Heading into their matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens knew they needed to take care of business if they wanted to keep their hopes of an AFC North title alive.
And while they did just that with a 13-7 win at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens still only walked away with the top wild card seed because the Pittsburgh Steelers soundly defeated the Cleveland Browns.
Now, the Ravens are looking at a postseason battle in Kansas City (whose loss to the Oakland Raiders coupled with a Colts win over the Tennessee Titans gave Indianapolis the No. 3 position) next weekend.
As for Sunday's proceedings, the Ravens were able to avenge their Week 2 loss to Cincinnati with a solid defensive outing and just enough offense to get the job done.
"Congratulations to our team for winning the game, finding a way to win," said Ravens Head Coach **John Harbaugh**, who enters the postseason for the third consecutive year. "You get to this point in time in the season, and you don't look at how pretty it is or anything like that. Bottom line, you find a way to win the game, and you have to be happy about that and feel good about that.
"I think we have, over time, figured out how to win football games, tight football games. We've been in a bunch of them, that's for sure."
Safety Ed Reed!(/team/roster/ed-reed/89ece203-7de4-4b40-9651-f16f4c3b7699/ "Ed Reed") intercepted Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer twice, cornerback **Chris Carr** forced two fumbles that the Ravens recovered and Palmer fumbled late in the fourth.
Unfortunately, the Ravens only totaled 10 points off those turnovers, as Baltimore netted only 10 first downs and converted two of 11 third downs.
On the Bengals' third offensive snap, Palmer underthrew a deep pass to wideout Andre Caldwell that Lardarius Webb!(/team/roster/lardarius-webb/198340ed-25e5-4117-8d71-5fc28be24b71/ "Lardarius Webb") tipped. Reed was there to gobble up the errant ball, giving the Ravens their first possession of the game.
The Ravens came back with a steady diet of running the football on the soggy January afternoon, and even called a flea-flicker flip from **Willis McGahee** to Joe Flacco!(/team/roster/joe-flacco/3e20766f-6520-4ca1-9901-44389aaea8b8/ "Joe Flacco") that led to a screen pass to tight end **Todd Heap**.
Heap rumbled 37 yards, following a downfield block by **Derrick Mason** to set up Billy Cundiff!(/team/roster/billy-cundiff/68c89b57-d670-4c92-9416-294976234b68/ "Billy Cundiff")'s 25-yard field goal, one of his two field goals on the day.
"It caught them off guard, and we caught them rushing in towards the passer, and it was as wide open as I've seen a screen play like that in a while," said Heap.
From there, it wasn't as easy.
The Ravens had plenty of opportunities, but a fumble recovery by Ray Lewis!(/team/roster/ray-lewis/1c6d5ed3-fe49-4a89-a6b5-9e358e906ae7/ "Ray Lewis") was negated when **Donte' Stallworth** put the ball on the turf on the ensuing play. Stallworth ran an end around for 15 yards, but fumbled when he fought for extra space, giving it back to Cincinnati.
Flacco threw his fifth interception to the Bengals this season later in the second quarter when he put too much air under a deep attempt to a wide-open Heap, allowing safety Reggie Nelson to run under the floater.
Reed's second interception came with less than 20 seconds left in the first half. His NFL-leading eighth pick of the year (in 10 games) was a shoestring grab in the end zone, but the Ravens didn't have enough time left to capitalize.
In fact, the Bengals controlled time of possession in the first half 16:19 to 13:41.
"We've got to go in there clicking on all cylinders," wideout Derrick Mason said. "We've got to make some things work, regardless of what is called. That's my thing now, whatever is called, make it work, because you can't have anymore excuses during the game or after the game.
Coming out of the break, the Ravens finally scored a touchdown off a turnover with Carr's second strip of receiver Jerome Simpson.
This time, Haloti Ngata!(/team/roster/haloti-ngata/9225ada6-37a5-4b66-9776-1b6e4df2fb50/ "Haloti Ngata") pounced on the loose ball at the Bengals' 28-yard line, and just five plays later, Ray Rice!(/team/roster/ray-rice/9d941a20-0c76-412d-85fd-165a029d59e6/ "Ray Rice") plunged across the goal line from 7 yards out, marking his sixth touchdown.
The Bengals made things interesting with a fourth-quarter touchdown to Simpson, who boasted 12 grabs for 123 yards.
And down by six points, Cincinnati drove all the way to the Ravens' 2-yard line with :16 remaining.
But Baltimore held strong by pressuring Palmer into overthrowing his target on fourth down.
As the game progressed, every one of the 71,088 in attendance – and perhaps even some on the sideline – kept an eye on the Steelers score, but once it was clear the Browns were going to lose, the Ravens' playoff path became more clear.
"You look at the score at first, it was 14-0, then it was 14-3. And then it just went all downhill," linebacker Terrell Suggs!(/team/roster/terrell-suggs/ad26be43-1380-45f1-b047-a91e850d9761/ "Terrell Suggs") said of the 41-9 Steelers victory. "I was like 'them boys [took] care of business.'"
As they prepare to face Kansas City in the wild card round of the playoffs, the Ravens will want to keep the momentum a four-game winning streak can provide.
"It's a long season, it's a grueling season, but now you have to find a way mentally and physically to perk up and bring everything," said center Matt Birk!(/team/roster/matt-birk/f7490078-5e55-4d88-adfc-334ae2919b31/ "Matt Birk"). "You have to turn it up a notch because it's playoff football. It's different than the regular season. Whoever you play is going to be more than a formidable opponent."