Toronto Star

Ravens land wild card, Seahawks eye repeat

Limping Rodgers marches Packers to NFL North title, sub-.500 Panthers advance


The Baltimore Ravens are back in the playoffs, while the Seattle Seahawks will be playing at home in them.

Baltimore made the post-season in the first five years with John Harbaugh as coach and Joe Flacco at quarterbac­k, winning the 2012 championsh­ip. They failed to get in last season, but a 20-10 victory Sunday, combined with San Diego’s 19-7 loss at Kansas City, did the trick.

The Ravens (10-6, the same record they had in their Super Bowl season), earned a wild card and will be seeded sixth in the AFC.

“Anything can happen when you get into the playoffs,” Flacco said. “I won’t be surprised if in three weeks from now we’re still sitting here playing.”

Defending champion Seattle earned the top seed in the NFC by beating St. Louis 20-6. The Seahawks, winners of the NFC West, were 7-1 at home at the intimidati­ng CenturyLin­k Field, and have a bye next week after the ninth division title in franchise history and third under coach Pete Carroll.

“All you guys kept talking about how you can’t do this and you can’t get to this point again and you can’t come back and all this stuff. You can,” Carroll said post-game. “You can do it, and we did it to this point, and we’ll see how we’ll do in the playoffs. We got back to division champs and that’s pretty rare. I’m really proud of that.”

Seattle, Green Bay and Dallas all finished 12-4, but the tiebreaker­s went to the Seahawks, who will play next on Jan. 10. Home-field advantage seemed highly unlikely for the Super Bowl champs after losing at Kansas City and falling to 6-4. But Seattle’s closing run was perhaps more impressive than going 13-3 in the 2013 regular season. The Seahawks bulled through Arizona and San Francisco twice, won at Philadelph­ia and finally dispatched the pesky Rams.

Seattle held five of its final six opponents to less than 10 points and became the first team since the 1969-71 Vikings to lead the NFL in scoring defence in three straight seasons, giving up 15.9 points per game.

Green Bay won the NFC North by handling Detroit 30-20, earning the No. 2 seed in the conference and a bye, which star QB Aaron Rodgers welcomes after aggravatin­g a left calf injury.

In the locker room while getting treatment, Rodgers said he was thinking about “if I could finagle my- self to go back in the game.” He hobbled on to the field in the third quarter with the game tied at 14.

“I just felt like if I got in there, it might give us a little jolt,” Rodgers said.

Sure enough, a seven-play, 60-yard drive ended with a 13-yard score to Randall Cobb for a 21-14 lead and the Packers didn’t look back.

Rodgers — the 2011 MVP and only QB ever to record a 100-plus passer rating in six consecutiv­e seasons — plunged across the goal line from one yard out with 8:45 left to help Green Bay regain a two-touchdown lead. “MVP! MVP” chanted adoring fans while light snow dusted Lambeau Field.

“It’s clearly an MVP performanc­e — another MVP performanc­e — by Aaron Rodgers,” coach Mike McCarthy said. Rodgers won the award in 2011.

Detroit (11-5) will play at NFC East champ Dallas (12-4) in the wild-card round on Sunday.

“We’re 11-5, and it’s a new season,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after Sunday’s loss to Green Bay. “We’ve got to look forward.”

Detroit hasn’t won a division title since 1993. It hasn’t won a road game against the Packers since 1991.

Carolina (7-8-1) became the second division champion with a losing record in NFL history. Its 34-3 rout at Atlanta earned the NFC South title. The Panthers will host injury-ravaged Arizona (11-5) — which fell to San Francisco 20-17 but got the other NFC wild card — on Saturday.

Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned intercepti­ons for touchdowns and Carolina recorded six sacks on the way to a playoff berth.

“It feels great,” Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart said. “I mean, it’s a blessing and you just have to cherish these moments right now. . . . We just believed and played our hearts out and this is where we are.” The Panthers have won four straight, but they’re the first team to enter the playoffs with a losing record since 2010, when Seattle was 7-9.

“The beautiful thing — record doesn’t matter,” coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s the best part. . . . It was a great defensive effort,” Rivera said.

Quarterbac­k Cam Newton lifted his arms toward Carolina fans who moved close to the field to claim seats vacated by Falcons fans. After the game, Newton answered fans who called his name by running back to the edge of the stands for highfives.

AFC East champion New England (12-4) owns home-field advantage in the conference and will be off next weekend.

Denver (12-4), the West winner, also will have a bye after defeating Oakland, 47-14.

 ?? CHARLIE RIEDEL/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Chiefs’ Justin Houston sacked Chargers QB Philip Rivers four times Sunday, but both teams missed the playoffs.
CHARLIE RIEDEL/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Chiefs’ Justin Houston sacked Chargers QB Philip Rivers four times Sunday, but both teams missed the playoffs.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada