Never count out the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs.
In their sixth trip in seven seasons with John Harbaugh as coach and Joe Flacco at quarterback, the Ravens beat archrival Pittsburgh 30-17 Saturday night in an AFC wild-card game. That sends Baltimore to New England, a place the Ravens twice have won in the postseason, including in the 2012 season when they won the Super Bowl.
”We’re definitely familiar with playing up there, but that doesn’t really mean anything,” Flacco said of Gillette Stadium. ”They’re a good football team, and we’re going to have to be on top of everything to go in there and get a victory.”
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In the NFC game, the Carolina Panthers, the second division winner with a losing record in NFL history, also became the second such team to win a postseason game.
Emulating the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, Carolina (8-8-1) got its first playoff victory in nine years by holding Arizona to 78 yards in a 27-16 win. That was the lowest yield in a postseason game.
”We know who we are – menacing, stifling and we are going to get after you,” cornerback Josh Norman said. ”We know when there is blood in the water and when there is, our sharks are going to eat.”
Ravens 30, Steelers 15
At Pittsburgh, Flacco tossed two second-half touchdowns in the bitter AFC North rivalry. Flacco hit Torrey Smith for an 11-yard score in the third quarter and Crockett Gillmore with a 21-yard TD pass in the fourth period one play after Terrell Suggs picked off Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens won in Pittsburgh for the first time in the postseason; Pittsburgh had been 9-0 in third games of a season against the same opponent.
Baltimore (11-6) sacked Roethlisberger five times and kept the NFL’s second-ranked offense off-balance. Roethlisberger passed for 334 yards, but the Steelers (11-6) settled for too many field goals.
”The big thing is we have a good team and we didn’t hurt ourselves tonight,” Flacco said. ”We didn’t have a lot of possessions early. We made the most of them by getting some kind of points.
”We played a clean football game and kept at it.”
Flacco’s seven road playoff wins are the most by a quarterback since the 1970 merger.
Panthers 27, Cardinals 16
Fourth-year quarterback Cam Newton threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns for his first playoff victory, and Jonathan Stewart ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on a rain-soaked afternoon.
Carolina won its final four regular-season games to take the NFC South. It now heads to either Seattle or Green Bay, depending on the outcome of the Detroit-Dallas game on Sunday.
After a 9-1 start, Arizona’s once promising season was undone by a rash of injuries, including to quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Third-stringer Ryan Lindley went 16 for 28 for 82 yards with two interceptions and one TD pass.
”You are called upon to win football games and we didn’t do that,” Lindley said.
Visiting Arizona (11-6) started a series of laterals on the final play and lost 19 yards, making for the record.
Detroit (11-5) at Dallas (12-4), Sunday
It might be simplifying this matchup too much, but if the NFC East champion Cowboys can run on the stingy wild-card Lions’ defense, it could make all the difference.
DeMarco Murray easily led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards, nearly 500 more than runner-up Le’Veon Bell. He was the key to Dallas’ dominant, well-balanced attack.
But Detroit had the best rushing D in the league, as well as the No. 2 overall unit.
”You can’t worry about things like that,” Murray said. ”You’ve just got to play ball and try to execute what you do offensively.”
The Lions will have defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in the lineup. He was originally suspended for this game for stepping on the foot of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers last week, but a hearings officer upheld his appeal and handed him a $70,000 fine instead.
Cincinnati (10-5-1) at Indianapolis (11-5), Sunday
The Bengals are trying to erase nearly a quarter-century of ugly postseason memories. When they have gotten there (six times) since their last playoff victory after the 1990 season, they have gone home with an opening defeat.
Marvin Lewis has taken the Bengals to the playoffs in 2005, `09, and the last four seasons, with that recent streak with Andy Dalton at quarterback. Lewis can tie Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Mora and Steve Owen for most consecutive playoff losses (six) among coaches in NFL history. Lewis also can tie Mora for most consecutive playoff losses to start a career, and tie Owen for most consecutive playoff losses with one team. Cincinnati also can become the first team in league history to lose opening-round playoff games in four straight seasons.
Indy would gladly oblige, and routed Cincinnati 27-0 during the season.
”When you’re playing the game, you’re just telling yourself, `I’m not ready to go home. I’m not ready to pack my locker. I’m not ready to move into an offseason just yet,”’ longtime star receiver Reggie Wayne said. ”So you go out there and you give it everything you’ve got. You go out there and you want to make sure you leave no stones unturned.”
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