Originally found on Fox Sports:
National Football League
Dec. 18, 2023 12:15 a.m. ET
The road to the Super Bowl will go through Baltimore in the AFC. At least for now.
With three weeks left in the regular season, the Ravens have a one-game lead over the Miami Dolphins for the conference’s No. 1 seed and lone bye following their 23-7 Sunday night victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Stadium. With the Broncos and Steelers also losing this week, Baltimore (11-3) secured a playoff berth for the second straight year and for the fifth time in six years.
It’s impossible to ignore how Jaguars’ miscues made their job easier on Sunday.
The Ravens led 10-0 in the first half, but they could’ve been trailing entering the third quarter. The Jaguars (8-6) missed back-to-back field goals — both from 50-plus yards — then quarterback Trevor Lawrence somehow dropped the ball on a scramble in the red zone, which was recovered by the Ravens.
In a disastrous end to the first half for Jacksonville, Lawrence decided not to spike the ball after a 36-yard completion to receiver Zay Jones to get to the 5-yard line left about 12 seconds on the clock by the time the Jags got lined up again. Lawrence then erred in completing a pass to rookie Parker Washington, who was tackled in bounds. Jacksonville had no timeouts left and couldn’t get lined up in time for another play before halftime.
Lawrence later lost a second fumble after a strip sack from Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike in the fourth quarter, when Jacksonville tried to rally down 20-7 with just over five minutes left.
Alas, a win is a win. And the Ravens have been getting a lot of those lately.
They’ve now won four straight and eight of their last nine, playing their best ball with the postseason fast approaching.
On Sunday, it was Lamar Jackson’s greatness that elevated the Ravens, with their offense playing below its standard points-wise (entered the game having scored 30 points in six of its last seven games). With 58 seconds left in the third quarter, the former league MVP somehow spun out of a would-be sack from Dawuane Smoot and completed a 26-yard pass across his body to second-year tight end Isaiah Likely, who corralled the ball between two defenders to set up Baltimore in scoring position at the 4-yard line. Running back Gus Edwards punched in the one-yard touchdown, highlighting a night where the Ravens surpassed 200 yards rushing for the second time this season.
What makes the Ravens’ Super Bowl hopes so realistic this year is that Jackson is healthy. Last week marked the first time since December 2021 that he had started and finished a game in December. He completed a second Sunday.
The prospect of a healthy Jackson, plus an elite Ravens’ defense, makes Baltimore one of the two or three scariest teams in the NFL.
Baltimore’s standout defensively Sunday was Madubuike, who extended his streak to 11 games with at least half a sack, tying the league’s single-season mark that is shared by the Chiefs’ Chris Jones (2018) and Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson (2021). He brought what was already a career-high sack total up to 12.
“I call him baby Aaron Donald,” Jackson told the NBC broadcast postgame. “He’s been doing his thing.”
The Ravens’ schedule doesn’t get any easier. They have to get through a gauntlet to clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed — at the NFC-leading San Francisco 49ers (11-3), vs. the AFC No. 2-seeded Dolphins (10-4) and vs. the playoff-hopeful Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7).
They’re in the driver’s seat, though.
That’s all you can ask for at this point in the season.
“We just got to keep our heads down, keep our poise, stay focused on what we’re trying to achieve at the end of the season,” Jackson said. “We’ll take it from there.”
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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