Packers stave off Ravens, become first NFL team to clinch playoff spot

December 20, 2021
Dallas Cowboys handle Giants, inch closer toward clinching NFC East
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BALTIMORE — The Green Bay Packers rolled into Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium and did what an NFC-leading squad primed for a deep postseason run should do against an injury-depleted squad: earn the victory.

However, those battered Ravens made the visitors work for that 31-30 win. Baltimore erased a 31-17 fourth-quarter lead and cut had the chance to win with 42 seconds left to play. Tyler Huntley, who started in place of an injured Lamar Jackson, directed two fourth-quarter scoring drives and rushed for two touchdowns, but his pass to Mark Andrews on a two-point try after his second score fell incomplete, foiling Baltimore’s quest to take the lead.

Green Bay recovered the onside kick attempt and took a knee on two straight plays to run out the clock and escape with the win.

With the victory, the Packers clinched the NFC North title and became the first NFL team to seal a playoff berth with three weeks remaining in the regular season. Matt LaFleur has now guided the Packers to divisional titles in each of his first three seasons at the helm. The two previous seasons, Green Bay reached the NFC championship game, where they fell short to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2019 season and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2020 campaign. In a few weeks, the Packers will gear up for another charge that they hope sees them get over the hump and eventually hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

But first, they have games against Cleveland, Minnesota and Detroit and will try to lock up homefield advantage throughout the postseason.

Sunday’s meeting between Green Bay and Baltimore once might have been viewed as a preview of a possible Super Bowl matchup. But the Ravens hobbled into the game with a depleted secondary, shorthanded defensive and offensive lines and, most importantly, were without Jackson, who missed the game while nursing an ankle sprain that knocked him out of the second quarter of last week’s loss to Cleveland

The Packers looked to run away with the game, breaking open a 14-14 halftime tie with a 17-3 scoring run in the second half. For the game, Aaron Rodgers completed 23 of 31 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns to three different pass-catchers.

But that 31-17 lead with nine minutes left wasn’t as solid as it appeared.

Baltimore made a valiant charge behind their backup quarterback, whose speed again gave the defense fits. Doing his best Jackson impersonation, Huntley rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries and completed 28 of 40 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns.

Baltimore fell to 8-6 and saw its once commanding hold of the AFC North vanish as the Cincinnati Bengals improved to 8-6 with a win over the Denver Broncos. The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, own a 7-6 record and play a game against the Las Vegas Raiders that was rescheduled from Saturday to Monday and has the opportunity to move into first place in the division with a victory. 

The Ravens have divisional showdowns in two of the next three weeks, first playing at Cincinnati next Sunday before hosting the Rams on Jan. 2 and closing out the season at home against Pittsburgh, which also won Sunday.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

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