NATIONAL NEWS

Lamar Jackson and Ravens pull away in the second half to beat Texans 34-10 and reach AFC title game

Jan 20, 2024, 4:43 PM

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against the H...

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football AFC divisional playoff game, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Lamar Jackson had already done plenty of running by the time he reached the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Apparently, he still had quite a bit of energy, leaping past the photographers and disappearing into the tunnel in a celebration that seemed cathartic for the All-Pro quarterback.

Jackson threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores, and the Baltimore Ravens pulled away in the second half for a 34-10 win over the Houston Texans on Saturday to advance to the AFC championship game. It was only the second victory in five playoff games for Jackson, a fact he was well aware of.

“You know I heard that,” he said. “I don’t even got to hear it. I see it. But it is what it is. I really don’t care about what people say. … Those guys just had our team’s number in the past, but it’s a different team.”

Jackson made some more history Saturday, becoming the first quarterback since at least 1948 — in the regular season or playoffs — with at least two touchdown passes, two TD runs, 100 yards rushing and a 100 passer rating in the same game.

“Credit to Lamar,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “He made a ton of great plays. That’s why he’s the MVP.”

The Ravens (14-4) dominated the second half after the teams finished the second quarter tied at 10. Jackson said he did most of the talking at halftime.

“A lot of cursing,” he said.

Jackson’s 15-yard scoring run put Baltimore ahead to stay. Although C.J. Stroud had a solid, composed first half for Houston, the Texans (11-8) ultimately couldn’t turn enough promising drives into points against an impressive Ravens defense.

Now Baltimore will host the AFC title game for the first time since January 1971, when the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders on their way to a Super Bowl championship. The Ravens will play in that semifinal round for the fifth time since their arrival in Baltimore. They’ll take on the winner of Sunday’s matchup between Buffalo and Kansas City.

“Our fans are going to get a chance to cheer just as loud or louder than they did in this game, and they were amazing,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I thought our fans were incredible. Man, it was deafening out there.”

Harbaugh’s brother Jim was on hand for the game, returning the favor after John went to watch Jim coach Michigan to college football’s national title earlier this month.

Ravens fans have been haunted by what happened in the playoffs four years ago, when Baltimore went 14-2 in the regular season but dropped its postseason opener to Tennessee. Houston did enough to create some anxiety, especially when Steven Sims returned a punt for a touchdown and Jackson struggled at times with the blitzing Texans defense.

But on the first possession of the second half, Jackson guided Baltimore 55 yards in six plays and scored on a run up the middle. Then, a 15-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Likely early in the fourth made it 24-10.

Jackson’s final touchdown came on an 8-yard run with 6:20 to play, and the fired up quarterback kept running right into the tunnel in that corner of the field.

Sims’ return was the only TD for the Texans, whose offense never did reach the end zone in 120 minutes against the Ravens this season. Houston lost 25-9 in its season opener at Baltimore.

Jackson rushed for 821 yards during the regular season, which is a big part of the case for his second MVP award. But he surpassed 100 yards on the ground only once. He ran for exactly 100 on Saturday on 11 attempts. A 14-yard bootleg on fourth-and-1 near midfield led to the touchdown by Likely that gave the Ravens some breathing room.

Jackson also passed for 152 yards.

“Lamar is a dog. I’ve been a fan of his since high school,” Stroud said. “It’s really an honor to share the field with a player like that.”

Stroud threw for 175 yards and didn’t take a sack against a tough Baltimore defensive front, but the Texans dropped to 0-5 in the divisional round of the playoffs. They’re the only current franchise that hasn’t reached a conference championship game.

The Ravens led the NFL in sacks this season, but it was Jackson who was under pressure in the first half, when Houston got to him three times. Two of those sacks came back-to-back in the final minute of the second quarter after a missed field goal gave Baltimore decent field position.

Penalties held the Texans back all day — they ended up with 11 for 70 yards. After Justin Tucker opened the scoring for Baltimore with a 53-yard field goal, Houston appeared headed for points of its own before two false starts and an intentional grounding flag pushed the Texans out of range.

Houston did eventually tie it on a 50-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn, but the Ravens answered with a 76-yard march capped by Jackson’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor.

Down 10-3, the Texans struck back on special teams. Sims, who was signed from the practice squad to the active roster earlier in the week, broke free up the middle for a 67-yard touchdown.

ADJUSTMENTS

According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Jackson faced a career-high blitz rate of 75% and went 13 of 18 for 120 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz. He got rid of the ball in an average of 2.25 seconds in the second half, compared to 3.51 in the first.

ONE-DIMENSIONAL

The Ravens outrushed Houston 229-38, and eventually the Texans’ lack of any real ground attack caught up with them — even though they avoided any sacks and turnovers on the day.

UP NEXT

Texans: Houston’s rise this season included an AFC South title and a first-round playoff rout against Cleveland. The future looks bright with Stroud at quarterback.

Ravens: Baltimore is one win away from its first Super Bowl appearance in 11 years. The Ravens did not face the Bills or Chiefs during the regular season.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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