Ray Lewis will get his shot to go out on top and John and Jim Harbaugh will square off in a Super Bowl only a mother couldn't love, as the Baltimore Ravens went into Gillette Stadium and knocked out the New England Patriots, 28-13, to capture the AFC title.
Joe Flacco, after being held in check in the first half, sliced up New England's secondary with three touchdown passes after the break, as the Ravens scored 21 unanswered points to win a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game and reach their first Super Bowl in 12 years.
"The greatest reward we could ever give (Baltimore fans) is a chance at another Super Bowl," said Lewis, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV and announced several weeks ago this will be his last season.
Anquan Boldin caught two of Flacco's TD passes and Ray Rice ran for a score to deny New England a record-tying eighth Super Bowl appearance.
The winner-take-all game in New Orleans in two weeks will pit John Harbaugh's Ravens against his brother Jim's San Francisco 49ers, who captured the NFC earlier Sunday with a win over the Atlanta Falcons.
"It will be a great football game," the Ravens head coach said after receiving the Lamar Hunt Trophy. "Two great teams squaring off, I can't wait."
Tom Brady set another postseason record for career passing yards, but was off the mark most of the night, connecting on 29-of-54 throws for 320 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown pass to Wes Welker, who had several key drops.
Stevan Ridley lost a pivotal fumble in the fourth quarter after taking a big hit from Bernard Pollard and never returned.
New England, which averaged nearly 35 points per game in the regular season, punted five times -- three inside Baltimore territory -- and scored just one touchdown on four trips into the red zone.
"We just didn't do enough things well enough to win," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who was trying to match Don Shula with his sixth Super Bowl berth. "Give the Ravens credit; they're a good football team. They just out- played us and out-coached us tonight."
The first half resembled last season's playoff meeting, as the second-seeded Patriots held the Ravens in check and owned a small lead at the break, this time, 13-7.
But the defending conference champs were unable to duplicate the final result.
The Ravens, the No. 4 seed, gained a mere 130 yards in the first half, and their opening drive of the second half was similarly ineffective, netting just one first down before punting at midfield.
A personal foul penalty on Pollard moved New England into enemy territory on the ensuing drive, but the Patriots again came away empty-handed when Welker let a third-down pass slip through his hands.
The punt pinned Baltimore at its own 13-yard line, but Flacco, who had 107 yards passing at that point, finally started moving the chains. After a pass interference penalty, Flacco connected with Dennis Pitta for a 22-yard gain and dumped one off to Rice for 15 more to reach the New England 35.
A first-down run by Bernard Pierce and a 12-yard grab from Boldin set up 1st- and-goal at the 10. One play after getting de-cleated on a 5-yard catch over the middle, Pitta caught Flacco's lob in the end zone for a 14-13 lead with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter.
After a holding penalty negated a first-down completion, Brady threw behind Aaron Hernandez on 3rd-and-12 to force another punt. The Ravens kept the foot on the gas with a 10-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Boldin out-jumping Devin McCourty for 3-yard TD catch on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Five snaps later, Ridley took a handoff to the right and was knocked nearly unconscious by a helmet-to-helmet hit by Pollard. As Ridley collapsed to the ground, the ball went off his knee, and Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones came out of the scrum with the ball at the New England 47.
Flacco, who totaled 159 passing yards in the second half, was 3-for-3 on the next drive and even added a 14-yard scramble. His 11-yard touchdown pass to Boldin with 11:13 on the clock made it 28-13.
Brady moved the Patriots into the red zone, but tossed three straight incompletions to turn the ball over on downs. After a Baltimore three-and-out, Welker gave the hosts life with a 36-yard catch-and-run.
On the next snap, however, Brady's pass was batted at the line of scrimmage by Pernell McPhee and Dannell Ellerbe came away with the interception.
The Ravens killed off nearly five minutes of the clock before punting away just before the two-minute warning, and any chance of a comeback was thwarted when Cary Williams picked off Brady in the end zone.
"When we got behind we became one dimensional," Brady said. "We just couldn't string enough good plays together to get into the end zone."
There were six punts in the opening quarter. Brady narrowly missed Welker on a deep ball to bring out the punting unit on the game's first possession, but hit Brandon Lloyd for two big gains on New England's next drive to set up Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal.
Going into the wind, New England played the field position battle by punting on 4th-and-9 from Baltimore's 35-yard line. The decision appeared to pay off after Welker returned Baltimore's third consecutive punt 28 yards, but the drive went nowhere.
The Ravens, after netting two first downs in their first three touches, embarked on a 13-play, 90-yard trek to take the lead, as Rice broke a tackle near the goal line and went in for a 2-yard touchdown run with 9:28 remaining.
New England scored 10 straight points heading into the half, as Welker caught a 1-yard touchdown pass on an out route to cap an 11-play, 79-yard trek, and Gostkowski split the uprights from 25 yards out just before halftime.
This was the first time in 25 years the AFC Championship Game featured a rematch from the previous season (Denver and Cleveland following the 1986 and '87 seasons) ... The home team had won the last six AFC title games ... The Ravens are 9-5 on the road in postseason play ... John Harbaugh is the first head coach in NFL history (since 1970 merger) to reach three conference title games in his first five seasons ... Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib exited the game in the first quarter with an apparent hamstring injury.