FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Maybe there's something to this team of destiny vibe for the Baltimore Ravens. And the magic of Ray Lewis' last ride. And Joe Flacco's emergence.
The Ravens are off to Super Bowl XLVII, something that seemed like a pipe dream a month ago for a lot of good reasons.
Deal with it. They have earned the right to crow.
"There is no room left on the bandwagon," Terrell Suggs, the boisterous linebacker, declared in the middle of the festive visitor's locker room after the 28-13 statement.
"None of y'all picked us last week," Suggs grumbled to reporters. "And nobody picked up this week."
In another corner of the room, Ray Rice still had on his full uniform a half-hour after the game. He sat plopped in a folding chair, tapping on the screen of his smart phone. This is the same running back who went out on a limb and labeled his a team of destiny.
"It's not going out on a limb if you really believe," Rice said. "When we were at the lowest of lows, we still believed. Everybody else wrote us off."
In the middle of December, the Ravens hit the skids with a three-game losing streak. They looked pretty finished, destined for a quick playoff exit. But hope flickered with a division title-clinching victory against the New York Giants in Week 16. Then last weekend, they pulled off a miracle and beat Peyton Manning.
On Sunday, they took down mighty Tom Brady. That's special.
The New England Patriots had never lost an AFC Championship Game at home, but the Ravens will tell you that it should have happened last year.
"Against any other team, this wouldn't have been the same," Suggs said. "Especially with how the game was lost last year."
This was sweet revenge. There was no game-winning touchdown pass dropped in the final seconds. No chip-shot game-tying field goal sailing wide left. That was last year.
This time, the Ravens sealed the deal to set up a Harbaugh Brothers Super Bowl in the Big Easy.
Never mind the Patriots mystique. The Ravens were hardly fazed. Battle-tested and playoff-scarred, they are not the Houston Texans, the outfit the Patriots blew out last weekend. They knew they could win here. It happened with a playoff rout three years ago, and the last time the teams met, in Baltimore on Week 3, the Ravens won that one, too.
So, this was a matter of some unfinished business.
As linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo put it, "That was a long plane ride home last year."
New England's speed offense? The Ravens don't have the dominant defense that carried the franchise to its only other Super Bowl appearance a dozen years ago, but on Sunday night, Tony Siragusa and Rod Woodson would have been proud. The Ravens defense still has the DNA of the great units of the past. They were better prepared than most for the NFL's No. 1-ranked offense, with a second-half shutout that included two Brady interceptions.
In the fourth quarter, which often belongs to Brady, they proved it with one big play after another to snuff out visions of a mad-dash comeback. Bernard Pollard forced a fumble with a crushing blow on Stevan Ridley. Haloti Ngata forced a wild Brady incompletion on a fourth down. Dannell Ellerbe intercepted a deflected Brady pass.
And with a minute left, the celebration began in earnest with Cary Williams' end zone pick.
Meanwhile, Flacco took a giant step toward erasing any more doubt about whether he should be considered an elite quarterback. He's 3-2 now in lifetime matchups against Brady, but in his biggest win yet it didn't matter who was flinging for the other team.
The Ravens offense sputtered in the first half, when Flacco completed 6 of 12 passes for 81 yards. But at least they didn't crack. Field position was a bear that could have doomed Baltimore. They started their first-half drives at their own 13-, 10-, 8-, 10- and 14-yard lines.
The next half was a different story as Flacco went with a no-huddle shotgun attack, a la Brady.
Said coach John Harbaugh, "We kind of made a decision to cut it loose."
Suddenly, the deep passing game was back in the mix as the Patriots secondary struggled without Aqib Talib, who left in the first half with a thigh injury. The short passing game clicked, too. On a 10-play, 87-yard go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter, Flacco threw nine times, with six completion. He was officially in rhythm. The touchdown came on a quick, 5-yard strike to tight end Dennis Pitta that made it 14-13.
Then it was two fourth-quarter TD passes to Anquan Boldin for two fourth-quarter scores to provide the cushion, which was protected by the defense.
So here they are, AFC champs. It is not every season that a team fires its offensive coordinator with three games remaining in the regular season -- Cam Cameron out, Jim Caldwell promoted -- and makes it this far.
Not every team can look back on their season and wonder if they would have even made the playoffs without a fourth-and-29 conversion by Rice, which is exactly what happened to spark an overtime win at San Diego in late November.
And, of course, it's not quite the normal thing for the team's leader, Lewis, to miss 10 games with a torn triceps muscle and return for his final ride. When Lewis announced in early January that he would retire after this playoff run, it seemed that his career would last another week. Maybe two.
Turns out, Lewis had four more games to play -- including the really big one at the Superdome in Super Bowl XLVII.
Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports