The Ravens had been through it all.
They had been to the playoffs four straight years only to lose in the AFC championship twice.
This year, their reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, and their leader, Ray Lewis, suffered major injuries. Their former owner, Art Modell, died. Their wide receiver, Torrey Smith, lost his younger brother.
They went through a mid-season meeting that tested their unity. They grinded through a three-game losing streak that threatened even their place in the playoffs. They changed offensive coordinators. Lewis announced his retirement.
The bumpy journey brought them back to the same place where their hearts had been broken last year – back to Foxborough.
At last, the Ravens prevailed.
The Ravens are AFC champions. Baltimore is going to the Super Bowl.
"This is a team of faith. We believed all year, no matter what the circumstances were," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "We knew this was our game, and we knew we were going to win."
The Ravens defeated the New England Patriots, 28-13, at Gillette Stadium Sunday to vault themselves into the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2000-2001 season.
"It's a long time coming, but it takes time," safety Ed Reed said.
It will also mark the second HarBowl in as many years.
The Ravens will take on Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
"I don't know if we ever dreamed this big," Harbaugh said of meeting his brother in the Super Bowl.
The Ravens trailed, 13-7, at halftime but scored 21 unanswered points in the second half.
Quarterback Joe Flacco put the offense on his strong right arm, throwing for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Flacco had completed just six passes for 81 yards at halftime, but the Ravens "cut it loose" in the second half, according to Harbaugh.
"We didn't come all the way here to play it safe and hope we'd win," Flacco said. "We're in the AFC championship game and you have to play to win."
The defense shut quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots offense out in the second half.
They got three turnovers in the second half alone on a fumble caused by Bernard Pollard, a tipped pass and interception by Pernell McPhee and Dannell Ellerbe, respectively, and a final game-sealing pick by Cary Williams.
"We knew it was going to be tough because Brady is a great quarterback," Reed said. "We always play these guys tough. They always play us tough. We knew what was coming."
The Patriots were in control for nearly the entire first half and struck first with a 13-play drive capped by a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
Baltimore's defense bent, but didn't break, leaving the Ravens offense with tough starting field position throughout the first half. Baltimore's first five drives started at its own 13, 10, 8, 10 and 14-yard lines.
The Ravens finally got going via a 13-play, 90-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
A 17-yard completion to Dennis Pitta converted a third down for the first time in the game, then a 25-yard completion to Torrey Smith put Baltimore in scoring position. Ray Rice broke two tackles on his way to the end zone and a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.
The Patriots came right back. The drive got jumpstarted thanks to a personal foul by Ellerbe for smacking a Patriots lineman in the helmet. New England marched from there and scored on a 1-yard pass to wide receiver Wes Welker. The Pats reclaimed the lead at 10-7.
New England tacked on another field goal at the end of the first half when given short field position. They botched their clock management, however, which didn't allow them a chance at another touchdown. The Patriots settled for a 25-yard field goal and 13-7 halftime lead.
The Patriots outgained the* *Ravens in total yardage, 214-130, and won time of possession, 18:12 to 11:48, in the first half.
At halftime, they decided they were going to try to test the Patriots linebackers and secondary, which lost top cornerback Aqib Talib to a hamstring injury in the first half.
"We kind of made the decision in the second half to cut it loose a little more," Harbaugh said. "We had to give Joe a chance to make some plays."
Flacco, who has caught criticism over his career for not being "elite," took over.
The Flacco to Pitta connection caught fire, as the tight end caught a 22-yard completion, then got in the end zone on a 5-yard pitch and catch. With that, the Ravens re-claimed the lead at 14-13 with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter.
A holding penalty negated a Patriots first down on their next drive and led to a punt and Flacco's hot hand continued.
He spread the ball between Pitta, Boldin and Smith, marching the Ravens down the field on a 10-play, 63-yard drive capped off by a 3-yard pass to Boldin in which the wide receiver outleapt and fought off two Patriots defenders* *on a lobbed pass. The Ravens took an 8-point lead with 14:56 remaining.
The Patriots went on the move,but got a turnover when running back Stevan Ridley had a big collision with Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. The hit sent Ridley out of the game with a head injury, and left the ball on the turf to be recovered by defensive end Art Jones.
Harbaugh called it the game-changing play and as good a football play as you'll see.
"Our job is to take down a guy," Pollard said. "If you get to our level, we've got to hit you. I got a chance to unload."
The Ravens took over at the Patriots 47-yard line and were in the end zone just four plays later when Flacco floated an 11-yard pass to Boldin in the back of the end zone. With that, Baltimore went up, 28-13, with 11:13 remaining.
The Patriots quickly moved down the field,but were stopped on fourth down deep in Ravens territory. Baltimore took over possession. The Ravens threw three straight times, however, and punted the ball back to New England.
Brady quickly hit Welker for a 36-yard gain, but McPhee tipped the next pass and it was intercepted by Ellerbe. The Ravens took over with 6:49 remaining and ran down some more clock. The game was sealed when cornerback Cary Williams intercepted Brady in the end zone.
The Ravens broke into celebration on the sideline, the same sideline where they stood in utter shock a year before when wide receiver Lee Evans had a pass swatted out of his hands and Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal wide left.
"We came here last year and left with a bitter taste in our mouth," Boldin said. "We felt like this team took something away from us. We wanted to come back and make that right."
After the game, Harbaugh received the Lamar Hunt trophy for the first time in his career while standing beside Owner Steve Bisciotti, crying linebacker Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Flacco, Boldin and Reed.
"We love each other. I love this team. I love these players," Harbaugh said.
Then Harbaugh began his press conference with the same message he gave when he was first hired in 2008, the beginning of what has been a new and winning era in Baltimore Ravens history.
"This is a team victory," he said. "It was about the team, the team, the team."