The Baltimore Ravens (12-4) clinched the AFC North, wrapping up a first-round bye and the AFC’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs by defeating division rival Cincinnati, 24-16 on Sunday.
Despite the loss, the Bengals (9-7) also got into the playoffs, securing the final wildcard spot as the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders all lost. It’s Cincinnati’s third playoff appearance in the last 21 years and their first appearance since the 2009 season.
Ravens running back Ray Rice had a pair of long touchdown runs, en route to 191 rushing yards on 24 carries. Rice’s biggest run came on the fourth play from scrimmage, when he took quarterback Joe Flacco’s hand-off and followed the lead block of right guard Marshal Yanda, as he scampered a career-best 70 yards to the end zone.
Rice also broke off a 51-yard touchdown run on a third-and-one play with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter, which all but ended Cincinnati’s chances of finishing a big comeback.
It was an historic day for the Rutgers product as Rice set a club record with his 15th touchdown of the season and joined Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing and 700 receiving in more than one season.
The Ravens defense played a big part in the victory, too. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs drilled tight end Jermaine Gresham after a short reception, forcing a fumble, which was promptly recovered by the Ravens’ Bernard Pollard. Three plays later, Rice went 51 yards to put the Ravens within grasp of the division title.
Suggs recorded his AFC-best 14th sack of the season, when he sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the red zone, forcing the Bengals to settle for a Mike Nugent 36-yard field goal with just 2:39 remaining in the game.
Then with 1:05 remaining in the game, the Bengals got the ball back at its own 20 with no timeouts remaining. After moving the Cincinnati offense into Baltimore territory, the game ended on a desperation heave by Dalton into the end zone.
Ravens players raised their helmets in celebration as they ran off the field following Dalton’s final pass. After having to play on the road each of their last three years in the postseason, Baltimore made it a point of emphasis to get a first-round bye and have home-field advantage in the postseason.
Wind gusts of over 30 mph forced both teams to go conservative throughout the game.
It was the Bengal defense that got sloppy and helped the Ravens drive for a crucial touchdown before the end of the first-half, putting Baltimore up 17-3. Penalties for holding, illegal contact and an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit moved the ball to the Cincinnati 9-yard line with 19 seconds left. From there, Flacco hit second-yard tight end Dennis Pitta in the far right corner of the end zone to give Baltimore the two touchdown advantage.
Flacco was good, but not great–as he did just enough–going 15 of 19 for 130 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Next up for the Ravens, a much needed and well-deserved first-round bye in the playoffs.