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


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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