ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Baltimore Ravens became the second team in the NFL to clinch a playoff berth, although you could barely tell in the locker room after Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Buffalo Bills.
“I tried to make a big deal about it in the locker room, and the guys kind of gave me a smattering of applause,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They expected that; I think they’ve earned the right to expect that.”
It was Baltimore’s defense, and not Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, that secured a second straight postseason spot. With 1 minute, 3 seconds remaining in the game, cornerback Marcus Peters deflected a fourth-down pass at the Baltimore 1-yard line as the Ravens earned their earliest playoff berth franchise history.
Winners of a league-best nine straight games, the Ravens (11-2) can clinch their second AFC North title in a row by beating the New York Jets on Thursday night. But the players have higher aspirations than defeating the upstart Bills (9-4) and locking up an early playoff berth.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” said linebacker Matthew Judon, who finished with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. “Just to get in, it isn’t enough. We got in last year and it wasn’t enough. This game always leaves you wanting more. You got to make it to the next stage. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Jackson was bottled up running the ball by the Bills and held to 40 yards, his second-fewest this season. He became the second quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing in a season, but he fell 23 yards short of breaking Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback.
To keep hold of the AFC’s top seed, Jackson had to bounce back from a rough first half and change his wardrobe. Donning long sleeves to start the game, Jackson was 5-of-10 for 30 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception (50.0 rating). After taking them off, he went 11-of-15 for 115 yards and two touchdowns (134.7 rating).
“Our PR guy [Patrick Gleason] told me, ‘Man, what’s up with the sleeves?’ I was like, ‘It’s cold out here,'” Jackson said of the 35-degree wind chill. “I got ticked off going into halftime, so I’m going to take them off and just play ball.”
The Ravens held the Bills to 209 yards and sacked Josh Allen six times by relentlessly blitzing him. Baltimore kept Buffalo out of the end zone for three quarters, building a 24-9 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Bills rallied to cut the deficit to 24-17 and moved inside the red zone with the help of two personal fouls and a defensive pass interference penalty. Then, on fourth-and-8 at the Baltimore 16-yard line, Peters broke up the pass to John Brown to close out the game.
Peters has been one of Baltimore’s top playmakers since being acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Rams in October, recording two pick-sixes for the Ravens. Now, with three weeks remaining, he has helped the Ravens get in position to capture the first No. 1 seed in franchise history.
“We know we’re fighting for a bigger goal, man,” Peters said. “It ain’t about nobody else; it’s about us. It’s gonna take us to get this goal done. So, we gotta just keep harping in on, it’s gonna take us one day at a time, one play at a time, one week at a time; and we’re gonna get our goal.”
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