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Ravens 20, Texans 13

Reed and Baltimore reach AFC title game

Texans wide receiver Jacoby Jones coughs up a punt under pressure from the Ravens’ Cary Williams during the first half. Texans wide receiver Jacoby Jones coughs up a punt under pressure from the Ravens’ Cary Williams during the first half. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 16, 2012
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BALTIMORE - Lardarius Webb had picked off two passes already, and Ed Reed, the Ravens’ perpetual playmaker of all people, was having trouble hauling one in.

There was one ball in the second quarter that Reed skied to get his hands on but couldn’t bring in. Instead, he crash-landed on his back and remained sprawled in pain before getting up and walking creakily back to the huddle.

So just before the Houston Texans were driving late in the fourth quarter yesterday with a chance to tie their AFC divisional playoff game yesterday, Webb decided to be generous.

Reed walked up to Webb on the sideline looking to borrow some of Webb’s magic.

“I had to shake his hands to ask for his hands,’’ Reed said. “And he said, ‘Here you go.’ ’’

Reed then used those hands to grab a pass by Texans rookie quarterback TJ Yates that was intended for go-to wideout Andre Johnson.

The pick all but sealed Baltimore’s 20-13 win over Houston and set up an AFC Championship game matchup with the Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

When they got back to the sideline, Webb told him, “Give me my hands back. I might have to get me another one.’’

Webb tied a Ravens playoff record for interceptions in a game shared by Reed and Duane Starks. But with the Ravens leaning on their defense late it was Reed, the 33-year-old veteran with 10 years’ worth of highlights on his résumé, who made the play.

“He’s amazing man,’’ Webb said. “I had two, but he still made the biggest play of the game.’’

The Ravens forced four turnovers, including a muffed punt by Houston return man Jacoby Jones and the Webb interception, which helped them jump to a 17-3 lead, and their defense held on in their first home playoff win since the 2000 season.

Their offense was far from potent (227 total yards), but quarterback Joe Flacco threw two touchdowns, including a 10-yard strike to Anquan Boldin (four catches, 73 yards) and let the defense protect the lead.

“You win the game no matter what,’’ said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but they found a way to win the football game.’’

The Texans got 132 rushing yards from Arian Foster, but his 1-yard run in the second quarter was the only time they found the end zone. After winning the first postseason game in franchise history last week against Cincinnati, the first playoff run in Texans history was a short one.

“It’s fun to look at moral victories, but out there we didn’t get the win and it’s extremely disappointing,’’ Foster said.

But for Reed, the victory was sweet. His body is feeling the wear of all those seasons, and he’s got an increasingly noticeable streak of gray hair at the front of his head.

“When people talk about age and all this, Father Time waits for nobody,’’ Reed said. “I understand it. And at one point I won’t be up here. You’ll be interviewing another safety in Baltimore.’’

He ended the game by knocking down a last-ditch heave by Yates at the end zone, getting airborne again but rolling his ankle when he came down.

He shrugged the injury off, saying, “I was able to walk off at the end once it was all said and done.’’

He heard criticism all season that his tackling is slipping, that he’s losing a step.

He made six tackles yesterday, second only to linebacker Ray Lewis’s eight.

“I don’t think about what the critics say when I’m playing the game,’’ Reed said. “The picks haven’t been coming because they don’t throw my way as much. I got my hand on like two or three of them before that and didn’t bring them home. But it hasn’t been like they’ve been trying me in my zone.’’

Reed never has been to a Super Bowl. The closest he got was 2008 when the Ravens lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

Lewis, who won a Super Bowl with Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson, sees similarities between Woodson and Reed.

“To me, Ed Reed is probably one of the greatest safeties I ever saw play this game,’’ Lewis said. “When people talk about age and all this, as great as he was, Rod Woodson won his first Super Bowl at [35] years old. That’s how long sometimes it takes for a legacy to be completed. But he completed it.’’

A shot at a Super Bowl is something Reed constantly thought about, and when he did, a part of him knew he’d have to go through the Patriots to get there.

He said that during the bye week he had a chance to work out with Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton.

Guyton told Reed, “I hope y’all lose.’’

Reed told Guyton, “I hope y’all lose.’’

Sunday, one of them will have to.

“It’s going to be hard fought and fun at the same time,’’ Reed said. “We’re coming in and they know it.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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