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(Sunday, January 1st)
Final Score: Baltimore 24, Cincinnati 16
Cincinnati, OH (Sports Network) - For the first time in five years, the Baltimore Ravens will have a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Cincinnati Bengals made the postseason, too, even if they backed in with some help from other teams.
Ray Rice broke off touchdown runs of 70 and 51 yards on Sunday and the Ravens captured their first AFC North title since 2006 with a 24-16 win over the Bengals, earning the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Without a victory, Cincinnati needed a loss by the New York Jets plus a loss by either Denver or Oakland to make it back to the postseason after a one-year absence.
The Jets fell in Miami earlier Sunday, and Denver lost to Kansas City minutes before two passes into the end zone fell incomplete on Cincinnati's final possession.
Rice's 70-yard touchdown on the game's fourth play from scrimmage was the longest regular season run of his career. His 51-yarder in the fourth quarter came after a Cincinnati fumble and gave the Ravens a 24-13 lead with under six minutes to play.
Mike Nugent kicked a 23-yard field goal to draw the Bengals within eight points, but they failed to score after starting their last drive with 65 seconds on the clock.
Baltimore's first home playoff game in five years, which will be played on January 15 at 1 p.m. (et), was well-earned. The Ravens (12-4) went undefeated in the division for the first time in franchise history with two of the six wins coming against heated rival Pittsburgh.
They won six of their last seven games to reach the postseason for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh. In each of Harbaugh's first three seasons at the helm, the Ravens earned Wild Card berths and had to play on the road.
"It just feels good to know we got a home game and it was a total team effort," said Rice.
The Bengals (9-7) had a two-game winning streak snapped, but became the third team from the four-team AFC North to make the playoffs. Only the 4-12 Browns missed out.
"I think this is the best division in football. It's not even close," said Harbaugh. "But this is just one championship. We still have two more we're shooting for -- the conference championship and a world championship. And that's a tough road."
The Steelers beat Cleveland on Sunday to tie Baltimore at 12-4, but lost the division because they were 0-2 versus the Ravens.
Cincinnati will play the AFC South-champion Texans in Houston next Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (et).
"The No. 1 goal was to be able to have a chance to be world champions," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. "We gotta keep playing better in order to do that."
Rice carried Baltimore, rushing for 191 yards on 24 carries and setting a franchise record with 15 touchdowns this season, including three receiving. He finished with 1,364 yards rushing, a career-best, and had an NFL-high five rushes of 50 yards or more.
Joe Flacco threw for 130 yards on 15-of-19 passing, including a nine-yard touchdown to Dennis Pitta that gave Baltimore a 17-3 lead at halftime.
Andy Dalton, a playoff quarterback in his rookie season, was 22-of-44 for 232 yards for Cincinnati and Cedric Benson rushed for 51 yards on 13 carries, while Bernard Scott scored on a 25-yard run. Mike Nugent kicked three field goals in the loss -- two from 46 yards and one from 23 -- but also missed a 36-yarder in the second quarter.
Rice slipped through the line untouched and took off down the right side for his first touchdown, outrunning Adam "Pacman" Jones as the last defender. Billy Cundiff made it 10-0 with a 42-yard field goal before Nugent followed with a 46-yarder for Cincinnati's first points.
"I just had to stay on my track," Rice said of his first touchdown. "Then I was off to the races."
Baltimore pushed its lead to 17-3 on Pitta's leaping grab in the back right corner of the end zone with 11 seconds left before halftime, but the Bengals pulled within seven points on Scott's touchdown run around the left side of the line.
Just when it seemed like the momentum had shifted after Nugent's 46-yarder made it 17-13 early in the fourth quarter, the Ravens got it back.
Terrell Suggs knocked the ball out of Bengals wide receiver Jermaine Gresham's hands for his career-high seventh forced fumble of the season, and Rice had just enough steam to reach the end zone it on his 51-yard touchdown run to make it 24-13.
"We just didn't play smart at times," said Lewis.
The Bengals drove all the way to the Baltimore five-yard line before Nugent's 23-yard field goal. They held the Ravens to a punt and Dalton hit Gresham for a 31-yard pass and found Brian Leonard for another 16, but the rookie's last three passes were knocked down -- one at the line of scrimmage and two in the end zone.
New England locked up the AFC's No. 1 seed earlier Sunday...Suggs also got his 14th sack of the season, a career-best...The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since January 6, 1991.
01/01 22:32:02 ET
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