BALTIMORE – After throwing his third interception of the afternoon, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates leaned over, rested his hands on his knees, and lowered his head.
Then he trudged slowly off the field, met by a straight-faced coach Gary Kubiak. Texans running back Arian Foster, meanwhile, walked away from them and headed off for some alone time on the sideline.
All three — along with everyone else in the stadium — knew why the Texans lost 20-13 to the Ravens in the divisional playoffs Sunday, sending Baltimore to the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots. For everything Houston did right — including Foster's 132 yards rushing, and the defense's stingy play — four turnovers undid all the hard work.
"You can't turn the ball over, especially against a team that has the defense that they do," said Foster, the first opponent to rush for more than 100 yards against Baltimore in a postseason game. "They're opportunistic, and they're very tough."
Then Foster paused for a moment, before adding: "Still, at the end, we had a chance to tie it up."
That's absolutely true.
"Definitely, I feel like we should have won this game," Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "At the end of the day, they made plays to close the game out and we didn't. That was the difference."
In a season so much about passing and points, the Ravens and Texans squared off in a classic defensive matchup, combining for three points in the second half. That's nothing new when it comes to the Ravens — do the names Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed ring any bells? — but is something of a novelty for the Texans, who quickly developed a top "D'' under first-year coordinator Wade Phillips.
The Ravens held Ray Rice to 60 yards rushing, and linebacker Tim Dobbins stuffed him on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1 late in the third quarter. Led by rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, Houston sacked Joe Flacco five times.
"We got after him, just like we planned on it," safety Glover Quin said. "We just got dug in a hole early. We tried to crawl out of it; we just couldn't."
The Ravens actually put the ball on the ground a couple of times, but they managed to keep possession.
"We didn't recover the ball," Watt said. "That's what hurt us."
Well, and then there was the matter of the way the Texans were careless about protecting the ball when they had it.
"We did the one thing that we couldn't come in here and do and win," Kubiak said, rubbing his eyes. "When we don't turn the ball over, we're tough to beat. ... We just didn't play clean enough to move on to next week."
Houston's problems Sunday began in the first quarter, when Jacoby Jones muffed a punt, and the Ravens recovered at the 2. That led to Flacco's 1-yard touchdown pass, putting Baltimore ahead to stay at 7-3. The Ravens would go up 17-3, on the way to a 17-13 advantage at halftime.
Last week, in the first playoff game in franchise history, Houston did not commit a turnover while collecting four in a 31-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
But this week, Houston's errors just kept on coming.
"We made mistakes. We did it to ourselves. The Ravens didn't," said Texans owner Bob McNair, wearing a red tie dotted with tiny club logos.
Yates was picked off twice by Baltimore cornerback Lardarius Webb, and then came the interception by Ed Reed on the first play after the 2-minute warning. The Texans had moved from their own 28 to Baltimore's 38, but Yates threw a deep ball, and the Ravens' safety caught it before tumbling backward into the end zone with his eighth pick in 10 playoff games.
"He taught me a lesson," Yates said.
The rookie QB was forced into Houston's starting lineup this season because Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart got hurt, part of a string of injuries the Texans managed to overcome en route to the AFC South title. Top receiver Andre Johnson missed nine games; top pass-rusher Mario Williams missed the last two-thirds of the season.
That Houston was in the second round of the playoffs at all was seen as a significant accomplishment by several of the players dressing in a quiet locker room Sunday. After the game, McNair pulled aside Kubiak for some encouraging words.
"I told him how proud I was. ... To come out and play the way this team has played, I think it's just remarkable," McNair said. "Where would New England have been if (Tom) Brady wasn't playing, and if Wes Welker wasn't playing, and if their best defensive player wasn't playing? Go down the list of any of these teams and ask where they would be — and they wouldn't be in the playoffs. And this team was in the playoffs."
Now, though, because the Texans kept turning the ball over, they're gone.
Notes: Foster set a record for most yards rushing in a player's first two postseason games with 285. After the game, he exchanged jerseys with Baltimore's Lewis, something they had pre-arranged via text messages. ... Yates was 17 of 35 for 184 yards. ... Johnson had eight catches for 111 yards. ... In Baltimore's 29-14 victory over Houston in Week 6, the Texans were held to season lows in points and yards.