BALTIMORE — If style points and offensive fireworks meant anything, the Ravens wouldn't stand a chance of making it to the AFC Championship Game.
But playing defense and protecting the football are what they do best, and that formula led to Sunday's 20-13 victory over Houston, putting Baltimore in the AFC title game at New England.
"I always say there is a right way to do things, there is a wrong way to do things and there is just the Ravens' way of doing things," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It wasn't pretty, but we're not really a pretty team. We got the W and now it's on to the AFC championship."
The Ravens (13-4) had almost as many punts (nine) as first downs (11) and scored three points in the final 46 minutes. But Baltimore wasn't penalized once, didn't commit a turnover, intercepted rookie T.J. Yates three times and totaled four takeaways — two in the final eight minutes.
"If we didn't get any of those turnovers, it would probably be a different game," Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.
Baltimore visits New England on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
The Patriots lead the series 6-1, but Baltimore's lone win came in the postseason.
Veteran defensive stars Ed Reed and Ray Lewis led a unit that yielded only one touchdown against the Texans and came up with big plays when needed. Lewis had a team-high seven tackles, and Reed sealed the win with the Ravens' fourth takeaway, an interception near the goal line in the closing minutes.
The Ravens finished 9-0 at home, but this was anything but easy. Baltimore led 17-3 after the first quarter, and interceptions by Lardarius Webb and Reed in the final 7½ minutes helped the advantage stand up.
Reed has eight interceptions in 10 playoff games, few bigger than the last one.
"You can't say enough about him," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "His big plays always seem to happen when you need one."
One week earlier, in the first playoff game in Texans history, Houston didn't commit a turnover in a 31-10 home rout of Cincinnati. Against Baltimore, the Texans (11-7) couldn't hold onto the ball and quickly fell behind by two touchdowns.
Arian Foster ran for 132 yards, the first player ever to rush for 100 yards against the Ravens in the postseason. But Yates' three interceptions matched the total he had in six regular-season games and mitigated his 184 passing yards.
"I can't have the turnovers," said Yates, a third-stringer when the season began. "If I'd done a better job of protecting the football, I really think we'd have come out with the win. We did a good job of moving the ball, and we had some big plays, but you can't have that many picks."
Webb's second interception came with 7½ minutes left and the Ravens clinging to 17-13 advantage after getting stuffed on fourth and goal from the 1 late in the third quarter. Baltimore moved 45 yards to get a field goal by Billy Cundiff with 2:52 left.