Ravens maintain momentum with win over gambling Eagles
BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens maintain control of their playoff chances thanks to a tight victory over a Philadelphia Eagles team that lost because it played to win.
Baltimore (8-6) entered the final three weeks of the season knowing it would capture the AFC North by winning its final three games.
The Ravens crossed the first item off the list, beating the Eagles 27-26 Sunday. So now, if the Ravens defeat Pittsburgh on Christmas Day and knock off Cincinnati in the finale, they will be back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus.
“We want to win a Super Bowl, so we have to go through Pittsburgh next week to get there,” Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon said.
Baltimore (8-6) might have to play better than it did against the Eagles (5-9). The Ravens were cruising with a 27-17 lead before allowing Philadelphia to climb back into it.
A 4-yard touchdown run by Carson Wentz with 4 seconds left got the Eagles to 27-26. Instead of taking the easy kick to force overtime, first-year coach Doug Pederson sent his offense onto the field to attempt a 2-point conversion.
The pass to Jordan Matthews was tipped by linebacker C.J. Mosley and fell incomplete.
“It would hurt a lot to lose this game,” Ravens safety Lardarius Webb said. “As long as you can control your own destiny, that’s all you can ask for. We have a shot.”
And the Eagles? Despite absorbing their sixth loss by seven points or fewer, they appreciated Pederson’s decision to go for 2.
“I loved it,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We had all the confidence in the world we were going to get it done on that play.”
Some things we learned about the Eagles and Ravens:
RUNNING IT UP: The Eagles shredded the NFL’s top rushing defense with surprising ease, piling up 169 yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Most of that came from Ryan Mathews, who exploited the middle of the defense for 128 yards and several big gains.
“It’s getting on a roll,” Mathews said. “Guys were excited to run the ball.”
Pederson praised the offensive line, and Mathews noted that receivers were chipping in with downfield blocks.
“It just came down to sheer patience and determination and the offensive line,” Pederson said.
HORRIBLE CALL: The Ravens had a 10-point lead and first down at the Philadelphia 11 with just over six minutes remaining when Joe Flacco let Philadelphia right back into the game.
Baltimore’s quarterback threw an interception while following orders on what coach John Harbaugh later labeled, “the all-time worst call ever.”
But receiver Mike Wallace said, “Throw it. Throw it. It was a great call. Just don’t throw an interception.”
“I turned the ball over there at the end and that’s the only reason it was really a game,” Flacco said.
MOMENTUM SHIFT: Flacco’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Jordan Hicks, whose 34-yard return put the Ravens on their heels. If only those kind of plays occurred regularly, the Eagles might have been a factor in the NFC East this season.
“We need more of those types of plays,” Hicks said. “On defense, we believe we are going to set the tone for this team. And in order for that to happen, we’ve got to come up with the energy, make plays and be the momentum setters.”
DIALING LONG DISTANCE: When Baltimore’s Justin Tucker made his 10th field goal of at least 50 yards, he tied Blair Walsh’s NFL record set in 2012.
With the wind swirling and the pressure on in a huge game, Tucker hit a 53-yarder in the first quarter to stake the Ravens to a 10-3 lead.
“Tuck is so accurate, and he has such a strong leg he can make those kicks,” Harbaugh said. “Today was tough; there was a lot of wind out there.”
Tucker has made 31 of 32 kicks this season. His only miss of the year was blocked. He’s hit on 12 consecutive 50-yarders, including 10 straight in 2016.
“The next kick is the most important kick,” he said. “Sure, it’s another accolade piece to put on the mantel, but at the exact same time there is more important stuff to take care of, and that starts with a win in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day.”
GO WEST: Terrance West rattled off a 41-yard run for Baltimore in the third quarter, the longest of his career. He finished with 77 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
He now has 729 yards for the season, topping his previous high of 673 in 2014 with Cleveland.
“I thought our offense grinded it out and played a pretty good game,” Flacco said.