The Ravens just *barely* held off the Browns to claim the AFC North title

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All the Ravens needed to do Sunday to secure their first playoff berth since 2014 was beat the Cleveland Browns. They got that win and won the AFC North crown — but it wasn’t easy.

Baker Mayfield nearly rallied Cleveland to a stunning upset in Baltimore, but his last-ditch drive fell just short, dooming the Browns to their 11th-straight losing season and effectively eliminating the Steelers from the postseason. Lamar Jackson proved his worth as a dynamic playmaker, throwing for an efficient 179 yards but running for 90 more with a pair of touchdowns to keep the Browns off balance.

The win pushes Baltimore into the No. 4 spot in the AFC side of the postseason, where they’ll host the Chargers in next week’s Wild Card round. That’ll be a rematch of a Week 16 showdown that saw Baltimore’s smothering defense shut down MVP candidate Philip Rivers in a 22-10 road win. That defense will get the call again in Week 18 — but it will have to prove it’s fully recovered after an uneven performance against the Browns’ rookie quarterback.

Baker Mayfield nearly got a win via superhuman receiving efforts

Mayfield’s ability to extend plays and launch the ball kept the Browns in this game late. A swarming three-and-out gave him the ball with 1:49 to play and trailing 26-24. That’s a pressure cooker situation for any quarterback, but the rookie was up for the challenge thanks to a pair of amazing catches.

First came a toe-tapping effort from former Raven first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman that pushed the Browns close to midfield.


Next came a third-and-10 completion to Jarvis Landry, who redeemed himself after a costly second quarter drop with a ridiculous 16-yard reception to put the Browns on the brink of field goal range.


But from there, the Ravens’ tight defense batted away three straight passes to bring up fourth-and-10 at the Baltimore 39. A Raven blitz forced a quick release from Mayfield, but Pro Bowl linebacker CJ Mosley’s quick hands led to a game-sealing interception that pushed his team to the postseason — something that looked unlikely after a 4-5 start.


The Ravens’ defense shined, giving Jackson the room he needed to thrive

Mayfield played well Sunday, but was ultimately goaded into three interceptions by an opportunistic defense — which tied a career high. When the Browns needed their offense the most, the Ravens clamped shut like the devil at the gates of heaven, roiling Mayfield with a steady diet of blitzes that put the fate of their season into the hands of their secondary in one-on-one matchups.

It paid off. Mayfield’s only completions on that final drive came via un-defensible, superhuman efforts.

That’s going to be tough for the Chargers to overcome. Just one week earlier, Baltimore held Rivers — currently in the midst of his best statistical season as a pro — to a 181-yard, two interception performance. Another big showing like that could pave the way to throw the Ravens back into the Divisional Round of this winter’s playoffs.

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