Cleveland — Lamar Jackson has the Baltimore Ravens soaring to new heights.
Jackson threw three touchdown passes — two to tight end Mark Andrews late in the first half — and rushed for 103 yards as the Ravens clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs for the first time with their 11th straight win, 31-15 over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“It feels good,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The players deserve a tremendous amount of credit for it. It’s hard to win any game in the NFL. When you put together this kind of season, it’s quite an accomplishment.”
The Ravens (13-2) shook off a sluggish start and avenged their last loss, a 40-25 to the Browns on Sept. 29.
But Baltimore looks nothing like the team it was three months ago as the marvelous, multi-dimensional Jackson has taken the league by storm with his arm and legs. Jackson finished with 238 yards passing and went over 100 yards for the fifth time this season.
Harbaugh laughed when asked about Jackson’s eye-popping stats. He has 36 TD passes and just six interceptions.
“What more do you need to say,” Harbaugh said. “It’s amazing. That’s not bad for a running back.”
The Ravens did suffer an injury that could hurt their playoff hopes as running back Mark Ingram went down without being touched in the fourth quarter. Ingram immediately grabbed his lower left leg and collapsed when he tried to stand.
Ingram, who went over 1,000 yards rushing in the second quarter and caught a 12-yard TD pass from Jackson in the third, was able to walk to the sideline to be evaluated before limping to the locker room.
Harbaugh said Ingram did not suffer any structural damage, but he’ll undergo more testing Monday.
The Browns (6-9) were officially eliminated from the postseason, and now first-year coach Freddie Kitchens may be down to his last game. Kitchens has appeared overwhelmed at times and the home finale was a microcosm of this disappointing season as the Browns underperformed and will miss the playoffs for the 17th straight season.
Baker Mayfield threw a 3-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to Odell Beckham Jr., whose acquisition by the Browns in March sent expectations soaring.
In the closing minutes, Beckham flung his helmet on the sideline in frustration and exchanged words with Kitchens.
Mayfield, who finished 20 of 33 for 192 yards with two TDs and a pick, said it’s not all Kitchens’ fault that Cleveland’s season soured.
“Any time you have a head coach and you have a losing record, that’s the first person everybody points to,” he said. “But it goes to many more things than just Freddie. We can all be better in this process and I think that’s what it comes down to, there’s no one single thing to blame. It’s just overall, we all have to bring it more and more every day to meet the expectations we set for ourselves.”
Outplayed and in their own way for most of the first half, the Ravens scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes to take a 14-6 lead at the break.
Jackson connected on a 39-yard TD pass to Andrews with 1:18 for Baltimore’s first score, and then hooked up with his tight end again on a sensational play the electrifying QB can add to his MVP candidacy.
Jackson stayed alive in the pocket long enough to buy time and fired an off-balance pass to the back of the end zone, where Andrews made a terrific leaping catch.
Baltimore had been unable to do anything on its first four possessions and the Browns appeared on their way to a surprising halftime lead. However, Kitchens made another head-scratching play call on third-and-1 when he had Mayfield pitch the ball to Kareem Hunt, who looked like he was going to throw it before being brought down for an 8-yard loss.
“We had opportunities to make plays and we just didn’t do it,” said Kitchens, adding he was prepared to go for it on fourth down if Hunt had just thrown an incompletion.
The Ravens hurt themselves with some uncharacteristic mistakes to set up Cleveland’s first touchdown after Jackson’s fumble near mid-field.
Baltimore’s defense committed two penalties on fourth down to extend the Browns’ drive and cornerback Jimmy Smith was called for pass interference in the end zone, giving Cleveland first-and-goal at the 1.
On the next play, Mayfield rolled to his right and hit tight end Demetrius Harris.
►Kansas City 26, (at) Chicago 3: Patrick Mahomes threw for two touchdowns and ran for another score, and the Chiefs stayed in contention for a first-round playoff bye.
Kansas City (11-4) earned its fifth straight win and remained a game behind New England for the AFC’s second seed. The Patriots clinched their 11th consecutive AFC East championship by beating Buffalo on Saturday. The Chiefs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England thanks to a victory two weeks ago that helped secure their fourth AFC West title in a row.
Mahomes, playing his 30th game, became the fastest player to reach the 9,000-yard passing mark. The 2018 MVP was 23 of 33 for 251 yards, giving him 9,238 in three seasons since the Chiefs drafted him with the No. 10 overall pick in 2017.
Harrison Butker kicked a career-best 56-yard field goal that was the fourth-longest in franchise history. He also hit both the left and right uprights on a missed extra point.
The Bears (7-8) dropped their second straight after winning four of five. The Monsters of the Midway are in danger of finishing with a losing record in a season that began with Super Bowl hopes.
►(At) Philadelphia 17, Dallas 9: Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones broke up Dak Prescott’s fourth-down pass to Michael Gallup in the end zone with 1:15 left and Philadelphia denied Dallas a division crown.
The Cowboys (7-8) would have clinched their second straight NFC East title with a win in Philadelphia. And they would have eliminated the Eagles (8-7). The Eagles need to win their final game next week at the Giants to clinch the East. The Cowboys can still win the East with a win next week against Washington and an Eagles loss to the Giants.
The difference between a division title and missing the playoffs could determine the fate of Dallas coach Jason Garrett.
Playing with a sore right shoulder, Prescott attacked the Eagles cornerbacks on the final drive and had Dallas in position to possibly tie the game until Jones made the clutch stop.
Carson Wentz was 31-for-40 passing for 319 yards and a touchdown, and Miles Saunders ran for a score to keep the Eagles’ playoff hopes alive.
►Arizona 27, (at) Seattle 13: Kenyan Drake rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns, Larry Fitzgerald added a 21-yard TD reception, and the Cardinals stymied Russell Wilson and the injury-depleted Seahawks.
The Seahawks (11-4) saw their hopes for the No. 1 seed in the NFC potentially vanish with another late-season loss to the Cardinals. Seattle can still claim the NFC West with a win next week over San Francisco, but will need major help to earn total home-field advantage after entering the week as the top seed in the NFC.
Drake had an 80-yard TD run in the first quarter and provided the capper with a 3-yard TD with 4:18 remaining to take a 27-13 lead. Drake’s 166 yards were a season high against Seattle.
The question now is Seattle’s health going into next week. Seattle faced the Cardinals without four key starters: left tackle Duane Brown, safety Quandre Diggs, cornerback Shaquill Griffin and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The Seahawks depth was thinned further when starting running back Chris Carson went down with a hip injury early in the second quarter and backup C.J. Prosise suffered an arm injury only a few minutes later.
Arizona (5-9-1) lost No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray to a hamstring injury midway through the third quarter.
►New Orleans 38, (at) Tennessee 28: Drew Brees threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns and Alvin Kamara ran for two TDs as the Saints kept their chase of the NFC’s No. 1 seed alive by rallying from a 14-point deficit.
The Saints (12-3) had to win after San Francisco beat the Rams, 34-31, on Saturday night. They scored 24 straight points to keep alive their chance at one of the NFC’s top two seeds and a first-round playoff bye going into their regular-season finale at Carolina.
Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas also set the NFL record for most catches in a season. The Saints receiver needed 10 to tie Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison’s mark of 143 catches in 2002. Thomas finished with 12 catches for 136 yards, his last reception a 2-yard TD with 2:10 left for a 38-28 lead.
The Titans (8-7) still have a shot at the AFC’s final playoff berth after Houston won the AFC South title beating Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Jets beating Pittsburgh 16-10 means the Titans must beat the Texans in Houston in the finale to earn their second playoff berth in three seasons.
►(At) N.Y. Jets 16, Pittsburgh 10: Le’Veon Bell helped deal his former team’s playoff hopes a big blow.
The Steelers (8-7) entered the game controlling their postseason chances and would have clinched a berth with wins in their final two games, but now need some help. Pittsburgh now needs to win next week at Baltimore to stay in the mix.
The Steelers also have more injury concerns as running back James Conner, center Maurkice Pouncey and quarterback Mason Rudolph all left with injuries.
Bell ran for 72 yards, including 7 on a big third-down play in the fourth quarter, on 25 carries while facing the team with which he spent his first six NFL seasons. After sitting out all last season in a contract dispute, Bell signed with the Jets (6-9) in the offseason.
Devlin Hodges, who was benched earlier in the game after throwing two interceptions, came back in early in the fourth quarter when Rudolph went out with a left shoulder injury. Hodges had a chance to lead the Steelers to a comeback win, but fell short. His deep pass for James Washington on third-and-7 from the Jets 44 was knocked away by Marcus Maye in the end zone. On fourth down, Hodges’ pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster fell incomplete in front of a MetLife Stadium crowd that appeared to be at least half-filled by Steelers fans.
►(At) Miami 38, Cincinnati 35 (OT): A laugher became a thriller for Miami, and it needed overtime to beat Cincinnati.
Miami gave up 16 points in the final 29 seconds of regulation but regrouped, and Jason Sanders kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired.
Andy Dalton threw for 396 yards and four touchdown passes, including three in the final 5:01 of regulation as Cincinnati rallied from a 35-12 deficit.
After the gallant comeback, the Bengals (1-14) settled for clinching next year’s No. 1 draft pick. They’re assured of at least tying for the worst record in club history; they went 2-14 in 2002.
The Dolphins (4-11) again hurt their chances of landing a franchise quarterback in next year’s draft, but rookie coach Brian Flores has repeatedly said he’s all-out to win now. Rebuilding Miami has four victories in the past eight games with a ragtag roster.
Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 419 yards and four scores, including one to rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Each team punted twice to start the extra period before Fitzpatrick led a 10-play, 51-yard march for the winning score.
►Oakland 24, (at) L.A. Chargers 17: Derek Carr threw for 291 yards and a touchdown as the Raiders kept their playoff hopes. The Raiders (7-8) had slim postseason chances coming into the day, but losses by Pittsburgh and Tennessee have given them renewed hope. They need a win over Denver next week and some help for only their second postseason trip since 2003.
Carr completed 26 of 30 passes and also ran for a score. The 86.7 percent completion rate is his second highest in a game and is the fifth time in his six-year career he has completed more than 80 percent in a game.
Oakland took control with touchdowns late in the first half and on the opening drive of the second half. Hunter Renfrow had his first 100-yard receiving game with seven receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown. DeAndre Washington added 85 yards rushing on 23 carries and a TD.
Melvin Gordon scored two touchdowns for the Chargers (5-10), who have dropped five of their last six. Philip Rivers was 27 of 39 for 279 yards in what could be his final home game with the Chargers. The 16-year veteran quarterback’s contract expires at the end of the season. Keenan Allen had five receptions for 71 yards.
It was the Chargers’ final game in Carson before they move into the new stadium at Hollywood Park next season with the Rams.
►(At) Atlanta 24, Jacksonville 12: Devonta Freeman scored two touchdowns for the Falcons before Jacksonville took a snap, and that was enough to beat the woeful Jaguars.
Matt Ryan threw for 384 yards and Julio Jones had his biggest game of the year, hauling in 10 catches for 166 yards.
Before thousands of empty seats at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons (6-9) won their third straight game while holding the Jaguars (5-10) to 288 yards in Atlanta’s final home game of a disappointing season. The Falcons piled up 518 yards.
Jacksonville came out flat in its first game since the firing of top executive Tom Coughlin, who was let go on Wednesday after several questionable roster moves and a scathing critique from the players’ union over his draconian disciplinary methods. The Jaguars have lost six of their last seven games and 20 of 27 since a 3-1 start to the 2018 season, which came on the heels of a surprising run to the AFC championship game.
►(At) Indianapolis 38, Carolina 6: Nyheim Hines pulled off a rare feat for Indianapolis. He scored on two punt returns, set up another touchdown with a 40-yard return four plays into the game and provided the jolt of energy the Colts needed to pull away from Carolina.
The Colts (7-8) snapped a four-game losing streak in their home finale and can avoid their second losing season in three years with a win next week.
Carolina (5-10), meanwhile, lost its seventh straight on a day it hoped new starting quarterback Will Grier could help the franchise change directions.
Instead, Hines never gave the Panthers a chance with a record-breaking performance.
His 195 yards on three returns made for the highest single-game mark in franchise history – and the most by any NFL player since Eddie Drummond had 199 against Jacksonville in 2004.
►N.Y. Giants 41, (at) Washington 35 (OT): Daniel Jones put together the best performance of his rookie season fresh off an ankle injury, throwing for 352 yards and five touchdown passes.
Jones was 28 of 42 in his first action since missing the past two games with a sprained right ankle. He tossed two TDs to Kaden Smith — including the winner — and also connected with Sterling Shepard, Saquon Barkley and Cody Latimer. His career-best fifth TD pass, 3 yards to Smith, came with 4:15 left in overtime after Washington (3-12) tied it in the final minute of regulation on a 99-yard drive.
Barkley was the perfect complement for Jones and tormented a Washington secondary missing several regulars. He was responsible for 279 total yards: 189 rushing and 90 receiving and a score each way.
The trio of Jones, Barkley and Shepard showed further evidence that whoever is running the Giants (4-11) next season has talented building blocks to work with on offense, along with a high draft pick.
With the loss, Washington moved into the driver’s seat to draft Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young.