As the Cleveland Browns made big play after big play in the second half, memories of last season's Week 17 collapse began creeping into the minds of Ravens fans. By the final two minutes it was impossible to think of much else. Win-and-in game, facing a division rival from Ohio, needing your elite defense to make one final stop.
Thankfully for fans in Baltimore, that's where the similarities end.
The top-ranked Baltimore defense did make one final stop, and the Ravens defeated the Browns 26-24. They are your 2018 AFC North champions.
As it has so many times for this franchise, it came down to defense. And the Ravens' number-one ranked defense was facing the top pick from last year's draft.
On the final drive, the Ravens broke up multiple passes, but the Browns still moved the ball inside the Ravens' 40-yard line. Cleveland benefited from multiple replay reviews on catches, including an impressive sideline grab from former Ravens first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman.
After both reviews went in Cleveland's favor, the Browns found themselves left to choose between a 57-yard field goal attempt from a kicker who already missed once on Sunday, or attempting a fourth-down conversion against the a defense that had already intercepted Mayfield twice.
Gregg Williams elected to go for it, the Ravens blitzed again, and Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley batted the ball before coming down with the Ravens' third interception of the afternoon.
Against Andy Dalton a year ago, the Ravens were a 4th-and-9 away from the playoffs. As fans in Baltimore will never forget, Dalton found Tyler Boyd for a 48-yard touchdown, and the Ravens' playoff hopes were spoiled.
Against Baker Mayfield, it was a 4th-and-10. Mosley didn't leave it up to a potential breakdown in the defensive backfield. He put himself in the right place at the right time, and the Ravens' linebacker known for his struggles in coverage came away with the team's biggest interception of the season.
The game was over, the Ravens won, and fans can now start looking ahead to a home playoff game against the Chargers. It will be the franchise's first postseason appearance since 2014.
To get there, most fans and experts expected a close game. Instead, the Ravens looked like they might run away with it in the first half. Emphasis on "run".
The Ravens rushed for 121 yards in the first quarter alone, their most since 2008. In the first half they totaled 179 rushing yards, the fourth highest number in franchise history. Interestingly, two of the top three totals also came against Cleveland.
Jackson notched both of the team's touchdowns on the ground, and very nearly had a third on multiple occasions. He attempted to reach the ball over the end zone and pull it back late in the first half, but while it was initially ruled a touchdown, replay showed he was an inch short. The Browns recovered his fumble, though it easily could have been a 99-yard touchdown for Cleveland. The Ravens caught a break as the play had already been whistled dead.
In the second half, Jackson showed off his speed for a 33-yard touchdown, but it was called back on a questionable holding penalty on tight end Maxx Williams.
Jackson still had a huge day on the ground, but it wasn't just him. Gus Edwards notched 76 yards on 12 rushes, and Kenneth Dixon went for 117 yards on a dozen carries as well. Dixon, in particular, looked explosive, consistently picking up large chunks of yardage against a tough Browns defense. Still, as he has been throughout the Ravens' 6-1 finish to the regular season, Jackson was the straw that stirred the drink.
Justin Tucker had a nice afternoon as well.
With his 4th field goal of the day, Justin Tucker becomes the only kicker in the NFL to have scored 140+ points in each of the last three seasons.— NBC Sports Ravens (@NBCSRavens) December 31, 2018
Tucker kicked four field goals, and while each was comfortably in Tucker's range, nothing is guaranteed. Tucker came through as he typically does, and further cemented himself as the best kicker in football in the process.
There will be plenty of time to revel in the team's first AFC North title since 2012 and break down the matchup with Los Angeles in the coming week. For tonight, John Harbaugh and the Ravens can finally breathe a Charm City-sized sigh of relief, as they've finally exorcized the demons haunting them from last year's loss. They told us all season long this year's squad was different, and today, they went out there and proved it.