After playing each of their seven playoff games over the last three seasons on the road, the Ravens will get to enjoy some home cooking this year.
And a little rest, as well.
They’ve earned that right with a 12-4 regular season and a 24-16 win today over the Bengals. With the victory, the Ravens lock up their first AFC North title since 2006, a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed in the conference.
It wasn’t easy, but little about the Ravens’ 2011 season has been.
After jumping out to a 17-3 halftime lead, the Ravens let the Bengals back into it, as Cincinnati rattled off 10 unanswered points. But with the game on the line, the Ravens turned to the two guys who got them to the brink of their first division title since 2006.
To no one’s surprise, Terrell Suggs and Ray Rice came through yet again.
Suggs had a sack and a key forced fumble mid-way through the fourth quarter, and Rice racked up 191 rushing yards and two long touchdowns. The second of the scores came just three plays after Suggs’ forced fumble, and the 51-yard scamper served as the game-winning score.
Rice finishes the regular season with a career-best 1,364 rushing yards and 2,068 total yards from scrimmage. He also now holds the Ravens’ franchise record for most touchdowns in a single season with 15.
Joe Flacco went 15-of-19 for 130 yards and a touchdown while Dennis Pitta had a team-high six catches for 62 yards and a score.
The two issues that the Ravens have battled in their four road losses this season weren’t exhibited today, as Baltimore won the turnover battle (they didn’t give the ball up at all, and forced one Cincinnati turnover) and ran the ball often and effectively.
They’ll now get a week to rest up, let their bumps and bruises heal and do some advance scouting on the rest of the teams in the AFC playoff picture.
The time off is much-needed, and much-deserved, as well.