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The touchdown by Pitta capped the Ravens‘ best drive of the game, covering 87 yards in 10 plays and made it 14-13. It started with a 15-yard defensive pass interference penalty, and it was an indication of things to come.

“We’ve always believed in Joe,” Harbaugh said. “And for Joe to come out and to have this kind of a game and this kind of a stage three weeks in a row …”

New England (13-5) lost a home AFC title matchup for the first time in five games. The loss denied Brady and coach Bill Belichick a shot at their sixth Super Bowl. They’ve gone 3-2, losing their last two times in the big game.

Instead, it’s the AFC North champion Ravens heading to the Big Easy, seeking their second NFL championship. San Francisco has won five.

“All these men out there, there might just be only five of us up here, but every man out there sacrificed this year for each other,” Lewis said during the trophy ceremony. “And man, we did it and we’re on our way to the Super Bowl. That’s awesome.”

The Ravens have gotten there the hard way, with no postseason bye. Then again, five of the last seven Super Bowl champions took that route.

The Ravens also were pushed into a second overtime in frigid Denver last weekend before eliminating Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Broncos.

And now they’ve cast aside the league’s most successful franchise of the last dozen years.

“I’d probably say we came up a little short in every area,” Belichick said.

New England, which hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, had four injuries, the scariest when running back Stevan Ridley was knocked flat by Bernard Pollard in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble. Baltimore turned that into the final touchdown, on the only short scoring drive it had, 47 yards.

The Ravens gained just 130 yards in the first half.

Brady guided a 13-play drive to Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Neither defense yielded a big play, and punters Zoltan Mesko and Sam Koch were the busiest guys on the field.

That changed when the teams switched sides for the second quarter. Baltimore again was pinned deep, at its 10, but Flacco led a 13-play drive. Ray Rice, whose 83-yard run on the Ravens‘ first play from scrimmage in their wild-card round victory here three years ago, ran left untouched for the TD.

Awakened by Baltimore’s march, the Patriots staged a long one of their own, 79 yards, aided by a 15-yard personal foul by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Wes Welker picked up 24 yards on a short pass, then got free in the right corner of the end zone after a mix-up in the Ravens‘ secondary, making it 10-7.

It was 13-7 by halftime as Gostkowski connected from 25 yards, with New England outsmarting Baltimore several times. Danny Woodhead ran for 7 yards on a direct snap on fourth-and-1 in the drive. Defensive end Paul Kruger, who’s good at sacks, not much in coverage — found himself downfield on Aaron Hernandez on what became a 17-yard reception.

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