- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

BALTIMORE | The Baltimore Ravens charged into the postseason with a performance that typified their astonishing turnaround season.

Needing a victory to secure the final AFC wild card berth, the Ravens built a 17-point halftime lead and never let up in a 27-7 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

Baltimore (11-5) could have backed into the postseason if Buffalo beat New England earlier Sunday, but the Patriots’ 13-0 victory meant the Ravens lined up for the opening kickoff knowing they had to win to get in.

The playoffs open for Baltimore on Sunday on the road against AFC East champion Miami, but to get there, the Ravens had to adopt a postseason mentality against Jacksonville.

“This wasn’t just finishing up the season or a game that was going to get us into the playoffs. This was a playoff game,” center Jason Brown said. “That level of intensity, we had to come out full steam ahead. We’re not holding back any of our weapons; we’re not going to try and keep anybody fresh. We’re coming out and giving everything.”

After taking a 24-7 lead at halftime, Baltimore kept pressuring the stumbling Jaguars (5-11), who committed four turnovers and were held to a season-low in points.

“We finished up a long, tough year,” Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. “It’s not all bad, but it’s not good enough to feel good about it. Our job is to get into the postseason and fight for a world championship. We didn’t get it done this year.”

The Ravens did. And now they intend to make something of the opportunity.

“We have an opportunity to prove we’re the best team in the NFL,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

A year ago, Baltimore went 5-11 and finished last in the AFC North. The Ravens entered this season guided by a first-year coach, and their offense was placed in the hands of a rookie quarterback. They reversed their record, finishing the regular season with nine wins in 11 games.

“Back in training camp, we just knew how special this team could be,” linebacker Ray Lewis said.

Harbaugh guaranteed Tuesday the Patriots would win, and he was right. Quarterback Joe Flacco guessed the Jaguars would put up a fight for about a quarter, and he also was correct.

Knowing that anything short of a victory would ruin an otherwise successful season, the Ravens wasted no time getting to work. Flacco completed a 48-yard pass to Mark Clayton on the game’s fourth offensive play, setting up a field goal by Matt Stover.

The Ravens then forced a fumble, but that opportunity ended with a Stover misfire from 48 yards, ending his run of 14 straight successful field-goal tries.

Jacksonville took a 7-3 lead on a 23-yard pass from David Garrard to Alvin Pearman, who was signed Thursday to replace injured running back Fred Taylor.

Baltimore answered with a 78-yard drive in which Flacco went 6-for-7 for 69 yards before Le’Ron McClain ran it in from the 5.

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