RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The match up for Super Bowl is set. In two weeks, the San Francisco 49ers, winners of the NFC championship, will play the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens were big underdogs in their game, yesterday, against the defending AFC champions, the New England Patriots. Same teams as last season, but this time a different result. The Ravens beat the home team 28 to 13.
NPR's Mike Pesca was at the game in Foxborough, Massachusetts and filed this report.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: The adjectives affixed to the Baltimore Ravens this year weren't superlatives, they were respectful words, like solid and effective. But in the second half of the conference championship game, the Ravens soared. They scored in the red zone. They forced three Patriot turnovers, while committing none of their own. They came back against the Patriots in New England. The Pats haven't lost a home game while leading at halftime in 12 years.
After the game Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs paid his respect to the Patriot dynasty.
TERRELL SUGGS: People don't like them because they win. They're a great team and they have every right to be who they are.
PESCA: What you just heard was Suggs walking back his comments from right after the game, when he called the Patriots arrogant. The reason the blitzing linebacker was emboldened to call out the Patriots had a lot to do with his quarterback, Joe Flacco, who New England defensive back Steve Gregory dubbed one of the game's best.
STEVE GREGORY: You know, he's one of the elite quarterbacks. I know he gets a lot of flack for, you know, maybe possibly not being that type of guy, but, you know, he is.
PESCA: Flacco threw for three touchdowns and came up with bigger plays than his celebrated counterpart, Tom Brady. After the game, Patriot Coach Bill Belichick was his usual taciturn self.
BILL BELICHICK: Nothing was good enough. Everything - a lot of things were OK. It was competitive, but it wasn't just - it wasn't as good as the Ravens tonight.
PESCA: But what more needs to be said. Well, in the Baltimore locker room..
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hey. My man, Bernard (unintelligible).
PESCA: As Bernard Pollard answered reporter's questions, his exuberant teammates wanted it to be known that Pollard...
(SOUNDBITE OF LOCKER ROOM CHATTER)
PESCA: Played for free, meaning, his hit jarring the ball loose from Patriot running back Steven Ridley was so vicious, that his teammates expected Pollard to be fined a game check. But the hit was legal, even if Ridley left, not to return. It was a game changer for a team that was fired up by the stage, the situation, and their teammate Ray Lewis, who has announced he will be retiring after the season.
Lewis, known for motivating the Ravens, talked, after the game, about what drove him.
RAY LEWIS: To hear men tell you they love you and to hear men tell you they respect the life that you live, it's the ultimate.
PESCA: As if this team needed any more incentive, each game this post season has been a chance to rally around the player that one Ravens fan described this way.
MICHAEL PHELPS: He literally is the most inspirational person I've ever met in my entire life.
PESCA: That fan was 22 time Olympic medal winner Michael Phelps. Unlike Phelps, the Ravens have been underdogs, nearly double digit underdogs in both their playoff wins. And they will be the underdogs again in the Super Bowl, which may be bad news for the San Francisco 49ers.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Foxborough, Massachusetts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.