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"This is the best division in football," Harbaugh said. "It's not even close."
Bringing the playoffs to Baltimore was a goal at the start of the season, and it will be the first time under Harbaugh that the playoffs have come to M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens are perfect this season.
"To be able to win the division on the road to secure a home playoff game, the feeling in that locker room is like no other," running back Ray Rice said. "I can only imagine what the city of Baltimore is doing right now."
Getting to that point wasn't easy.
The Ravens started out hot, building an early 14-point lead in the first half, but the offense stalled in the second half and the Bengals rallied. The Bengals cut the lead to four points in the fourth quarter, and then had a chance to drive down the field and take the lead.
Cincinnati had the ball at midfield when Ravens outside linebacker and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Terrell Suggs forced a fumble on Cincinnati's tight end Jermaine Gresham, which Ravens' safety Bernad Pollard recovered.
The Ravens capitalized on the mistake, as Rice broke a 51-yard touchdown run to give Baltimore the late two-score lead.
"When the defense does something great like that and gets a turnover, as an offense you want to pay those guys back and you want to pay them back with a touchdown," Rice said.
Rice came up with several big plays in the game, as he also rushed for a 70-yard touchdown on the Ravens' opening drive. He finished with 191 yards and two touchdowns, and improved his season rushing yardage to a career-high 1,364 yards and a Ravens record 15 touchdowns.
The afternoon also put Rice in company with Marshall Faulk as the only two players in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards in multiple seasons.
Rice was the motor for the offense, which at times was efficient and effective.
Joe Flacco threw for 130 yards and one touchdown, but he had just four incomplete passes. Tight end Dennis Pitta had six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Pitta had the best day of his two-year career, as the Ravens used him as a receiver because they were without top wide receiver Anquan Boldin for the second-straight game and Lee Evans has yet to hit his stride.
But the offense went cold in the second half, as Rice struggled to find success and the passing game stalled. That gave Cincinnati an opportunity to close the gap, but Rice's late touchdown again gave the Ravens a two-score lead that was too much for Cincinnati to overcome.
"Obviously, that [touchdown] was the difference," Harbaugh said. "That was the key."
The Ravens built up the early lead after Rice broke the 70-yard run on the fourth play of the game. He ran between the tackles and right guard Marshal Yanda, who was doubtful to play due to thigh and rib contusions, cleared a path with a big block on Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga to put Rice off to the races.
Baltimore then added to their total as Billy Cundiff converted on a 42-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 10-0 lead. Cundiff was back as the starting kicker after missing last week with a calf injury.
Cincinnati got on the board late in the first quarter with a 46-yard field goal by Mike Nugent to cut the Ravens' lead to 10-3. Nugent also missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt in the first half.
The Ravens added a touchdown to take a 17-3 lead just before the end of the first half, as they drove 80 yards in 11 plays. Dennis Pitta's 9-yard touchdown grab capped off the drive, which was aided by Bengals penalties for holding, unnecessary roughness and illegal contact. The penalties gave Baltimore 25 yards and two first downs on the drive.
The Bengals got on the board first in the second half with a 25-yard touchdown run by Bernard Scott. Cincinnati started the drive at Baltimore's 48-yard line after Sam Koch's punt was partially blocked, and they took just five plays to get in for the touchdown, cutting Baltimore's lead to 17-10.
Baltimore then went three-and-out on the ensuing drive and the Bengals responded by adding another three points on a 46-yard field goal by Nugent, making the score 17-13.
The Ravens took a 24-13 lead on Rice's 51-yard touchdown, and Cincinnati responded with a 23-yard field goal with three minutes, two seconds left to make it an eight-point lead.
The Bengals had one more shot to tie the score, and they got into position where quarterback Andy Dalton heaved a "Hail Mary" to the end zone on the final play. The pass fell incomplete, which ended the game and gave the Ravens the AFC North title.
The AFC playoff picture is now set, as the Bengals will travel to Houston next week to face the Texans, and the Steelers will go on the road to face Denver. The Ravens will play the top-seeded team to make it out of the Wild Card Rounds, which could be Denver, Houston or Pittsburgh.
"This is one championship, and we still have two more that we're shooting for," Harbaugh said. "And that's a conference championship and a world championship."