Harbaugh let Flacco 'cut it loose' in 2nd half

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Ravens scored 21 unanswered points in the second half, mostly thanks to a game plan adjustment that let quarterback Joe Flacco “cut it loose,” in coach John Harbaugh’s words.

“We were running the ball with some effectiveness (in the first half), but they were doing a good job on defense. They were stopping us,” Harbaugh said. “They were very physical up front. ... Their front seven is as good as any in football and we had to get away from that. We had to get away from challenging them and give Joe a chance to make some plays.”

After completing just 6 of 12 passes for 77 yards in the first half, the Flacco opened it up after the intermission, completing 15 of 24 passes -- all out of the shotgun -- for 163 yards and three touchdowns.

The Patriots’ secondary was undermanned after top cornerback Aqib Talib left after the second defensive series of the game with a thigh injury and did not return. The Ravens took advantage of Talib getting injured by using three wide receivers on 79.5 percent of Joe Flacco’s dropbacks, their third-highest percentage this season (including playoffs). All 16 of Flacco’s completions with that personnel came after Talib left.

Ravens players said the absence of Talib was not the reason they turned primarily to the passing game in the second half.

“I didn’t even know he went down until the end of the second quarter,” said receiver Torrey Smith, who caught four balls for 69 yards. “I was like ‘Where’s 31 (Talib) at?’ You just go out there and play. You don’t really look at who is across from you too much. I’m sure that was tough for (New England), he definitely helped them out a lot. I’m not going to say if he was out there then he would have been the difference. We ran the same stuff. It’s not like we just attacked any one (player).”

Running back Ray Rice also didn’t notice Talib’s absence.

“I didn’t even know he went down, I’ll be honest,” he said. “We came in at halftime, coach (Jim) Caldwell said he was going to keep his foot on the pedal and that’s what we did.”

The Ravens’ no-huddle shotgun attack didn’t really take hold until the team’s second offensive series of the second half. After taking over at their own 13 yard line with 10:03 left in the third, the Ravens drove 87 yards in 10 plays for the go-ahead score. Nine of the 10 plays were passes and six were completed.

“We hadn’t gotten much going on offense (in the first half),” Flacco said. “Our defense was playing really well -- it was still a six-point game -- all we had to do was go down and put the ball in the end zone, but we felt like we had to score, had to put pressure on the (defensive backs), put pressure on the linebackers in coverage. They do a good job stopping the run and we knew we had to come out here in the second half and make some plays in the passing game with some of our guys."

It was more of the same on their next possession, Flacco marching the Ravens into the end zone on a 10-play, 63-yard drive, six of which were passes (five were completed).

The Ravens' final score came after a Stevan Ridley fumble gave Baltimore the ball on the Patriots’ 47 yard line. Three completions and a scramble later and the Ravens were in the end zone again for their final score to put them up 28-13.

"We realized that we just needed to put some pressure on them (in the passing game),” Flacco said. "In the first half we were probably a little bit run-heavy and they did a good job of stopping it and we came out in the second half and decided to go with what we went with. We didn't come all the way here to play it safe and hope to win. We came here to win the AFC Championship Game and you have to play to win and you have to do some of those things, and our guys made plays -- Anquan (Boldin) came up huge -- all of our receivers (and) all of our tight ends, our linemen, everyone came up big when they needed to."