NFL seasons can change on a dime. The Baltimore Ravens had lost three games in a row and fired their offensive coordinator, and their vaunted defense for once looked vulnerable. What was once a 9-2 team was suddenly stuck at 9-5 with a desperate New York Giants team, the defending Super Bowl champion, visiting M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
So of course the Ravens figured things out on the fly with a dominating 33-14 victory over New York that secured the AFC North title and at least the No. 4 seed in the postseason. A win next week and a New England loss to Miami -- unlikely, to be sure -- even would lift Baltimore to the No. 3 seed. Either way, it will be hosting a playoff game and hopes to have star linebacker Ray Lewis back from a triceps injury.
The difference? It had to be quarterback Joe Flacco, whose confidence appeared in tatters after losses to Pittsburgh, Washington and Denver. But he made one strong throw after another Sunday, including a gorgeous 43-yarder to wide receiver Torrey Smith that set up Flacco's own 1-yard touchdown plunge in the first quarter. That 26-for-35, two-touchdown performance is a huge boost with the playoffs looming in two weeks.
Meanwhile, the Ravens also rediscovered running back Ray Rice. A balanced attack has been missing too often late this season, and that ultimately may have cost former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron his job Dec. 10 following the loss to the Redskins. Rice finished with 24 carries for 107 yards Sunday -- his second-highest total of the season -- and added six receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown.
- Brian McNally