Ravens D delivers dazzling display

SCOTT GARBARINI, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 3:32 PM ET

The Baltimore Ravens defence has never been one to lack either motivation or intensity, but the unit was able to ratchet its energy level to the maximum during Sunday's showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs.

The raucous postseason atmosphere within Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium helped bring about that heightened state of determination, but the Ravens were competing with an additional incentive as well, one created by an unexpected tragic turn of events.

Two days prior to Baltimore's battle with the Chiefs, the younger brother of Ravens star safety Ed Reed was reported missing in Louisiana after jumping into the Mississippi River to evade a chase from police. Authorities called off the search for Brian Reed on Saturday, and the 29-year-old is presumed to have drowned.

Ed Reed still managed to play through the pain on Sunday, and the veteran playmaker's decision clearly provided a source of inspiration to his teammates. The Ravens turned their heavy hearts into heavy hits against the Chiefs, stifling the AFC West champions in a dominating effort that fueled the team's 30-7 victory.

The Chiefs were able to land a haymaker early on in the form of a 41-yard touchdown run by dynamic running back Jamaal Charles late in the first quarter, but Baltimore quickly regrouped and completely shut down the NFL's top-ranked rushing offence the rest of the way. Kansas City gained a pedestrian 67 yards on its 18 other attempts, and mustered an anemic 25 total yards and two first downs on six second-half possessions.

Baltimore was even more stingy against the pass, continually harassing the Chiefs' Matt Cassel into a miserable 70-yard, three-interception day. The usually judicious quarterback was sacked three times and completed just 9-of-18 throws, none of which went in the direction of top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

The Ravens forced a total of five turnovers against a Kansas City squad that went through the entire regular season committing 14 giveaways, the second- lowest mark in the league.

Baltimore had been equally as opportunistic in stringing together four straight wins prior to Sunday's contest. The Ravens came up with nine giveaways in back- to-back bestings of Cleveland and Cincinnati to close out the regular season, and have surrendered a mere 24 points over their last three outings.

"We've been third in the league [in scoring defence] for the last three years, so we've got a little tradition here of playing defence," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "I'm proud of the way our guys play. The bottom line is points. You can talk about yards, you can talk about all that stuff, but points is what counts."

Reed was the forefront of Baltimore's late-season turnover binge, intercepting two passes in both the Cleveland and Cincinnati games. The six-time All-Pro had a lesser contribution to the stat sheet on Sunday, recording four solo tackles, but his presence on the field and in the huddle made a far greater impact.

"For Ed to do what he did under the circumstances and to play the way he played, to lead the way he led, that's just an incredible thing," Harbaugh remarked.

FLACCO UNFLAPPABLE

While the defence was imposing its will on the punchless Chiefs, the Ravens had an easier time moving the football in Sunday's shellacking. Quarterback Joe Flacco turned in easily the best postseason performance of his young career, with the third-year triggerman hitting on an exceptionally crisp 25-of-34 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

The 25-year-old established Ravens playoff records for completions, passing yards and completion percentage, while also becoming the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for multiple touchdowns in a postseason event.

Those stellar numbers were a stark contrast to Flacco's previous playoff ventures, in which the 2008 first-round pick had achieved a substandard 47.5% (57-of-120) completion rate and tossed six interceptions and only one touchdown over five games.

He was totally in control, however, in expertly directing a Baltimore offence that piled up 390 total yards and had little problem moving the chains, with the Ravens amassing 26 first downs and converting 10-of-18 tries on either third or fourth down.

"A quarterback's got to make plays in games like this...scramble plays, throws," said Harbaugh. [Kansas City] is a very good coverage team, and Joe making plays with a great pass rush bearing down on him, that was probably the difference in the game."

Flacco also moved into some elite company before the game, joining Hall of Famer Dan Marino and ex-Browns standout Bernie Kosar as the only quarterbacks to take their teams to the playoffs in each of their first three seasons. Sunday's win was his 36th as a starter (36-18), which ties Marino for the most in NFL history in a three-year span to begin a career.

A HEAP OF PRODUCTION

The majority of Flacco's success came across the middle of the field, with tight end Todd Heap the primary target of the stoic signal-caller's throws. The steady veteran hauled in 10 Flacco passes for 108 yards, setting team playoff records in both categories.

"We were successful early in the game," said Heap afterward. "I think we kind of figured we could keep going back to some of those looks, some of those plays. Joe kept gaining more confidence in just putting the ball out there, and obviously, I felt good about the matchups out there. So all those things combined, we were able to keep converting and making big plays down the field."

The 10 catches were also a personal best for Heap, while his yardage output was the two-time Pro Bowl selection's highest since the 2005 season and only the fourth time of his 10-year he's eclipsed the 100-yard mark.

Running back Ray Rice, who recorded five receptions for 42 yards on Sunday, had held the Ravens' previous single-game postseason mark of nine catches, set during last year's loss at Indianapolis in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. Shannon Sharpe had owned the club playoff record for receiving yards, compiling 96 at Oakland in the 2000 AFC Championship Game.

STEEL AWAY

The Ravens will face a most familiar foe in the Divisional Round, with fellow AFC North member Pittsburgh next on the docket. The two bitter rivals will square off for the third time this season Saturday at Heinz Field.

The Steelers and Ravens ended the regular season tied atop the division with identical 12-4 records and split a pair of 2010 matchups. Baltimore rallied for a 17-14 victory at Heinz Field in early October, with Flacco's 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 34 seconds left accounting for the winning points, but Pittsburgh exacted revenge with a hard- fought 13-10 decision in Baltimore on Dec. 5.

Baltimore's Week 4 triumph in the Steel City did come with a caveat, as the Steelers were without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger due to an early- season suspension. The Pittsburgh field general has given the Ravens fits in the past, however, and the Black and Gold has won the last six meetings between the teams when Roethlisberger's started. That includes a 23-14 verdict at Heinz Field in the 2008 AFC Championship, in which the Steelers intercepted Flacco three times and the then-rookie completed just 13-of-30 passes for 141 yards.

If recent history is any indication, Saturday's tussle figures to be both close and low scoring. Six of the last seven skirmishes between the two have been decided by four points or less, with three of those games going into overtime. In addition, the winning team hasn't had more than 23 points any time during that stretch.

"We know what they're all about," said Harbaugh of the Steelers. "They know what we're about. We know what kind of game it's going to be. But we do enjoy playing against those guys."


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