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Instant analysis: Ravens clinch top seed, secure home-field advantage for first time with 31-15 win vs. Browns

CLEVELAND — Not even the Ravens offense’s slowest start all season could get in the way of a historic win.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson passed for three touchdowns and the defense held the Cleveland Browns to 241 total yards as the Ravens secured home-field advantage for the first time in franchise history with a 31-15 win at FirstEnergy Stadium.

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The win extended the Ravens’ franchise-record winning streak to 11 games, equaled the team record for victories in a single season and clinched a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs for the first time since 2011. It also avenged the Ravens’ last loss, a Week 4 setback in Baltimore against the AFC North’s preseason favorites.

The Ravens’ seventh road victory this season, another franchise record, didn’t come easily. Coming off an extended break after a Week 15 blowout in “Thursday Night Football,” the Ravens didn’t score until their fifth possession, shut out for over 28 minutes.

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A two-minute drill seemed to energize Jackson. He needed just 32 seconds to complete two passes for 63 yards, the second a 39-yard pass to tight end Mark Andrews that set the Ravens’ franchise record for touchdown throws in a single season. After the Browns went three-and-out, Jackson took over with 55 seconds left in the first half and went 75 yards in 46 seconds. A 19-yard throw to Andrews, extended by Jackson’s impressive footwork in the pocket, gave the Ravens a 14-6 lead at halftime.

Jackson finished 20-for-31 for 238 yards and added 17 carries for 103 yards, avoiding the interceptions and sacks that dogged him in the Ravens’ first matchup against Cleveland. The NFL’s front-runner for Most Valuable Player honors outplayed former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, who finished 20-for-33 for 192 yards and was fortunate to have a pair of interceptions by linebacker L.J. Fort called back.

A 3-yard touchdown throw, Mayfield’s second, to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the fourth quarter narrowed the Ravens’ lead to 24-15. But Cleveland couldn’t convert the subsequent 2-point conversion, and rookie running back Justice Hill put the game out of reach on the next drive with an 18-yard touchdown run.

Running back Mark Ingram II, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a calf injury, reached 1,000 rushing yards this season for the third time in his career. With his 15th touchdown, he also tied running back Ray Rice’s 2011 mark for the most in franchise history.

Instant analysis

Daniel Oyefusi, reporter: It only took about 23 minutes, but the Ravens overcame a slow start to avenge their Week 4 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The win secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the Ravens, but just as important is the health status of running back Mark Ingram II, who left in the fourth quarter with a calf injury and did not return. With their playoff position locked up, it’s almost assured Ingram won’t see the field for the team’s regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers next week. A few more veterans could use the extra week off, too.

Peter Schmuck, columnist: Despite the fact that the Ravens clinched their greatest regular-season accomplishment in franchise history by claiming the No. 1 AFC playoff seed, it will be hard remember this day fondly if stalwart running back and team leader Mark Ingram II ends up being lost for the remainder of the season and postseason. It certainly looked that way when he went down untouched and grabbed at his lower left calf. If that was an Achilles tendon injury, it’s very bad news. Mark Andrews also hobbled off, and his status was unknown at the end of the game. If his ankle isn’t seriously damaged, he’ll have three weeks to get better before the Ravens play their first postseason game. On the happier side, the Ravens didn’t let a very slow start in the first half keep them from extending their franchise-record winning streak to 11. Lamar Jackson was his typical all-everything self, throwing three touchdown passes and leading the team in rushing yards. The Steelers await, but they probably won’t see much of him next week.

Jonas Shaffer, reporter: The Ravens didn’t score until the final two minutes of the first half, and they still found a way to double up the Browns. Their injuries are a concern, but they might have all the time they need to get healthy in time for their playoff opener. Week 17 will be interesting. The Steelers need to win. The Ravens don’t need to play a lot of big-time stars. Besides Robert Griffin III, who ends up on the field?

Childs Walker, reporter: Lamar Jackson submitted a convincing closing argument for Most Valuable Player with his masterful handling of the last two minutes of the first half. His patience and accuracy over those precious seconds evoked Tom Brady or Peyton Manning more than Michael Vick. This victory was a perfect cap to a near-perfect regular season. The Ravens handled the one team that had beaten them decisively this season, battering the Browns at the line of scrimmage and playing sound defense against NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb. They earned homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and what amounts to a double bye. Given that, they’d be nuts to expose Jackson and other key players to injury before they play their next meaningful game on the second weekend in January. This will go down as the greatest regular season in Ravens history. But this team is so good that anything but a trip to the Super Bowl will leave players, coaches and fans with a hollow feeling.

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