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Ravens flipped the script on 2017 heartbreak to win division

USA Today Sports

Ravens flipped the script on 2017 heartbreak to win division

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.

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.

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Hayden Hurst sending signed jersey to fan he headbutted in TD celebration

Hayden Hurst sending signed jersey to fan he headbutted in TD celebration

Ravens tight end and self-proclaimed #HockeyGuy Hayden Hurst is spreading the holiday cheer as he makes amends for a celebration injury he caused a fan in the stands.

Over Week 14 in Buffalo, Hurst caught a 61-yard toss from QB Lamar Jackson and rushed in to the end zone for his second touchdown of the season. With excitement, Hurst leaped in to the stands to celebrate with fans. In the process, there was some helmet-to-head contact.

Shortly thereafter, Hurst found this tweet that was sent out after the Ravens beat the Bills:

Thanks to social media, a connection was made, and the lucky fan with not only get his gloves but a signed jersey as well.

With warning to future fans down front, Hurst has well established that he is, indeed, a Hockey Guy and will continue to "crash the boards" aka leap in to the stands. 


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Ronnie Stanley absent from practice for second day in a row with concussion

Ronnie Stanley absent from practice for second day in a row with concussion

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While the Ravens appear to have dodged a sticky situation with Lamar Jackson, the same can’t be said for left tackle Ronnie Stanley. 

He missed Tuesday’s practice with a concussion, and didn’t practice on Monday either. Meaning, the odds don’t look great for Stanley's chances to play on Thursday against the Jets. 

“I’m not going to get into injuries,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday when asked about Stanley’s injury specifically. “We just got done playing the game 24 hours ago. We’re going to play a game Thursday night. The guys that are ready to play will play, the guys that aren’t won’t. So, just look at the injury report and take it from there.”

Should Stanley be unable to play, the presumed starter would be James Hurst, a sixth-year tackle. Hurst has played in every game thus far, but hasn’t played meaningful snaps at tackle for a long stretch of time all year. 

Parker Ehringer, on the roster as a guard, played a bit of everything in college at Cincinnati, and could be called upon to be the backup swing tackle on Thursday.

It’s the second injury the offensive line has faced in recent weeks, as former starting center Matt Skura was lost for the season with a knee injury. Because of that, left guard Bradley Bozeman has had new partners on his left and his right in recent weeks.

“Me and James are good, we call each other brothers,” Bozeman said. “Me, Ben (Powers) and James, they say we all look alike...but we work together a lot. We’re good on our combinations, so it’ll be fine. No matter what happens, we’ll be good.”

If the Ravens have a new left tackle in Hurst on Thursday, there’s still a strong level of confidence in the NFL’s best rush offense. 

“That’s part of the O-line,” Bozeman said. “People go down, people get hurt. But it’s next guy up. All these guys are prepared and ready to roll. I’m not worried about a single guy that’s coming into play.”