Ravens Surge Into Playoffs

After recovering a fumble, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, right, celebrates with teammate Corey Ivy. The Ravens forced four turnovers.
After recovering a fumble, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, right, celebrates with teammate Corey Ivy. The Ravens forced four turnovers. (By Rob Carr -- Associated Press)
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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2008

BALTIMORE, Dec. 28 -- The Baltimore Ravens not only looked like a playoff team Sunday, they looked like a team with a serious chance to do some things in the postseason, as they secured an AFC wild-card spot in no-doubt-about-it fashion by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-7, at M&T Bank Stadium.

"We had to go out there and prove to everybody that we're a playoff team," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's been great, and now we've just got to continue to prove that we're a Super Bowl team, that we're the best team in the NFL."

The Baltimore defense was overwhelming, as usual. The offense moved the ball with ease, as Flacco threw for 297 yards. The Ravens got three rushing touchdowns. Place kicker Matt Stover added a pair of field goals, and the Ravens crafted a 17-point halftime lead and never looked back.

They'll play a first-round playoff game at Miami next Sunday afternoon. The Ravens (11-5) beat the Dolphins there in October.

Few regarded the Ravens as playoff contenders entering the season, with a first-year head coach in John Harbaugh and a rookie quarterback who got the starting job only because Harbaugh was left with little choice after Kyle Boller's shoulder injury and Troy Smith's tonsil infection.

But they still had a championship-caliber defense, and Flacco demonstrated as the season progressed that he could do his part. He did more than that Sunday, connecting on 17 of 23 passes. Wide receiver Mark Clayton had four catches for 128 yards, and the Ravens ran for 127 yards.

The defense took it from there, limiting the Jaguars to 245 total yards and forcing four turnovers. Jacksonville tailback Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 78 yards, but had little help. Jaguars quarterback David Garrard completed 14 of 25 passes for only 127 yards and threw two interceptions to Ravens safety Ed Reed.

"To go from where we were last year to now, to be in the postseason, that's what you train for in the offseason," Reed said. "That's what you prepare for in training camp. That's what you play the season for."

The Jaguars were finishing off a highly disappointing season and offered little resistance as the Ravens eased to a 24-7 halftime advantage. Flacco threw for 246 yards on 14-for-17 passing in the first half alone. The Ravens got an early field goal by Stover and all three of their rushing touchdowns, two by Le'Ron McClain and one by Willis McGahee.

"Before we knew it, we looked up and we were up, 24-7," Flacco said.

Said Harbaugh: "I think Joe played a winning game. The things in this game that were so big were the turnovers that we got on defense . . . and the big plays on offense."

The Jaguars had a 7-3 edge after a 23-yard touchdown pass from Garrard to running back Alvin Pearman in the final minute of the first quarter, but surrendered 21 unanswered points in the second quarter.

"We finished up a long, tough year," said Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio, whose team went 5-11 after reaching the second round of last season's AFC playoffs. "Obviously, the game didn't go the way we would have liked. . . . It's not all bad. But it's not good enough to feel good about it."

The Ravens opened up the play book in the third quarter, when Smith caught a pass from Flacco on a play that began with the backup quarterback taking the snap and throwing a lateral to Flacco, who'd lined up at wide receiver.

Flacco then threw a pass back to Smith for a 36-yard gain. The Ravens got another field goal by Stover on that possession to up their lead to 27-7, and all that was left to be determined was where they'd be playing next weekend.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company