The Ravens needed only five and a half minutes to score two touchdowns in a 24-10 win over the Washington Redskins.
But, it was a late-game scoring drive that really showed what this Baltimore club is made of.
In front of a capacity crowd at M&T Bank Stadium, in front of a national audience for the NBC Sunday night showcase, and on a teeth-chattering December evening, the Ravens ground out a 12-play, 83-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter that featured 10 bruising runs from 260-pound fullback Le'Ron McClain
Then with the entire Redskins box stacked to stop McClain's pounding, wideout Derrick Mason
capped the march with a 28-yard touchdown grab.
The score effectively stomped out any thought of a Washington (7-6) comeback, which was a real possibility considering the Redskins posted 10 points in the final period.
What is now a reality is that the Ravens - with their physical identity - are 9-4, firmly entrenched in the AFC Wild Card race and one game behind the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers.
"If you're the kind of football team that's going to win games at this time of year, that needs to be a theme for you," said head coach John Harbaugh. "You have to play football like that, I don't care what level you're talking about."
The largest attendance in Baltimore football history (71,438), in addition to the extra sets of eyes watching at home, got to witness the Ravens assert themselves as a dangerous team with designs on a postseason run.
"I think we're all a witness to what we have potentially in this team, because we've still got three games to go," Mason explained. "Hopefully, we do what we can these next three games, and by the grace of God, we can get into the playoffs. We've got something special here, and we're going to continue to roll with it.
Thing got rolling early for the Ravens. Safety Ed Reed
snared an interception on the opening series to set up an 8-yard touchdown run for McClain. Two and a half minutes later, Reed returned a fumble 22 yards for a score.
A 14-point lead was all Baltimore's defense needed to clamp down.
"We always said if we start fast and we make people play from behind, no matter what happens during the course of a game, it's going to be rough," explained linebacker Ray Lewis
. "We got out pretty good, and then we got a couple of quick turnovers. From there, it was kind of a downward spiral."
Two second-half Ravens turnovers gave the Redskins short fields to finally get on the scoreboard, but it wasn't enough to get back in the game after Reed's standout plays.
On the third play of the night, Reed grabbed a wobbling pass from quarterback Jason Campbell around midfield. The pass was tipped by linebacker Terrell Suggs
, who rushed around left tackle Chris Samuels.
Five plays later, including a 26-yard pass from Joe Flacco to wideout Derrick Mason and a 21-yard run from rookie Ray Rice, and McClain rumbled across the goal line for his team-best eighth touchdown.
Both teams traded punts before Reed stripped Washington running back Clinton Portis on an 11-yard rush and took the fumble 22 yards to paydirt.
Redskins head coach Jim Zorn challenged the fumble ruling, but it was upheld when Portis was shown to lose the football before his elbow hit the turf. Reed, who never halted his motion, picked up the flub and sprinted down the right sideline, picking up a key block from Samari Rolle along the way.
It was his 11th career touchdown and third this season.
"I don't think I've seen anyone in the last 10 years, since I've been in the league, that plays the position the way Ed plays it," Mason said. "The guy roams the field like a hawk. Nothing gets past him. I think he has four or five arms, because it seems like wherever he goes, he has a knack for making big plays, especially when we need it."
The Ravens extended their lead to 17-0 when Matt Stover split the uprights from 32 yards in the third quarter, but it wouldn't last long.
That's because Flacco, who finished 10-of-21 for 134 yards, tossed his first interception in three weeks, this one to safety LaRon Landry. The pick was inside Baltimore territory and led to Shaun Suisham's 43-yard field goal.
On the Ravens' ensuing series, running back Willis McGahee, who totaled 32 yards on 11 carries before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder stinger and mild concussion, lost a fumble at Baltimore's 43-yard line.
Campbell hit Antwaan Randle El for a 5-yard touchdown at the 11:32 mark, trimming the margin to seven.
But the Ravens responded with an emphatic statement. Utilizing the powerful legs of McClain, the Ravens slugged away at the heart of Washington's defense.
McClain ran the ball 10 times, six times to the right side, and Baltimore easily drove down the field.
"We saw something in what they were doing in a couple of their defensive fronts," said tight end Todd Heap. "We ran some unbalanced plays, and we found a play that was pretty successful. We switched it up a little bit here and there, but for the most past, there was one play that we kind of stuck with, and they didn't have an answer for it."
The insurance score came on something new, a 28-yard pass to Mason.
"We hit them over the head with Derrick at the end of it," explained Flacco. "We needed that. They had some momentum, and we were letting the game get away from us on the offensive side of the ball. To go down there and put the ball in the end zone was huge."
Now, the Ravens hold on to the sixth and last AFC playoff spot with the Steelers coming to town next week.
Baltimore would like its tough fourth-quarter series serve as an indicator as to how that game - and all of those remaining - will be played.
"On that last drive, we showed our mentality," McClain said. "That is being the most physical team in the league."