Ravens clinch playoff berth with win over Raiders
OAKLAND – Now that the Baltimore Ravens pushed aside another losing team, they need to figure out how to beat a winning one in the playoffs.
Willis McGahee powered the Ravens back into the postseason by rushing for a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns to help Baltimore clinch an AFC wild-card berth with a 21-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
The Ravens (9-7) went into the regular season finale knowing a win would put them in the playoffs and a loss would send them home for an early winter. Just like last season, when they beat Jacksonville in the final game to make the postseason, the Ravens came through.
“There’s no pressure on us,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “We were in the same position last year. We had to win to get in. We did the same thing again this year so hopefully we can go further than we did last year.”
Baltimore made it to the AFC title game last season before falling to eventual champion Pittsburgh. They start their playoff road this year in New England, against a team that has beaten them all five times the two have met, including 27-21 in October.
“We felt like we should have got one,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We have a chance to go up there and try to get it back and really prove to everybody and prove to ourselves that we can beat these guys. That’s where it starts.”
The Raiders (5-11) provided a stiff challenge for much of the game but were unable to pull it out in the end behind former starter JaMarcus Russell.
Dannell Ellerbe intercepted a pass from Russell late in the third quarter to set up McGahee’s third touchdown that made it 21-13. Ellerbe then recovered a fumble by Russell at the Ravens 23 with 9:42 to go, ending a scoring threat by Oakland.
After a three-and-out for the Raiders, McGahee iced the game with a 36-yard run on third-and-4 from his 15 to cap his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.
“Willis took over the game the way he ran,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Our offensive line deserves a lot of credit. Obviously there were holes, but this guy was running north and south. He was powerful, he was explosive, and I think he’s worked really hard all season to have this kind of game.”
The loss gave the Raiders seven straight seasons with at least 11 defeats, the worst run in NFL history. It also could mark the end of coach Tom Cable’s stint in Oakland.
Cable made some progress in his 28 games as Raiders coach, but his inability to develop Russell into a legitimate NFL starter may ultimately doom him. He said he’s confident he’ll be back next season but has received no reassurances from owner Al Davis.
“We all have to do a better job from top to bottom,” defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “Obviously five wins in a season isn’t going to get you anything, so let’s not fool ourselves. We all have to get better. That’s up to management to get the right pieces in place and we’ll just see what happens from there.”
Russell was benched midway through this season and came on in relief in three of the final seven games, including in the second half Sunday after Charlie Frye left with an injured ankle and back. Frye had thrown for 180 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Russell led a comeback in Denver two weeks ago and appeared poised to do so again after directing the Raiders to a field goal that cut Baltimore’s lead to 14-13 late in the third quarter. But his two turnovers brought out the boo birds in Oakland and provided a fitting end to a disappointing third season for the former No. 1 overall pick.
Russell committed 17 turnovers while throwing only three touchdown passes all season.
“You can’t turn the ball over when you’re playing a team as good as the Ravens,” he said.
The Ravens struck first when McGahee scored on a 2-yard run to cap Baltimore’s second drive. It was McGahee’s touchdown in the second quarter that was truly highlight-reel material.
He took a handoff at the 23 and burst through the line. With safety Hiram Eugene in position to make a tackle near midfield, McGahee stiff-armed him to the ground and took it in the rest of the way for a 14-3 lead.
“I don’t know if it was a stiff-arm or a beat-down,” Harbaugh said. “That was a physical play, as physical a play as you’re ever going to see. Impressive.”
Notes: Baltimore RB Ray Rice joined Jamal Lewis as the only Ravens with 2,000 yards from scrimmage in a season. He finished with 2,041. … The seven points for Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski gave him 1,000 for his career. … Oakland P Shane Lechler set a single-season record with a 43.9-yard net punting average. His 51.1-yard gross average fell just shy of Sammy Baugh’s mark of 51.4 yards set in 1940.
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