With their playoff hopes on the line, Baltimore faced a must-win game against Cleveland for the final week of the season.
The Ravens won the coin toss and deferred, giving the Browns and Baker Mayfield the ball to start the game. Three plays later, Mayfield was intercepted by cornerback Jimmy Smith on 2nd-&-5.
JIMMY SMITH PICK! pic.twitter.com/nA6sESaf5K— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 30, 2018
After a penalty on first down and a three-yard run on second, Baltimore faced a 3rd-&-12. Lamar Jackson hit tight end Hayden Hurst for an 11-yard gain. The offense elected to go for it on fourth down and Jackson was able to pick it up with his legs. After a 28-yard pass to tight end Mark Andrews, the drive stalled and Justin Tucker was brought on for a field goal, giving the Ravens an early 3-0 lead at home.
Baltimore did not hold a lead for long, however, as Mayfield responded with a 28-yard touchdown pass to former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman. The Browns led 7-3.
Like he’s done several times this season, Jackson immediately answered with a touchdown of his own. Jackson had a run for 24 yards and then 25 yards on his touchdown, reclaiming the lead, 10-7.
.@Lj_era8 HIT THE JETS! pic.twitter.com/tEmHUUdHgM— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 30, 2018
Baltimore’s defense forced a three-and-out next when they stuffed running back Nick Chubb on 3rd-&-1. The Ravens began to pull away on their next possession as they drove 77 yards on six plays. Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon had rushes for 24 and 20 respectively on the drive. The touchdown came from Jackson on the ground again, extending the lead 17-7.
.@Lj_era8 DOES IT AGAIN! pic.twitter.com/01uw8zTw62— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 30, 2018
Baltimore tacked on another three points with a 35-yard field goal after another punt from Cleveland. The defense continued it’s dominance with another interception, the second for Smith.
.@NLtyoung breaks up the pass, Jimmy Smith gets the INT! pic.twitter.com/ng2V6D2cSB— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 30, 2018
Unfortunately, the Ravens offense was unable to capitalize off of the turnover. After a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Willie Snead IV to set them up in the red zone, Jackson fumbled the ball while attempting to reach the ball over the goal line on third down. The Browns recovered the ball, but since the play was initially ruled a touchdown and blown dead, Cleveland was stripped of a potential touchdown on the return.
The Browns were given the ball at the seven-yard line instead. They quickly went three-and-out, however, as Mayfield under threw a wide open Jarvis Landry for a potential touchdown on first down.
Baltimore’s offense quickly gave the ball back after only picking up one first down on the following drive.
Cleveland had a chance at a field goal before the end of the half, but the 46-yard attempt was no good. The Ravens led 20-7 entering the half.
The momentum took a turn for the worst to start the second half, with the Browns cutting the lead down to 20-14. The touchdown was a 48-yard pass to Landry. Baltimore’s secondary continued to struggle with blown coverages and miscommunication.
Jackson and the Ravens offense responded with a clock-killing drive, lasting over five minutes. Jackson seemingly scored his third rushing touchdown of the day on a 33-yard run, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty on tight end Maxx Williams. The drive ended with a 44-yard field goal, extending the lead 23-14.
After both teams went three-and-out, Cleveland cut into the lead again with a 35-yard field goal. Baltimore only led by six points at the top of the fourth quarter. They extended their lead to nine with a 23-yard field goal after a six minute drive.
With 7:20 left, it was up to the Ravens defense to protect the lead. Nine plays later, however, Mayfield found rookie Antonio Callaway in the end zone for a touchdown. With 3:24 remaining in the game to decide their season, Baltimore was clinging to a two-point lead.
Things only got worse as the Ravens offense quickly went three-and-out, giving the Browns the ball back with 1:49 remaining. This situation had become all too familiar for Baltimore in recent years, as the defense had failed to protect a lead and save the season in back-to-back years. The nightmare appeared to be unfolding again, right in front of the packed stands of M&T Bank Stadium. These weren’t the same Ravens, however. Cleveland elected to go for it on 4th-&-10 instead of attempting the 57-yard field goal when C.J. Mosley made the season-saving interception.
C.J. Mosley with a huge interception. Locked up a playoff spot for the Ravens pic.twitter.com/zaKbM8VCza— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) December 31, 2018
The defense which had failed to close out big games for several years in a row had done so in back-to-back weeks, in their two biggest games of the season. Baltimore improved to 10-6 and became winners of the AFC North for the 2018 season. Now they host the Los Angeles Chargers for a home playoff game next weekend in a highly anticipated rematch.