Saturday’s NFL: Ravens win, edge closer to playoffs
Baltimore — The Baltimore Ravens didn’t force a turnover, scored only two touchdowns and were dangerously close to going into overtime at home against lowly Indianapolis.
“We didn’t play our best game,” coach John Harbaugh readily acknowledged.
Though the Ravens’ performance Saturday was not particularly artistic, they perceived the final result to be a thing of beauty: Ravens 23, Colts 16.
Baltimore (9-6) scored on its first two possessions and held off the skidding Colts (3-12) in a windy, rain-soaked second half.
The Ravens will reach the playoffs as an AFC wild card by defeating Cincinnati at home next Sunday. Striving for its first postseason berth since 2014, Baltimore has won five of six following a 4-5 start.
“We found a way to win it. That’s the thing, it’s a win,” Harbaugh said. “It doesn’t matter. You have to find a way to win in this league.”
Joe Flacco threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns, Justin Tucker kicked three field goals and the Ravens did just enough to squeeze out a victory.
“I wish we had gotten into the end zone one more time,” Flacco said. “It’s not always pretty.”
Indianapolis closed to 16-13 in the third quarter before Flacco threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Maxx Williams with 8:40 remaining.
It was 23-16 when Anthony Walker blocked a Ravens punt , giving the Colts the ball at the Baltimore 27 with 2:36 left. Indianapolis moved to the 10 before a third-down sack and a fourth-down incompletion ended the comeback bid.
“We had a great chance to win this game,” Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett said. “We just didn’t get it done down there.”
Flacco, who went 29 for 38, has thrown for seven TDs with just one interception over his last four games.
“We’re a very excited, a very confident football team,” Flacco said.
The Colts have lost six in a row for the first time since 2011, when they opened 0-13. That was the year before they drafted quarterback Andrew Luck, whose absence this season with a shoulder injury contributed heavily to the team’s slide into the AFC South cellar.
Brissett completed 16 of 33 passes for 215 yards and Frank Gore had 68 yards rushing and a touchdown catch for Indianapolis. More importantly, the Colts did not commit a turnover against a team that leads the NFL with 33 takeaways.
Adam Vinatieri kicked three field goals for the Colts, but he had one blocked and came up short on a 60-yard try at the end of the first half.
Flacco went 16 for 22 for 157 yards to help the Ravens take a 13-7 halftime lead.
After kicking a field goal on its first possession, Baltimore blocked a field goal try by Vinatieri. The Ravens then launched a 71-yard drive that ended with Flacco tossing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Michael Campanaro for a 10-0 lead.
Brissett answered with a 14-yard TD pass to Gore, and Tucker kicked a 39-yard field goal for Baltimore after the two-minute warning.
Tucker connected from 36 yards out to increase the lead to 16-7 with 5 1/2 minutes gone in the third quarter, but Vinatieri kicked a pair for the Colts to make it 16-13.
Vikings shut out Packers
While winning at Lambeau Field means a lot to the Minnesota Vikings, the NFC North champions have bigger goals in mind.
A first-round playoff bye is well within reach, and could be secured as soon as Sunday.
The Vikings took care of business on their end with a 16-0 victory Saturday night over the injury-depleted Packers, the team's first shutout in 24 years. Having already clinched the division title, Minnesota (12-3) can wrap up a first-round bye if the Carolina Panthers lose or tie on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
"I'm hoping we can get one more win, work on some things we need to work on ... and then go out and play our rear ends off in the playoffs," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
Stefon Diggs caught a 4-yard pass from quarterback Case Keenum just inside the back line of the end zone in the first quarter for the only touchdown. After the game, Keenum stopped before heading up the tunnel at Lambeau, clapping his hands above his head while Vikings fans chanted "Skol! Skol!"
They felt right at home in Titletown.
"Defense played absolutely incredible today, and we did enough. It doesn't matter how, it matters how many," Keenum said.
The Packers (7-8) managed to hold a 239-236 edge in total yards. They were still shut out twice in a season for the first time since 2006.
"I never felt more defeated, more embarrassed by a performance. Yeah, we had opportunities, and we didn't connect when we did," receiver Randall Cobb said.
Steelers cut Harrison
James Harrison’s long tenure with the Steelers is over.
The AFC North champions released the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2008 NFL defensive player of the year on Saturday to make room for right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert is returning from a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy.
The 39-year-old Harrison is the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, piling up 80.5 during his 14 seasons with the Steelers and 82.5 during his career. Harrison briefly retired in September 2014 following a forgettable 2013 season in Cincinnati but returned when the Steelers ran into injury trouble.
He collected at least five sacks every season between 2014 and 2016 and signed a two-year deal last spring that would have kept him in Pittsburgh through his 40th birthday.
Harrison’s playing time dipped significantly this season. He has been active in just five of Pittsburgh’s 14 games despite being injury-free.