• Ravens beat Giants 33-14 to win AFC North
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     | December 24,2012
     
    AP Photo

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith hauls in a 43-yard pass as he is pressured by New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster in the first half in Baltimore, Sunday.

    BALTIMORE — On their fourth try, the Baltimore Ravens finally got the victory they needed to win the AFC North.

    Joe Flacco threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns, and the Ravens defeated the New York Giants 33-14 Sunday to capture their second straight division crown.

    The Ravens (10-5) led 24-7 at halftime and cruised to the finish behind a short-handed defense that harassed quarterback Eli Manning and limited New York (8-7) to 186 yards.

    Playing its second game with Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator, Baltimore scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and amassed a season-high 533 yards — including 289 in the first half alone.

    The victory ended a three-game skid for the Ravens and assured them of a home playoff game in the first weekend of January.

    The defeat eliminated the defending Super Bowl champion Giants (8-7) from contention in the NFC East and severely damaged their chances of qualifying for a playoff berth.

    New York has lost five of seven and was coming off a 34-0 defeat at Atlanta. New York has dropped five of seven and was coming off a 34-0 defeat at Atlanta.’

    In this one, Manning went 14 for 28 for 150 yards and was sacked three times.

    Flacco, meanwhile, rebounded from a stretch in which he committed two turnovers in each of Baltimore’s three straight defeats. He completed 25 of 36 passes, ran for a score and did not throw an interception or lose a fumble.

    Flacco repeatedly picked on New York cornerback Corey Webster, who simply couldn’t contain Torrey Smith or Anquan Boldin. Smith caught five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, and Boldin finished with seven receptions for 93 yards.

    Ray Rice ran for 107 yards and caught six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. Backup Bernard Pierce gained 123 yards rushing as part of a running attack that generated 224 yards.

    Baltimore’s defense was also impressive despite the absence of injured linebackers Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain, along with safety Bernard Pollard.

    Now, after ending its longest losing streak since 2009, Baltimore is assured of hosting a first-round playoff game during the first weekend in January.

    New York, on the other hand, fell out of a first-place tie in the NFC East and will need a win over Philadelphia next week — along with help from other teams — to squeeze into the postseason

    Baltimore’s first drive ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Smith. The play came after officials overturned a fumble by Jacoby Jones at the New York 5 following a replay review.

    The 73-yard march featured a few new wrinkles from the Ravens’ offense, most notably an option pitch from Flacco to Rice and third-string running back Anthony Allen’s first catch of the season, a first-down grab at the New York 40.

    After the Giants went three-and-out for a second straight time, Smith made an outstanding catch behind Webster for a 43-yard gain before Flacco scored from the 1.

    Manning followed with a four-play, 77-yard drive highlighted by a 43-yard completion to Rueben Randle and a 14-yard touchdown run by David Wilson.

    That, however, would be the extent of the New York offense until Domenik Hixon caught a 13-yard touchdown pass with 3:18 left. After scoring 52 against New Orleans on Dec. 9, the Giants have totaled only 14 points in the past two weeks.

    The Ravens went up 17-7 midway through the second quarter. After Boldin burned Webster for 39-yard gain on a third-and-19, a replay erased a 9-yard touchdown catch by Jacoby Jones and forced Baltimore to settle for a field goal.

    Late in the half, the Ravens moved 76 yards in seven plays for a 24-7 lead. Flacco went 5 for 5 for 68 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown pass to Rice.

    Baltimore opted for ball control in the second half, and the Giants were powerless to stop them. After an exchange of punts at the start of the third quarter, the Ravens moved 82 yards in 16 plays, holding the ball for just short of eight minutes, before Justin Tucker kicked a 20-yard field goal.

    The lead became 30-7 with 11:08 left when Tucker concluded a 13-play, 62-yard drive with a 30-yard field goal.



    Broncos 34, Browns 12

    DENVER — In the span of about five minutes, Peyton Manning threw his third touchdown pass of the afternoon, Von Miller knocked the opposing quarterback out of the game and the Denver Broncos completely demoralized the tenacious-but-overmatched Cleveland Browns.

    During that third-quarter flurry Sunday, the Broncos looked a lot like the best team in the AFC, and with one more Sunday like this one, they could go into the playoffs as just that.

    Manning threw for 339 yards and three scores and Miller was in on two sacks, the second of which ended Brandon Weeden’s day, leading Denver to a 34-12 win — a victory that pulled the Broncos (12-3) into a tie with Houston for the best record in the conference.

    The Broncos carry a 10-game winning streak, second longest in franchise history, into the final week at home against Kansas City (2-13). The Texans, who hold the tiebreaker against Denver, have lost two of three and they close the season at Indianapolis (10-5).

    Manning finished 30 for 43 and has 4,355 yards this season, moving him past John Elway and Jake Plummer for second on the franchise’s single-season passing list. He wasn’t perfect — he threw an interception late in the first half for Denver’s first turnover inside the opponent’s 10-yard line all season — but when he was clicking, the Broncos couldn’t be stopped, at least not by Cleveland (5-10).

    His first two touchdown throws came with Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown draped all over the Denver receivers and only the smallest of windows available for Manning to hit. But he hit them. The first went to Demaryius Thomas for 22 yards, the second to Eric Decker for 10, and the Broncos had a 14-3 lead after their first two possessions.

    Both passes wrapped up 80-yard drives in which Manning ran his version of the hurry-up, getting the offense to the line quickly, barking out audibles, switching from runs to passes, then back again. He even once used cadence to draw an offside penalty on third-and-2 to keep a drive going.

    The Broncos passed the 30-point mark for the 10th time this season.

    Oh, there were frustrations. Denver finished with a season-high 11 penalties; the interception that ended the second-quarter drive; Broncos kick returners bobbled the ball twice, but recovered both; and Browns lineman Billy Winn plowed guard Zane Beadles into Manning, altering the trajectory of a pass 30 feet into the air for an incompletion.

    Manning pounded his orange-gloved fist into the turf after that one.

    Meanwhile, Weeden and Browns running back Trent Richardson (nine carries, 53 yards), both rookies, showed signs of how good they might be some day. With the help of a questionable personal foul call against Champ Bailey, Weeden poked his way to a 45-yard drive for a field goal that cut Cleveland’s deficit to 14-6 early in the third quarter.

    But Manning responded with a 91-yard touchdown drive, highlighted when he threw a dart that slammed off Decker’s hands and dropped into those of receiver Brandon Stokley. Just another Broncos first down — and another sign this was not Cleveland’s day.

    Two plays later, Manning hit Decker for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 21-6.

    Three plays after that, Miller slammed Weeden to the turf, injuring his right shoulder. Weeden slammed his helmet to the ground on the sideline and walked slowly to the locker room — his day complete after going 12 for 19 for 104 yards. Manning had surpassed that total after his second pass of the second quarter.

    Miller finished with 1˝ sacks to move to 17˝ for the season, beating Elvis Dumervil’s franchise record by half a sack.



    Bears 28, Cardinals 13

    GLENDALE, Ariz. — Chicago’s defense outscored Arizona all by itself on a day when the Bears had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

    Charles Tillman returned an interception 10 yards for a score and Zack Bowman returned a fumble 1 yard for another TD in the Bears’ 28-13 victory over the punchless Cardinals.

    It was the third pick Tillman has brought back for a touchdown this season and the eighth overall by Chicago, one shy of the NFL record.

    Brandon Marshall caught six passes for 68 yards and a TD, breaking the Bears franchise record for yards receiving in a season in the process.

    Chicago (9-6) snapped a three-game losing streak and won for just the second time in seven tries. The Cardinals (5-10) lost for the 10th time in 11 games.

    To make the playoffs as a wild card, the Bears must win at Detroit in their regular-season finale next Sunday, then have Minnesota lose to Green Bay or have Seattle lose its final two games. The Seahawks were home against San Francisco Sunday night.

    Matt Forte gained 88 yards in 12 carries, including a 4-yard TD run, for Chicago before leaving with an ankle injury early in the second half.

    Jay Cutler completed just one of his first 11 passes, then went 5 of 5 on a touchdown drive in the final minutes of the first half. He finished 12 of 26 for 146 yards and a touchdown.

    It was the defense’s dominance of Arizona’s NFL-worst offense that determined the outcome.

    The Cardinals continued to search for someone to move the ball.

    After he threw the interception to Tillman put Chicago up 28-6 on Arizona’s first offensive series after halftime, rookie Ryan Lindley was benched in favor of Brian Hoyer, claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh 13 days earlier.

    Kelvin Hayden picked off Hoyer’s pass late in the game and returned it 39 yards to the Arizona 10.

    But Adrian Wilson blocked Olindo Mare’s 20-yard field goal try and Justin Bethel returned it 82 yards with 1:46 to play for the Cardinals’ lone TD of the day.

    Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 111 yards, just his second 100-yard receiving game of the season. The first was in Week 3 against Philadelphia when the Cardinals were off to a 4-0 start.

    Marshall made a diving grab of Cutler’s long pass at the Arizona 14 early in the game, but Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt threw the challenge flag before the Bears could get the next play off. After the review, the pass was ruled incomplete.

    No matter, the Bears scored a moment later anyway.

    Chicago pinned the Cardinals deep and, on second-and-11 from the 3, Beanie Wells’ right knee gave way and he dropped the ball as he went backside first to the ground. Bowman grabbed it and skidded over the goal line for the first touchdown for the Bears defense since Nov. 4.

    Fitzgerald’s leaping grab of Lindley’s 18-yard pass helped set up Jay Feely’s 49-yard field goal that cut it to 7-3.

    But Forte rambled 36 yards on the final play of the first quarter and Cutler threw 30 yards to Marshall to the Arizona 4 — the Bears quarterback’s first completion of the game in seven throws. Forte carried it in from there and Chicago led 14-3.

    Arizona’s defense forced a Bears punt from their 6, and the Cardinals took over at the Chicago 32. But Lindley threw three errant passes, and a fake field goal of what would have been a 50-yard attempt went nowhere.

    Chicago soon gave Arizona another chance when Dave Zastudil’s punt careened off the Bears’ D.J. Moore and bounced into the hands of the Cardinals’ Michael Adams. Adams raced to the end zone but, as a muffed punt, it was brought back to the Chicago 36. Arizona advanced to the 18 before Feely’s 35-yard field goal cut the lead to 14-6 with 2:18 left in the half.

    That was plenty of time for Cutler, who after completing one of his first 11 passes, went 5-for-5, capped by an 11-yarder to a wide open Marshall, to put the Bears up 21-6 with 19 seconds left in the half. The highlight of the drive was a diving grab of Cutler’s 35-yard pass by Alshon Jeffery.

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