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Ravens Ride Record-Setting Rushing Attack Into Playoffs

Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins (27) runs the ball for a touchdown in the second half during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)
Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins (27) runs the ball for a touchdown in the second half during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

Behind a dominant rushing attack that keeps setting records, the Ravens are rolling into the playoffs.

With a franchise-record 404 yards rushing in the regular-season finale, Baltimore overwhelmed the Cincinnati Bengals, 38-3, and clinched a playoff spot for the third consecutive season.

The Ravens became just the fourth team in NFL history to reach 400 yards rushing in a game, and they almost surpassed the most rushing yards ever in a game – 423 yards set by the New York Giants in 1950.

This was a rare rushing display. No NFL team had rushed for 400 yards since the Bengals in 2000. Before that, no team had rushed for 400 yards since the Dallas Texans in 1961.

Not even last year, when the Ravens set the single-season record for most rushing yards, did their rushing attack look this powerful. Head Coach John Harbaugh talks about chasing perfection, and right now, the rushing attack looks picture perfect.

"The running backs are running very well, they're making guys miss, they're breaking tackles," Harbaugh said. "We see a lot of different fronts, we see a lot of blitzes. This week, it was the safeties heavily involved in the run defense.

"Watch the J.K. Dobbins run and see the Dez Bryant block. It was just a really great block. Just a team effort."

With multiple runners coming at them in waves, the Bengals looked overmatched. Dobbins had a career-high 160 yards rushing and two touchdowns, capped by a 72-yard touchdown run it the fourth quarter on which he displayed his speed and power. First he stiff-armed Cincinnati linebacker Germaine Pratt, then Dobbins used his acceleration to pull away.

Dobbins said he received a text from Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard during the week, saying the Ravens needed to break a long touchdown run in this game. Dobbins delivered on Ricard's wish.

"We've been waiting on a big, long touchdown run," Dobbins said. "It was excellent blocking. A lot of people don't think I can run. I finally got an opportunity to show my speed. You give me an opportunity to go, I go. I won't get caught. That was going through my mind. When I got to that sideline, I was like, I am not getting caught."

With nine touchdowns during the regular season, Dobbins set the franchise record for a rookie and he could be an X-factor in the postseason. Dobbins has rushed for at least 65 yards in five of the last six games, and he can make tough yards between the tackles and explosive runs once he reaches the secondary.

Yet, Dobbins is just part of what makes Baltimore's running attack so special. The Ravens will take a five-game winning streak into the postseason, and they have never run the ball as effectively over a five-game stretch. Baltimore has averaged 267.4 yards rushing on the ground over the past five weeks, and they reached several milestones against the Bengals.

Lamar Jackson became the first NFL quarterback with two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, doing it in back-to-back seasons. No other team has a quarterback who runs like Jackson (11 carries, 97 yards), whose ability to make plays with his legs keeps opponents awake at night.

Meanwhile, the Ravens' offensive line has clearly found its groove, and continues to be effective with different combinations. Starting center Patrick Mekari (back) didn't play against the Bengals, but undrafted rookie center Trystan Colon-Castillo replaced Mekari and became part of a record-setting performance. The team has overcome season-ending injuries to All-Pro left guard Ronnie Stanley and to tight end Nick Boyle, a superb blocker.

Everyone has bought into the running game, with the wide receivers making downfield blocks, the offensive line winning battles up front, and the Ravens' runners maximizing their opportunities. Gus Edwards (12 carries, 60 yards) and Mark Ingram II (nine carries, 39 yards) were also part of the mix, and give Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman even more options for his creative running scheme heading into the playoffs.

"Hats off to everyone on the offensive line," Jackson said. "Pat went down, Castillo got in and he did a good job. We just have to keep it going. Our offensive line, they've faced adversity this whole season. They fought through it."

Dobbins is young, but he has understood the big picture since he was drafted in the second round. Some questioned why the Ravens would draft a running back in the second round, but nobody seems to be asking that question now.

Dobbins set a single-season franchise rookie record with his ninth touchdown. He has found the end zone in six straight games, tying the longest streak of its kind since the 1970 merger. Dobbins' 72-yard touchdown was the longest rushing touchdown by a Ravens rookie in franchise history.

Behind a running attack that doesn't seem interested in slowing down, the Ravens are steamrolling into the postseason, and Dobbins hopes the best is yet to come.

"It's a bunch of guys who are happy, but we're still hungry," Dobbins said. "We're glad to get this win to get in, but we know what the ultimate goal is. I think that's what's on our minds right now.

"I'm the type of guy who wants more. I want to be great. I don't want to be mediocre. Yeah, I'm glad to be in the playoffs but I know the goal, I know why I was brought here. I'm just going to do everything I can to help this team win this first playoff game."

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