Baltimore Ravens win first AFC North title since 2012, bounce rival Steelers from postseason
Week 17 was every bit as tense but ultimately a lot kinder to the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens this season.
The Ravens went 9-7 but were eliminated from the playoffs in Week 17 last year in a win-and-in situation vs. the Bengals by surrendering a 49-yard touchdown on fourth-and-12 from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd on the game’s final play.
Fast-forward almost exactly one year to Sunday, when Ravens LB C.J. Mosley intercepted Baker Mayfield on fourth-and-10 in the final minute of a two-point game with Cleveland driving for the potential win.
And in the process of defeating the Cleveland Browns, 26-24, to improve to 10-6 and secure their first North title since 2012, the Ravens knocked the rival Pittsburgh Steelers out of the playoffs.
Not a bad day at the office for John Harbaugh, Lamar Jackson and Co.
Jackson improved to 6-1 as the Ravens starter, with his first two-rushing TD game in the NFL, and the Ravens ‘D’ flocked to the football in its second consecutive multi-takeaway game — something Baltimore did only twice in the first 14 games, both in September. Considering the Ravens surrendered 426 total yards of offense, up more than 40 percent from their season average of 286, the takeaways were absolutely critical.
Baltimore amassed more than 200 rushing yards for the fifth time in Jackson’s seven starts, with Kenneth Dixon leading the way by going over the century mark but Gus Edwards also playing a big role. The offense came out firing with scores on its first four possessions, but not before Jimmy Smith intercepted Baker Mayfield for the first time on only the game’s fourth play from scrimmage. (Smith would notch his second pick, a beautiful David Tyree-esque, pin-to-the-helmet theft off a Tavon Young deflection in the second quarter.)
But the real drama came late in the fourth quarter. After Baltimore surrendered a nine-play, 75-yard TD drive and subsequent two-point conversion, cutting its deficit to 26-24, it went three-and-out to give it back to Mayfield, the NFL’s new rookie TD record holder (27), who threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns alongside those three interceptions against the NFL’s No. 1 ranked ‘D.’
So if the Ravens were going out late again, they were going out attacking. After a pair of remarkable pitch-and-catches — the first to former Raven Breshad Perriman on the sideline; the second to Jarvis Landry over the middle — to position Cleveland near midfield with more than 80 seconds remaining, Baltimore fully unleashed the dogs.
Defensive coordinator Don Martindale called a DB blitz on third-and-10 that led to a deflection and near-interception, then sent the house on fourth-and-10 with Mayfield throwing it to Mosley to secure the dramatic victory. Jackson’s Ravens take Round 1 of what should be many riveting battles with Mayfield’s Browns.
The Ravens will visit the L.A. Chargers next weekend for the second time in the past three weeks, after upsetting the Bolts, 22-10, in Week 16. The Browns miss out on their first winning season since 2007. And the Steelers, despite edging the Cincinnati Bengals, 16-13 at home, finish 9-6-1 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2013.