Playoff run

IRVING, Texas — IRVING, Texas - The Ravens closed out venerable Texas Stadium by making some history of their own.

Le'Ron McClain's 82-yard touchdown run - the longest by a visiting back in the stadium's 37-year existence - finished off the Ravens' critical 33-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys and ruined the much-anticipated celebration.


The Ravens (10-5) now need only a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) next Sunday in the regular-season finale to clinch a playoff berth.

Their path to the postseason remained clear because they hurdled a tough roadblock against the Cowboys (9-6). The Ravens became only the third visitors since 1996 to beat an NFL team closing out its old stadium.


The night before the game, the Ravens coaches apparently passed along the rumor that the Cowboys had requested the Ravens as their "homecoming" opponent in the stadium's final game.

"I guess it wasn't a homecoming," running back Willis McGahee said. "It was a mock funeral. We spoiled their day."

The stadium known for a hole in its roof featured a Dallas defense with a hole in its middle.

After the Cowboys had closed to 19-17 with 3:54 left in the game, McGahee (eight carries for 108 yards in the game) busted up the interior of the line for a 77-yard touchdown. The one-time forgotten back hadn't produced a run longer than 17 yards this season.

Then, when Dallas once again scored to get within 26-24 with 1:41 remaining, McClain (22 carries for 139 yards) broke two tackles before stiff-arming safety Ken Hamlin and racing to the end zone. The converted fullback hadn't delivered a run longer than 28 yards this season.

The two longest runs of the season for the Ravens came in the final 3:42 and ended any thoughts of a second straight fourth-quarter collapse.

While the breakaway dashes sealed the Ravens' eighth win in 10 games, it was a gusty call and performance that put the team in position to win it.

Leading 9-7 in the third quarter, the Ravens lined up for a 40-yard field-goal attempt. But holder Sam Koch instead took the snap and ran 9 yards to convert a fourth-and-six.


"That may have been the play of the game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

Two plays later, banged-up wide receiver Derrick Mason turned around Dallas cornerback Anthony Henry on an in-and-out move and caught a 13-yard touchdown pass in the left side of the end zone.

Mason, who had left the field three times, including a trip to the locker room because of an injured left shoulder, extended the Ravens' lead to 16-7. He even ran the route with his shoulder drooping. Nevertheless, the score ended the Ravens' season-worst streak of seven red-zone trips without a touchdown.

"It's a credit to Derrick Mason," Harbaugh said. "He's one of the toughest players I've ever been around."

It was a frustrating start for the Ravens.

Ed Reed stopped the Cowboys' first drive with an interception, but the Ravens gave the ball back to Dallas three plays later.


Joe Flacco turned the ball over on a fumble for only the second time this season when NFL sacks leader DeMarcus Ware beat offensive tackle Adam Terry and stripped the rookie quarterback of the ball. It was the first of five sacks in the first half by the Cowboys, tying the most allowed by the Ravens in an entire game this season.

Dallas recovered the ball at the Ravens' 4-yard line, and Cowboys rookie running back Tashard Choice scored on a third-down draw. The Ravens had given up a NFL-low three rushing touchdowns before this game.

But turning the ball over wasn't the biggest obstacle for the Ravens' offense. It was getting the ball into the end zone.

The Ravens' red-zone troubles from last Sunday filtered into last night's game.

They had first-and-goal from the Dallas 8 on their first trip inside the 20. The Ravens, though, could move the ball only 1 yard (a scramble by Flacco and a run by McClain resulted a gain of 1 total yard before an incompletion by Flacco).

The Ravens' first series in the second quarter led to first-and-goal at the Dallas 5. This time, the Ravens never moved the ball forward.


On first down, McClain was stuffed at the line despite the Cowboys having only 10 players on the field. On second down, Flacco made a nice pass, but it nearly got picked off because rookie wide receiver Marcus Smith (who was filling in for the injured Mason) didn't keep running to his right. On third down, Dallas linebacker Kevin Burnett came up the middle unblocked to sack Flacco because McGahee didn't pick him up.

That marked the sixth straight time the Ravens failed to score a touchdown in the red zone.

The result: Two red-zone trips led to two field goals by Matt Stover (from 26 and 29 yards) to close the Cowboys' lead to 7-6.

The Ravens took their first lead at the end of the first half when McGahee re-emerged. With 27 seconds left in the second quarter, he gained 21 yards on a catch underneath and ran for 13 yards (his longest run in nine games) to put the Ravens into field-goal range.

Stover's third field goal of the half (a 37-yarder) allowed the Ravens to go into halftime with a 9-7 advantage. In the Cowboys' last first half at Texas Stadium, they were booed off the field.

Asked how the Ravens battled the emotional atmosphere - the Cowboys paraded out stars Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Tony Dorsett before the game as cameras flashed - Harbaugh said: "I think our team was excited about it and fed off it. They were looking forward to coming in here and putting this place to bed. I think we did it in a fitting way for the Ravens."


JAGUARS (5-10) @RAVENS (10-5)

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