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Instant analysis: Ravens turn to reliable formula to beat Buccaneers, 20-12, keep pace in hunt for playoff berth

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' 26-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

The Ravens turned to a reliable formula to hold on to the AFC’s sixth playoff spot Sunday.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Gus Edwards rushed for a combined 199 rushing yards, and the team’s second-ranked defense held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ top-ranked offense to a season-low 241 yards in a 20-12 win at M&T Bank Stadium.

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The win was the Ravens’ fourth in five games with Jackson starting, but the team got only modest early help from the rest of the conference’s wild-card contenders. The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans both won in their games against NFC opponents, while the Miami Dolphins lost.

The Ravens (8-6) would have taken over first place in the AFC North if Pittsburgh had lost to the New England Patriots later in the day, but the Steelers (8-5-1) won, 17-10. Division champions are guaranteed at least one home playoff game.

Jackson struggled passing and had a lost fumble early, but he finished 14-for-23 for 131 passing yards and a touchdown.

Jameis Winston was 13-for-25 for 157 yards and an interception for Tampa Bay (5-9). Nine of the Buccaneers’ 12 points came off turnovers.

Jonas Shaffer, reporter: Initially, the Ravens did not look like they had a clue about how to pierce a low-grade Buccaneers defense.

By the end of the game, Tampa Bay was in tatters. Opponents can handle a full-strength Ravens defense and Lamar Jackson’s dual-threat skills for only so long.

Now comes another tough test: a trip to Los Angeles on a short week to face the white-hot Chargers.

Peter Schmuck, columnist: The Ravens overcame some ball security problems to stay on track for the postseason, but they won't be so fortunate if they get careless against the streaking Chargers next week. Still, Lamar Jackson affirmed the decision to stick with him when Joe Flacco was cleared to play. Jackson led the offense to another 200-yard-plus rushing day and, even better, did it while doing a much better job of staying out of harm's way.

The defense should get a game ball for holding the Buccaneers to just nine points off two lost fumbles. The flip side? The Ravens remain vulnerable to the long-down letdown, allowing Jameis Winston to make some big plays on third down.

Bottom line: Jackson has won four of his five starts and very easily could be undefeated at this point. There is no quarterback controversy.

Childs Walker, reporter: Despite several mistakes that would have cost them against a better opponent, the Ravens ground out another essential victory as they fight for a playoff spot.

The game followed the formula we’ve come to expect from the Lamar Jackson era. The rookie got off to a shaky start, throwing a ball that should have been intercepted on the team’s second possession and fumbling to set up a Tampa Bay touchdown drive. But then the Ravens successfully pounded the ball down the field, with Jackson mixing in several wizardly open-field runs.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey shook off a groin injury to show us why he’s the current and future star of the Ravens defense. Between a tackle-for-loss, an interception and a key fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter, he was the MVP of the day. Linebacker C.J. Mosley also delivered one of his better games of the season.

The Ravens will have to play sharper to beat the Chargers in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

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Jennifer Badie, editor: After a slow start during which the Ravens threw the ball almost as often as they ran, they went back to rushing the ball with success. (To compare, they threw the ball 16 times vs. running 17 times in the first half; in the third quarter, they threw the ball five times vs. 16 rushes).

The Ravens need to take better care of the ball. The Buccaneers scored nine points off miscues. Lamar Jackson fumbled (again), which led to a touchdown for the Buccaneers. And Cyrus Jones, who had been playing well up until now, made a mistake on a punt return that led to a field goal.

This was a must-win for the Ravens, especially since they have to travel on a short week to Los Angeles to face the Chargers, who defeated the Chiefs on Thursday night and will be extra rested.

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