Ravens win AFC North at expense of fading Giants

The Baltimore Ravens feel as if they’ve already started the

playoffs.

It’s a sensation the New York Giants may not experience this

year.

In a duel between two slumping teams desperate for a victory,

the Ravens beat the Giants 33-14 on Sunday to win the AFC North for

the second straight season.

”The difference was, for us, I just think we had a little bit

more sense of urgency because we knew what was at stake,”

Baltimore running back Ray Rice said. ”This was a championship

game for us. Solidify the home playoff game, back-to-back division

champs. That’s huge around here.”

The Ravens (10-5) were already assured a fifth straight trip to

the playoffs, but by winning the division crown, they are

guaranteed to open the playoffs at home during the first weekend in

January.

”I am as proud of this team right now as ever,” coach John

Harbaugh said.

The defending champion Giants, meanwhile, are simply hard to

figure out. This game was more important to them than it was to the

Ravens because New York (8-7) had not secured a playoff berth. Now,

after their second straight lopsided loss, the Giants need a win

over Philadelphia next week and a whole lot of help to get back

into the postseason.

”I just don’t have any answers,” defensive tackle Chris Canty

said. ”I just don’t know. It’s been tough. We just haven’t been

consistent, and it shows in our play and where we are at right

now.”

Joe Flacco threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns for the

Ravens, who led 24-7 at halftime and cruised to the finish behind a

short-handed defense that harassed quarterback Eli Manning and

limited New York to 186 yards.

Playing its second game with Jim Caldwell as offensive

coordinator, Baltimore scored touchdowns on its first two

possessions and amassed a season-high 533 yards – including 289 in

the first half alone.

”It’s about execution, man. It’s a simple word, but it’s a very

tough task to do,” said Rice, who ran for 107 yards and caught six

passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.

”We know what’s at stake. We want the AFC championship and it

starts tonight,” safety James Ihedigbo said. ”Playoffs started

for us. We’re not looking at regular season. Playoffs started for

us and we’re going to keep on playing.”

The Giants, on the other hand, have lost five of seven and were

coming off a 34-0 loss to Atlanta. This one was just as ugly.

”You saw the scoreboard,” Manning said. ”It wasn’t real

pretty, but that’s what can happen in football.”

Flacco rebounded from a stretch in which he committed two

turnovers in each of Baltimore’s three straight defeats. He

completed 25 of 36 passes, ran for a score and did not throw an

interception or lose a fumble.

He repeatedly picked on New York cornerback Corey Webster, who

simply couldn’t contain Torrey Smith or Anquan Boldin. Smith caught

five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, and Boldin finished with

seven receptions for 93 yards.

Bernard Pierce ran for 123 yards as part of a running attack

that generated 224 yards.

The Giants struggled on offense and were just as shaky on

defense, a horrible combination for a team looking to stay tied

atop the NFC East.

”What has happened over the course of the last couple of weeks

is very difficult to explain,” coach Tom Coughlin said. We just

don’t look like a well-oiled machine offensively at all.”

Said Manning: ”We knew we had to play our best football at the

end of the season to get into the playoffs and we haven’t done

that. When you’re not playing your best, teams can come out and

embarrass you.”

Baltimore scored on its first two possessions to take a 14-0

lead, upped the margin to 17 points at halftime and kept the Giants

at bay throughout the final 30 minutes. The Ravens held the ball

for 39 minutes, 21 seconds compared to 20:39 for New York.

Unless they get very lucky, the Giants will wrap up a

disappointing season next Sunday. Some of the players, however,

already seem to be thinking about next year.

”We have to fight. There are jobs at stake and there is pride

at stake,” linebacker Chase Blackburn said. ”Nine-and-seven

versus 8-8 is a big difference. Hopefully we have enough pride …

to come out and give our best effort.”

NOTES: Flacco has thrown for a career-high 3,783 yards this

season. … New York defensive linemen Marvin Austin and Canty both

left with knee injuries. … Boldin hurt his shoulder in the third

quarter and did not return. … Baltimore has won 10 straight

regular-season home finales and has 13 consecutive home victories

over NFC foes. … It was only the fifth time in 47 games that New

York did not force a turnover.

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and

http://twitter.com/AP-NFL