- Associated Press - Sunday, January 1, 2012

CINCINNATI — The Ravens clinched a title and headed home, which is the only place they want to be at this time of the season.

Ray Rice had a pair of long touchdown runs Sunday, leading Baltimore to a 24-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that gave the Ravens their third AFC North title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Baltimore (12-4) will get a first-round bye followed by a playoff game at home, where the Ravens are 8-0 this season.

Despite the loss, the Bengals (9-7) also got into the playoffs, securing the final wild card as the Jets and Broncos also lost. It’s Cincinnati’s third playoff appearance in the past 21 years.

With Paul Brown Stadium packed with Bengals fans for the first time all season, Rice made the biggest plays on a blustery afternoon that made it tough to throw. He had a career-best 70-yard touchdown run on the fourth play.

Rice also broke a 51-yard touchdown run on a third-and-1 play with 5:41 to go, essentially finishing off Cincinnati’s chances of yet another big comeback. Rice finished with 191 yards on 24 carries and set a club record with his 15th touchdown of the season.

Baltimore’s defense had a big hand in it, too. Linebacker Terrell Suggs hit tight end Jermaine Gresham after a catch, jarring the ball loose. Three plays later, Rice went 51 yards to put the Ravens on the verge of a title.

Suggs sacked Andy Dalton, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal on their next possession. Cincinnati got the ball back at its 20 with 1:05 to go and no timeouts left. The game ended with Dalton’s desperation pass into the end zone.

During that final, futile drive, the Broncos’ score was shown on the videoboard, drawing a loud cheer from the crowd of 63,439. The Bengals sold out their stadium by offering two-for-one ticket deals. Bengals players received congratulatory hand slaps from fans as they left the field after the loss.

Ravens players raised their helmets in triumph as they ran off the field after Dalton’s final pass. They made home-field advantage for the playoffs an overriding goal after having to play on the road each of their last three years in the postseason.

Wind gusts of over 30 mph toyed with long passes and kicks, forcing teams to go conservative. The Ravens got the better of it behind their multifaceted running back.

Rice found a huge hole behind Marshal Yanda’s block and outran Cincinnati’s secondary only 2 minutes into the game.

Cincinnati’s defense got sloppy and helped the Ravens drive for a touchdown and a 17-3 lead at the half. Penalties for holding, illegal contact and a high hit moved the ball to the Cincinnati 9-yard line with 19 seconds left. The Ravens used their final timeout to set up Joe Flacco’s touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta in the far corner of the end zone.

Flacco went 15 of 19 for 130 yards without an interception.

The Bengals stayed in playoff contention by pulling off comebacks, overcoming double-digit deficits in the second half three times. They put themselves in position for another one when Bernard Scott broke a 25-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Mike Nugent’s 46-yard field goal cut it to 17-13 early in the fourth quarter, but that was all they managed.

The Bengals reached the playoffs despite losing all seven of their games against playoff contenders this season.

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