Ravens clinch top seed in AFC play­offs

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer

CLEVE­LAND >> The road to the Su­per Bowl in the AFC goes through Bal­ti­more, where its MVP can­di­date will be wait­ing.

La­mar Jack­son threw three touch­down passes — two to tight end Mark An­drews late in the first half — and rushed for 103 yards as the Ravens won their 11th straight game, 31-15 over the Cleve­land Browns on Sun­day to lock up the con­fer­ence’s top seed and home­field ad­van­tage through­out the play­offs.

The Ravens (13-2) shook off a slug­gish start and avenged their last loss, a 40-25 to the Browns on Sept. 29.

But Bal­ti­more looks noth­ing like the team it was three months ago as the marvelous, multi-di­men­sional Jack­son has taken the league by storm with his arm and legs. Jack­son fin­ished with 238 yards pass­ing and went over 100 yards for the fifth time this sea­son.

The Ravens did suf­fer an in­jury that could hurt the play­off hopes as run­ning back Mark In­gram went down with­out be­ing touched in the fourth quar­ter. In­gram im­me­di­ately grabbed his lower left leg and col­lapsed when he tried to stand.

In­gram, who went over 1,000 yards rush­ing in the sec­ond quar­ter and caught a 12-yard TD pass

from Jack­son in the third, was able to walk to the side­line to be eval­u­ated be­fore limp­ing to the locker room.

The Browns (6-9) were of­fi­cially elim­i­nated from the post­sea­son, and now firstyear coach Fred­die Kitchens may be down to his last game. Kitchens has ap­peared over­whelmed at times and the home fi­nale was a mi­cro­cosm of this dis­ap­point­ing sea­son as the Browns un­der­per­formed and will miss the play­offs for the 17th straight sea­son.

Baker May­field threw a 3-yard TD pass in the fourth quar­ter to Odell Beck­ham Jr., whose ac­qui­si­tion by the Browns in March sent ex­pec­ta­tions soar­ing.

In the clos­ing min­utes, Beck­ham flung his hel­met on the side­line in frus­tra­tion and ex­changed words with Kitchens.

May­field fin­ished 20 of 33 for 192 yards with two TDs and a pick.

Out­played and in their own way for most of the first half, the Ravens scored two touch­downs in the fi­nal two min­utes to take a 14-6 lead at the break.

Jack­son con­nected on a 39-yard TD pass to An­drews with 1:18 for Bal­ti­more’s first score, and then hooked up with his tight end again on a sen­sa­tional play the elec­tri­fy­ing QB can add to his MVP can­di­dacy.

Jack­son stayed alive in the pocket long enough to buy time and fired an off-bal­ance pass to the back of the end zone, where An­drews made a ter­rific leap­ing catch.

Bal­ti­more had been un­able to do any­thing on its first four pos­ses­sions and the

Browns ap­peared on their way to a sur­pris­ing half­time lead. How­ever, Kitchens made an­other head-scratch­ing play call on third-and-1 when he had May­field pitch the ball to Ka­reem Hunt, who looked like he was go­ing to throw it be­fore be­ing brought down for an 8-yard loss.

The Ravens hurt them­selves with some un­char­ac­ter­is­tic mis­takes to set up Cleve­land’s first touch­down af­ter Jack­son’s fum­ble near mid-field.

Bal­ti­more’s de­fense com­mit­ted two penal­ties on fourth down to ex­tend the Browns’ drive and cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith was called for pass in­ter­fer­ence in the end zone, giv­ing Cleve­land first-and-goal at the 1.

On the next play, May­field rolled to his right and hit tight end Demetrius Har­ris.

RON SCHWANE - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son cel­e­brates a 12-yard touch­down pass to run­ning back Mark In­gram dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NFL foot­ball game against the Cleve­land Browns, Sun­day, Dec. 22, 2019, in Cleve­land.

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