Ravens clinch a playoff spot, make history for Baltimore

December 26, 2010|By Jamison Hensley and Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

CLEVELAND — — In the city they left for Baltimore 15 years ago, the Ravens established a new standard in team history Sunday, clinching a playoff berth for a third straight season.

At a half-empty and frigid Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Ravens defeated the Cleveland Browns, 20-10, to secure one of the six spots in the American Football Conference. Now 11-4, their best start ever under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens finish the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

In a season where victories have never come easy, the Ravens relied on the strong arm of quarterback Joe Flacco and the big-play ability of safety Ed Reed to win for the fifth time in six weeks. Flacco threw two touchdown passes and Reed made two interceptions to account for half of the Ravens' four turnovers, which were a season high.

The players were pleased in the locker room after their latest achievement, but unlike 2008 and 2009 when they reached the playoffs, there weren't any celebrations

"We just don't want to be in the playoffs every year," Flacco said. "We want to be a threat to get to the Super Bowl and win it every year. That's what we're trying to do this year."

In Baltimore, the inheritor of the team moved by Art Modell in 1996, fans at Shannon's Pub & Grille in Baltimore Highlands broke into a golf clap after the win was official.

Seventy-one-year-old Ed Latz, a truck driver, raised his arms in the air and exclaimed: "We did it!"

Latz, picking over a plastic bag of deer jerky and a tall mug of Budweiser, watched the game with his sons and wife. He said Harbaugh has the team on the same page, and their playoff destiny is in their hands.

"They believe in him [Harbaugh] and know they have a solid core," said Latz's son, Scott, a 40-year-old forklift mechanic. "As long as they keep running with Ray Rice, they'll be fine. They know what they can do."

The Ravens, whose only Super Bowl championship came a decade ago, can capture the AFC North division title and a first-round bye in the postseason next week if they beat the Bengals at home and the Pittsburgh Steelers lose at Cleveland. But the Steelers would win the division if they defeat the Browns. If the season ended today, the Ravens would play at the fourth-seeded Colts, who have yet to clinch a playoff berth.

"We're not done with the regular season yet," Harbaugh said. "We knew we had to get 11 [wins] to get in the playoffs. Now, we have to get 12 to have a chance to win the division. I know the chances of that probably aren't great, but we also know that this is a good football team here that we just played, and we need to beat a good football team. That's still in front of us."

There was no shortage of Super Bowl predictions at Shannon's in Baltimore, though. Bob Lawver, 47, was among them. He took a cautiously optimistic approach.

"It'll depend on which team shows up," Lawver said. "We can go the whole way if they play like they did against the Saints. If it's like the Houston game, well, they're not going to go very far."

Bill Besece, 49, a pipefitter who said he was a die-hard Colts fan, said he's hoping for a matchup with the Indianapolis team in the playoffs. The Jets would be a close second — he's said the team is still stinging from Rex Ryan leaving and taking players and coaches with him.

"I want to whoop their" tails, he said.

The Ravens won Sunday after battling a 13-degree wind chill and a seven-point deficit in the first quarter to take a 10-7 lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Ravens extended their advantage to 20-10 when Flacco threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason in the third quarter.

Reed sealed the Ravens' sixth straight win over the Browns (5-10) by intercepting rookie quarterback Colt McCoy in the end zone with 4:35 left in the game.

"We've got to finish this strong," Reed said. "We're going into the playoffs with a totally different mentality."

The Ravens' run of excellence is making ripples in NFL history, too.

Harbaugh became the fourth NFL head coach since 1990 to lead his team to the playoffs in his first three years, joining Bill Cowher, Dennis Green and Barry Switzer. Flacco is the third starting quarterback since 1970 to lead his team to the NFL postseason in his first three seasons, the first since Bernie Kosar (1985-87) and Dan Marino (1983-86) accomplished the feat.

At the bar, which serves as a meeting place for two different chapters of the Ravens Roost fan club, fans sitting in front of buckets of beers were in agreement that the team's stability is largely a credit to Harbaugh and a young nucleus that is growing together.

Lynn Pallozzi, 37, said she thinks chemistry is one of the keys to this year's team. "I follow some of them on Facebook and a lot of them do stuff together off the field. They've got good chemistry," she said.

If Pallozzi is right and there is good chemistry among the Ravens, then it is having some positive effect on the team, it would seem.

"We're definitely getting used to it around here," Flacco said of making the playoffs. "Hopefully, we continue to make a habit of it."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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