Ravens secure week off


Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens dug deep into their past to secure an easier path in the immediate future.

Using a stellar performance from the defense and an efficient effort from the offense, the Ravens beat the Buffalo Bills 19-7 Sunday to earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Baltimore needed San Diego to lose to Arizona in order to gain the top seed in the conference. The Chargers won, 27-20.

Chris McAlister returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown and the Ravens yielded only 39 yards rushing to put a pretty bow on the finest regular season in franchise history. Baltimore (13-3) will enter the playoffs with a four-game winning streak and nine wins in its last 10 games.

Matt Stover kicked four field goals for Baltimore, which didn't score a touchdown on offense — and didn't need one. That's because the defense carried the day, just as it did in 2000 when the Ravens marched to their lone Super Bowl title.

Steve McNair, who has revived the Baltimore offense, went 23-for-35 for 216 yards in directing an attack that on Sunday was conservative, yet effective.

McAlister's touchdown provided the Ravens with a 16-7 lead with 3:46 left in the third quarter. The Pro Bowl cornerback stepped in front of Peerless Price, reached high to grab the pass from J.P. Losman and scurried down the left sideline, holding the ball aloft in his right hand over the final 15 yards.

It was McAlister's career-high sixth interception of the season, and the fifth time this season the Ravens returned an interception for a touchdown.

Baltimore expanded its lead to 19-7, and Samari Rolle picked off Losman's pass in the end zone with just over two minutes left to seal the win.

Losman went 20-for-35 for 237 yards, but Buffalo (7-9) fell short in its bid to finish .500 in its first season under coach Dick Jauron.

Baltimore locked up a playoff berth two weeks earlier, but the Ravens coveted the first-round bye. It will open the playoffs at home on Jan. 13 or 14.

The Ravens went up 9-0 early in the third quarter when Stover kicked a 39-yard field goal after Kelly Gregg recovered a fumble by Willis McGahee, who was hit by Ray Lewis.

But the Bills wouldn't go quietly. Losman directed a 76-yard drive that surpassed the total yardage Buffalo had to that point, and his 44-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans closed the gap to 9-7.

Baltimore outgained Buffalo by more than 100 yards in the first half (177-72), but led by only 6-0 at the break.

The Ravens opened the game with a 13-play, 55-yard drive that produced a 26-yard field goal. McNair completed five passes to Derrick Mason during the possession, including an 8-yarder that enabled the quarterback to join Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton as the only players in NFL history with 30,000 yards passing and 3,500 rushing.

Buffalo gained 7 yards on six plays in the first quarter and didn't make its initial first down until Losman completed a 21-yard pass to Evans with just over 11 minutes left in the second quarter.

The drive ended in the Bills' third punt, and the Ravens moved 61 yards before Stover kicked a 37-yard field goal. McNair kept the drive alive with a 24-yard pass to Ovie Mughelli and a 14-yarder to Todd Heap on a third-and-6 from midfield.

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