Ravens fend off Buccaneers for win
The Baltimore Ravens took care of business in workmanlike fashion against a team they hadn't played in years.
By doing so, the Ravens put themselves in perfect position for an emotional matchup against a team they know all too well.
Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes, and Baltimore beat Tampa Bay 17-10 Sunday in their first meeting since 2006.
The Ravens (8-3) improved to 5-0 at home this season and remained tied atop the AFC North with Pittsburgh. Baltimore will be striving for its franchise-record ninth straight home win next Sunday night against the Steelers.
''The message is simple for us: We haven't lost at home, so let's defend that,'' linebacker Ray Lewis said. ''We take care of that, everything else take care of itself.
''From our side and their side, there is no talking that has to be done. We've been playing each other a long time and now it comes down to one of those showdown games.''
Next week's game wouldn't have been nearly as important if the Ravens didn't win this one.
''I don't think you ever want to diminish this victory,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ''It's one we really need to get where we're going. It's a game that bridged us into December. It gives us an opportunity to accomplish some things. We're playing the biggest game of the year.''
Flacco connected with Todd Heap for a 65-yard score and hit Derrick Mason for a 10-yard touchdown during a three-minute span of the second quarter to stake Baltimore to a 17-3 halftime lead. Flacco now has 53 career TD passes, surpassing Vinny Testaverde (51) for most in Ravens history.
''Vinny didn't play here that long (two years), so it's not really that much of an accomplishment,'' Flacco said. ''Hopefully, I can make that a little bit higher for somebody else to break in the future sometime.''
Flacco completed 25 of 35 passes for 289 yards and had a 76-yard touchdown throw to Ray Rice called back because of a block in the back by Anquan Boldin.
Tampa Bay (7-4) still has not beaten a team with a winning record. The Buccaneers have lost to New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Baltimore by a combined 113-50 score.
''That doesn't factor into anything. We're a team with a winning record,'' cornerback Ronde Barber said. ''We're just playing. You like to win them all, regardless of who the opponent is.''
Coming close didn't make the defeat any easier to take.
''There's no positives,'' Barber said. ''You either find a way to win or you don't - and we didn't today.''
Josh Freeman went 17 for 37 for 162 yards and a touchdown. Although he avoided being sacked, Freeman often was forced to throw under pressure and had only one completion of more than 20 yards.
''I played extremely poorly. There are a number of balls I usually hit that missed,'' Freeman said. ''I just wasn't getting it done.''
Freeman threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow with 3:05 left to make it 17-10, but the Buccaneers didn't get the ball back.
''I thought we were in control. We were never really threatened until the end of the game,'' Flacco said. ''We had to do a good job there and put the game away.''
With the score 3-all late in the second quarter, Heap slipped behind two Tampa Bay defenders, caught a pass from Flacco in stride and raced to the end zone on the longest play of his 10-year career.
The Buccaneers then went three-and-out, and an iffy pass interference call against Myron Lewis preceded Flacco's touchdown pass to Mason with 32 seconds left in the half.
Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris disputed the penalty at the time and continued to protest while running off the field at halftime.
''I disagreed with it at the time, but it is what it is,'' he said. ''My opinion really doesn't matter. The call was made and you got to move on.''
Mason finished with eight catches for 87 yards.
Baltimore made only two first downs in its first two series, but punter Sam Koch twice pinned the Buccaneers inside the 20. That enabled the Ravens to begin their third possession at the Tampa Bay 41, which led to a 45-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
After another Buccaneers punt, Aqib Talib got his team-high sixth interception and returned it 25 yards to the Baltimore 31. It was the first interception thrown by Flacco at home this season; he had gone 128 passes without one.
Tampa Bay safety Cody Grimm hurt his left ankle during the return and was carted off the field. He did not return.
After the turnover, Tampa Bay failed to gain a yard on three plays from the Baltimore 4 before Connor Barth kicked a field goal to make it 3-all.
Notes: Ravens FB Le'Ron McClain sprained his left ankle. ... Baltimore S Dawan Landry left in the third quarter with a concussion. ... Tampa Bay G Davin Joseph hurt his foot in the first quarter and did not return. ... Ravens LT Michael Oher sprained his right knee.