The Baltimore Ravens flipped the script and put one heck of an ending on a regular season that featured countless surprises and plot twists.
Getting two rushing touchdowns from rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a late defensive stand, Baltimore squeezed past the Browns 26-24 Sunday to reach the playoffs as AFC North champion.
Kenneth Dixon accounted for 117 of Baltimore’s season-high 296 yards on the ground, Jackson had 90 and the rejuvenated Ravens (10-6) broke a three-year playoff drought with their sixth win in seven games. Baltimore will open the postseason Sunday at home against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“It feels good, a home playoff game,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “Somehow, it happened.”
A year ago, Baltimore missed the playoffs by losing its finale at home to the Bengals, who rallied with a last-minute touchdown.
Remembering that disappointment, most of the announced crowd of 70,925 was on its feet as the Browns moved closer to field-goal range with the clock winding down. A 19-yard completion from Baker Mayfield to former Ravens top draft pick Breshad Perriman and a 16-yarder to Jarvis Landry pushed the ball to the Baltimore 39 with 1:20 left.
Following three incompletions, the Ravens blitzed Mayfield on fourth down and linebacker C.J. Mosley picked off a pass to clinch it. Baltimore finished a half-game ahead of the Steelers.
“There were some nerves,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “I felt confidence that at some point one of those guys would make a big play and sure enough, C.J. did.”
It’s quite a turnaround for the Ravens, who were 4-5 before Jackson replaced injured Joe Flacco, the team’s starting quarterback since 2008. Flacco was behind center in 2012, when Baltimore captured its last division crown and ultimately won the Super Bowl.
The Jackson-led running attack was too much for Cleveland (7-8-1), denied its first winning season since 2007. After trailing 20-7 at halftime and 26-17 with 7:20 left, the Browns could not recover.
Steelers 16, Bengals 13: Host Pittsburgh (9-6-1) edged Cincinnati, then lingered on the field and watched on the Heinz Field scoreboard, hoping Cleveland could beat Baltimore amid fans’ chants of “Let’s Go, Browns.” But the Browns’ rally fizzled, leaving Pittsburgh missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“It just sucks,” Pittsburgh guard David DeCastro said. “How hard we work, how much effort we put in. To go from 7-2-1 to where we are now is heartbreaking.”
Cincinnati took a 10-3 halftime lead but Pittsburgh eventually rallied behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — who threw for 287 yards and a touchdown despite missing injured receiver Antonio Brown to finish with a career-best and NFL-high 5,129 yards passing. Former Raiders kicker Matt McCrane booted three field goals, the last a 35-yarder with 1:56 to go that put the Steelers ahead to stay.
Pittsburgh was assured of the win after Cincinnati QB Jeff Driskel’s fourth-down pass intended for Josh Malone fell incomplete with 1:08 to go.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Ravens-squeeze-past-Browns-to-earn-AFC-North-tile-13499326.php.