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Final play saved what could have been a disastrous day for the Ravens

The Ravens go into Sunday's game against the Steelers still with a legitimate shot to win the AFC North.

Nobody wanted to talk about what would have happened if Ravens blitzing middle linebacker C.J. Mosley had not gotten his hand on Carson Wentz's 2-point pass attempt or if cornerback Jerraud Powers wasn't in good position to make sure Jordan Matthews couldn't haul in the deflection.

All that mattered was the Ravens survived and thwarted a potential season-defining collapse when the Philadelphia Eagles' attempt at a game-winning, two-point conversion fell harmlessly to the ground, preserving their 27-26 victory in front of an announced 71,223 at windy and rainy M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

The white-knuckle victory keeps the Ravens' playoff hopes alive and sets up a Christmas evening showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers for first place in the AFC North. If the Ravens (8-6) defeat the Steelers (9-5) for a second time this year and then beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, they'll win the AFC North. If they lose to the Steelers, Pittsburgh will clinch the division and the Ravens will be forced to rely on a handful of other results playing out in their favor for a potential wild-card spot.

"This is what you live for," Ravens safety Eric Weddle said of the upcoming matchup with the Steelers.

The Ravens, though, were so close to derailing their own playoff chances with a late-game collapse that started with what coach John Harbaugh called the "all-time worst [play] call ever."

Marty Mornhinweg curiously called for Joe Flacco to pass on first down from the Eagles' 11-yard line with 6:21 to play and the Ravens leading by 10. Just as curiously, Flacco tried to force the ball to a blanketed Steve Smith Sr. and he was intercepted by Jordan Hicks, who returned the ball to the Eagles' 40.

"I didn't see that guy," Flacco said.

Philadelphia cut the Ravens' lead to seven on Caleb Sturgis' 29-yard field goal with 2:22 to play and then Wentz made it a 27-26 game by scoring on a 4-yard scramble with four seconds remaining. With the Eagles already practically eliminated from playoff contention, first-year coach Doug Pederson called a timeout to talk things over and opted to go for the two points and the win, rather than an extra-point try to force overtime.

"I wanted to win the football game and even our chances in overtime were less than 50 percent winning this game," said Pederson, whose team fell to 5-9. "As an underdog going into the game, we were going to win the game in regulation."

The Ravens had concluded on the sideline that the Eagles would go for two points long before Wentz got in the end zone. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees called for an all-out blitz and Mosley shot the gap and got his left hand on the ball.

"I just got a hand on it, looked back, and it was incomplete," Mosley said. "I was just happy to get off the field with a win."

As the Ravens were holding on for a victory in their regular-season home finale, the Steelers were putting the finishing touches on their comeback win over the Bengals. If the Eagles had converted that 2-point attempt and won, the Ravens would have not only needed to beat the Steelers next week, but they also would have needed Pittsburgh to lose at home to the winless Cleveland Browns in Week 17 to have any chance to win the division.

And that hardly was the only what-if possibly at stake.

There's been no known "playoffs-or-else" edict given by owner Steve Bisciotti to Harbaugh and his coaching staff, but blowing a late 10-point lead at home against an Eagles team that had lost four in a row and six of seven would surely lead to some more questions being asked.

Even with the victory, Harbaugh's public criticism of the ill-fated decision to put the ball in the air on Flacco's eventual interception certainly doesn't speak well for Mornhinweg's standing with the organization.

"I'll take responsibility for it," Harbaugh said. "I should have vetoed it right away. I like an aggressive mindset, but that was way too aggressive. It's the worst play call we've had, and it's my fault. It should have never happened. We should have never been in that situation as a result of that."

Harbaugh's news conference ended prematurely because the coach had a coughing fit and wasn't feeling well. Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs said he couldn't speak to reporters because he had to go see a team doctor. He didn't specify what was wrong, but Suggs was flexing his elbow in the second half. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, who brushed off several teammates and threw his helmet following his 54-yard catch that preceded Flacco's interception, admitted that he was frustrated that he wasn't more involved in the game plan.

The Ravens left M&T Bank Stadium as a beat-up and, in several cases, ticked-off team. Yet their playoff chances remained intact. Barely.

"We should never have put our defense in that situation," said wide receiver Kamar Aiken, whose 4-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter gave the Ravens an early lead and was his first score of the season. "That's on us as an offense. We should have just taken care of the ball, and it should never have gotten to that."

Flacco completed 16-of-30 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns with his 34-yard scoring strike to Steve Smith Sr. late in the second quarter representing his best throw all day. However, his two turnovers — the fourth-quarter interception and an early second-quarter fumble deep in Ravens' territory — both led to Eagles' points.

The Ravens ran the ball well behind Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, gaining 151 yards on the ground on 24 carries (a number boosted by Michael Campanaro's 39-yard carry). Dixon's 16-yard touchdown run gave the home team a 27-17 lead with just over 11 minutes to play. However, the Ravens abandoned the run when they had an opportunity in the fourth quarter to put the game away and eat some clock.

Defensively, the Ravens kept Wentz and the Eagles' passing game under wraps, but the league's top-ranked rush defense surprisingly had no answers for Philadelphia's ground game. The Ravens allowed a season-high 169 rushing yards on 38 carries with Ryan Mathews leading the way with 128 yards and a score.

"Defense fought their butt off," Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams said. "Things happened that we liked, things happened that we didn't like. It just came down to one play and that was the play we made. I'm definitely proud of the defense fighting. Kudos to the Eagles. They really schemed us up good in the run game, with their run schemes. But in the end, we stuck together and fought it out."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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