.
It'd be easy to call this the finest hour of Wade Phillips' Miracle Defense. And it's still a loss. The Texans (11-7) will still be packing up their locker room for the year Monday. The Ravens (13-4) move on to the AFC Championship Game where they are sure to be underdogs to the New England Patriots after this performance.
Houston held Baltimore to three points in the final three quarters of the game, but rookie quarterback T.J. Yates (17 for 35 with three interceptions) could not lead the Texans to a single point in the second half. The defensive effort and Arian Foster's superstar turn (27 carries for 132 yards, five catches for 22 yards) would be wasted.
Taking over down 20-13 with less than three minutes remaining, the Texans had a chance. Houston moved near midfield and Yates threw a deep ball for Andre Johnson into double coverage that Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed plucked out of the air even as he fell backwards onto the field.
There would be one more final chance, but that ended with a Yates heave that bounced harmlessly into the end zone near a scrum of players with 11 seconds left.
Coming into the game, home teams held a 6-0 record in these NFL playoffs. The Ravens hadn't lost all season at M&T Bank Stadium. The Texans had never beaten Baltimore in its franchise history.
But for 59 minutes and 49 seconds, the Texans would push the Ravens to the brink.
The Texans gift wrapped a 17-3 lead to Baltimore, thanks to two first quarter turnovers. The most glaring of those came on a total brain freeze from punt returner Jacoby Jones. Instead of letting a bouncing punt go, Jones tried to grab it and bounced off him to the Ravens to set up one of the shortest touchdown drives in history: Two yards.
"There's no excuse," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He shouldn't even be around the ball once that happens. Just made a mistake. I don't know what to say.
"We basically gave them 10 points early in the game."
"I didn't want us to get pinned down back there," Jones said of his thinking.
Instead, the touchdowns gave away a touchdown in a game they'd lose by a touchdown.
Houston's Bulls on Parade defense refused to give in though, refused to let 17-3 turn into a blowout and the Texans' offense found its footing with an 86-yard second quarter drive.
Flacco found himself under immense pressure in the second half, with J.J. Watt and Connor Barwin wreaking havoc in the Ravens' backfield. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, back on the sidelines for the first time since major surgery, dialed up the adjustments and Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron struggled to counter. Houston finished with five sacks, made Flacco (14 for 27 for 176 yards) struggle through the game.
But they could never force him or any other Raven into a turnover — while Houston turned it over four times.
So close. Never near enough.
When the Texans drove into Ravens' territory again, still down only 17-13 late in the third quarter, Phillips and company could almost see the AFC Championship Game. Houston bogged down though and Neil Rackers' 50-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar and fell harmlessly down.
Inches from 17-16, but no . . .
The Ravens seemed poised to seize control of the game back on the resulting short-field drive. Until the Texans' defense pulled off the stand of its spectacular season. With the Ravens inside the five-yard line, Houston turned Ray Rice and friends back. The last play of the stand came on fourth-and-inches with Texans reserve linebacker Tim Dobbins stuffing Rice at the line.
No points for you!
Another Watt sack, this time one started by fellow rookie Brooks Reed, forced another Baltimore punt later in the fourth. The favored Ravens found themselves being completely shut down after the first quarter.
Didn't matter. They're still moving on. The Texans are still done.
"I'm not going to get a lot of sleep tonight," Foster said. "I don't think anyone in this locker room is. We don't want this to end. We were so close."