CINCINNATI — With two electric runs by Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens secured their third AFC North title in team history Sunday and satisfied their season-long goal of getting a first-round bye in the playoffs and at least one home game.
Rice’s 51-yard touchdown run, his second of the night, with just 5:41 to play broke open a tight game and pushed the Ravens to a 24-16 victory in front of an announced 63,439 at chilly Paul Brown Stadium.
Rice, who scored on a 70-yard touchdown run on the Ravens’ fourth offensive play, finished with 191 yards rushing on 24 carries. His 15 total touchdowns set a Ravens single-season record.
Trailing 24-16, the Bengals got the ball back with one minute five seconds to go. They had two shots at the end zone, but both Andy Dalton passes were incomplete. The Ravens (12-4) celebrated their first 6-0 record against the AFC North in team history and their first division title since 2006, which was the last time the Ravens had a home game in the playoffs and a first-round bye.
The Bengals (9-7) made the playoffs anyway as a wild-card team, after losses by the New York Jets and Denver Broncos.
The Ravens held a 17-3 lead at halftime and forced punts on the first two Bengals drives of the third quarter. But after Cincinnati got the ball on the Ravens’ 48, Dalton hit Jerome Simpson for two 10-yard completions and then Bernard Scott broke free for a 25-yard touchdown run.
Scott sprinted past Ray Lewis and then broke free of an arm tackle by safety Ed Reed for the touchdown, which cut the Ravens’ lead to 17-10.
Another extended Bengals drive on their next possession resulted in Mike Nugent’s 46-yard field goal, which cut the Ravens’ lead to 17-13 with 12:35 to play in the fourth quarter.
Still trailing by four, the Bengals again got into Ravens territory, but linebacker Terrell Suggs leveled tight end Jermaine Gresham from behind, jarring the ball loose. Safety Bernard Pollard recovered it and and three plays later, Rice scored on his 51-yard run.
One of the common denominators in the Ravens’ four road losses coming into the game was that they had gotten off to slow starts. That wasn’t an issue Sunday.
The Ravens needed just four plays to take a 7-0 lead as Rice offered another signature long run to his resume. He took a Flacco handoff and burst through a hole on the right side, not stopping until he reached the end zone on a 70-yard touchdown run.
Rice’s 11th rushing touchdown this season and his 14th overall was perfectly executed, starting with a great block by right guard Marshal Yanda on Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga. Yanda, who was doubtful for the game with rib and thigh injuries, got to the second level, leaving Rice with plenty of room to run.
On the play, the Ravens got safety Reggie Nelson to bite on a fake end around to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith, so there was nobody to bring down Rice once he reached the secondary.
Leading 7-0, the Ravens forced a three-and-out and again drove into Bengals territory thanks to a 39-yard Flacco completion to tight end Dennis Pitta. Two more completions set up Billy Cundiff for a 42-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead with 6:45 left in the third quarter.