January 5, 2015
While Redskins fans will have to wait until next fall to see their team in action, the Baltimore Ravens extended their season another week with a 30-17 wild card win on Saturday.
After missing the playoffs last year, the Ravens, who won it all in 2012, narrowly made the postseason on the last day of the regular season. A loss by the San Diego Chargers and a 30-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 28th led Baltimore to their sixth playoff berth in seven seasons. It was also the fifth time they advanced as a wild card.
Due to their seeding, they had to once again face the Steelers in a wild card rubber match. The two teams have an intense rivalry, marked by their history of strong defenses and match-ups which often give the winner dominance of the AFC North Division.
Saturday marked the teams’ fourth playoff meeting. Heading into the game, the Steelers had a 3-0 record, most recently eliminating Baltimore in 2011. The cards seemed stacked in the Steelers’ favor, who many commentators predicted would win the game.
But the Ravens headed into Heinz Field ready to tackle the odds–and their opponent. Though they led by just one point heading into the half, they were able to keep the Steelers out of the end-zone and hold them to just three field goals.
“Field goals won’t beat us,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said at halftime.
They continued to dominate the second half, outscoring Pittsburgh 20-8. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger scored his first and only touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to five, but the two-point conversion failed to keep the Ravens ahead by a touchdown. Big Ben was briefly knocked out of the game before throwing two interceptions to end the Steelers’ playoff run.
“That’s playoff football,” Harbaugh said afterward. “That’s Joe Flacco. The best quarterback in football. I’ll take him every day of the week and twice on Sunday or Saturday night.”
Harbaugh’s praise of Flacco was well deserved, with the Baltimore quarterback going 18-of-29 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His performance led his team to their first-ever playoff win in Pittsburgh.
With the victory, the Ravens advance to the Divisional Round. They next face a familiar foe–the AFC No. 1 seeded New England Patriots. Baltimore is 2-1 against the Pats in their last three meetings, most recently beating them 28-13 in the 2012 AFC Conference Championship. They went on to win the Super Bowl.
Elsewhere around the league, the Panthers eliminated the Cardinals, giving Cam Newton his first career playoff win, while the Colts bested the Cincinnati Bengals to set up a luck-versus-Manning showdown and Detroit lost a controversial game in Dallas.
All divisional games will be played next weekend, with the Ravens, the only wild card team remaining, playing first. The four teams that emerge victorious will face-off in the conference championship games on January 18th.