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Ravens Reach AFC Championship Game after Defeating Texans

BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson, the Ravens quarterback, addressed some queries about his playoff prowess Saturday night in a 34-10 victory in the divisional round over the Houston Texans, but received extensive support.

The Ravens’ commanding defense displayed no signs of rust after a bye week, effectively shutting down the remarkable rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud as Baltimore progressed to the AFC Championship Game against the victor of Sunday’s matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

Jackson has achieved nearly everything during the regular season and seems likely to secure his second MVP award, but he had only managed a 1-3 record in the playoffs until Saturday. He is optimistic that clinching two more victories in this campaign will silence all skeptics.

Baltimore Ravens

Jackson provided the Ravens with something unprecedented in their 28-year history: an AFC Championship Game, which will take place on their home turf.

By tormenting the Texans with both his legs and arms, Jackson amassed four touchdowns and 100 rushing yards, leading the Ravens to their first divisional round victory since their 2012 Super Bowl campaign.

Jackson achieved his third 100-yard rushing game in the postseason, surpassing Colin Kaepernick for the most by a quarterback in NFL history. Additionally, Jackson became the fourth player to produce 100 yards rushing and two touchdown passes in a playoff game in NFL history, and the first to do so since Kaepernick in 2012.

In doing so, Jackson shattered the perception that he could not triumph in the postseason, having secured only one playoff victory in his initial five seasons.

This marks the first time Baltimore will host the AFC Championship Game in 53 years, a record previously held by the Baltimore Colts during the 1970 season. It represents the lengthiest gap for a city to host a conference championship game.

The Ravens’ defense continually vexed Stroud. After preventing the Texans from reaching the end zone in the season opener, Baltimore again denied Stroud and Houston’s offense from scoring in the playoffs. Ravens coach John Harbaugh now boasts an 18-2 record against rookie quarterbacks in Baltimore.

Noteworthy statistic: When Jackson connected with Nelson Agholor in the end zone during the second quarter, it marked the quarterback’s first touchdown pass in the postseason before the fourth quarter. Prior to Saturday, Jackson had thrown three touchdown passes in five playoff games, all occurring in the fourth quarter. Jackson had failed to record a touchdown pass in his two previous postseason games. This was also Agholor’s maiden touchdown reception in the playoffs, as he had been one of six active players with at least 20 postseason receptions but lacking a touchdown catch.

Encouraging trend: Jackson consistently outperformed Houston with his running abilities, notching his fourth career playoff game with 50-plus rushing yards. This places him on par with Steve Young, Russell Wilson, and Kaepernick for the second most by a quarterback since 1950. Jackson’s 100 rushing yards constitute the highest amount allowed by the Texans to a quarterback this season. With a 15-yard scoring run, Jackson became the first player in Ravens playoff history to achieve a rushing and passing touchdown in the same game.

Crucial play: Jackson executing a daring fourth-and-1 call at midfield. With the Ravens leading 17-10 in the third quarter, Baltimore entrusted the ball to Jackson, who ran wide left behind offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley for a 14-yard gain. This sustained a 12-play, 93-yard drive that culminated in Jackson’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Likely.

Concerning pattern: Steven Sims’ 67-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter marked the third consecutive playoff game in which Baltimore conceded a return for a touchdown. In the 2020 divisional playoff game in Buffalo, Jackson threw a pick-six in the red zone. Last year, during a wild-card game at the Cincinnati Bengals, Tyler Huntley’s fumble near the goal line was returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Sam Hubbard. — Jamison Hensley

Upcoming game: The AFC Championship Game, versus the winner of Sunday’s matchup between the Bills and Chiefs.

Houston Texans

The Texans’ unexpected season, in which they advanced to the divisional round for the first time since 2019, has drawn to a close.

Coach DeMeco Ryans and Stroud formed the third rookie coach-rookie quarterback duo since 1950 to secure a playoff victory, but they were unable to make it two. The offense encountered challenges it hadn’t faced since Week 14, when Houston suffered a 30-6 defeat to the New York Jets.

The issues commenced up front, as the Texans struggled with both running and blocking, and Stroud faced pressure on 45.7% of his 35 dropbacks, matching his second-highest pressure rate of the season.

The defense initially compensated for the shortcomings in the first half but ultimately succumbed in the second half, conceding 21 points.

Texans in brief: Lacking offense. The offense failed to counter the Ravens’ defense. The Texans averaged 343 yards per game (ranking 12th) during the regular season, but produced a mere 38 rushing yards (averaging 2.7 per carry) and 213 total yards on Saturday. Similar to the season opener, they were unsuccessful in scoring an offensive touchdown against the Ravens.

Primary flaw in the game plan: The Texans lacked a consistent solution to Jackson’s elusiveness. Though they were keenly aware of his abilities, they struggled against him, allowing 48 scramble yards. The Texans conceded 217 total scramble yards in the regular season (ranking 12th lowest), and the most they had previously allowed in a game was 43 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11.

Decisive moment (first half): Sims’ punt return injected life into the Texans. It leveled the score at 10-10 with 4:17 left in the first half—before the events unraveled in the second half. That touchdown marked the Texans’ third non-offensive score this postseason, the most by any team in a single postseason since the Green Bay Packers achieved three in 2010.

Remarkable statistic: The Texans’ 11 accepted penalties set a franchise record, surpassing the previous mark of eight. In the first quarter, they accumulated three false starts, an intentional grounding, and a delay of game, in addition to being flagged for holding on special teams. These six penalties in the first quarter were the highest they accrued in any quarter this season. — DJ Bien-Aime

Next game: Season concluded.

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