CLEVELAND — The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Baltimore, where its MVP candidate will be waiting.
Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes — two to tight end Mark Andrews late in the first half — and rushed for 103 yards as the Ravens won their 11th straight game, 31-15 over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday to lock up the conference’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Ravens (13-2) shook off a sluggish start and avenged their last loss, a 40-25 to the Browns on Sept. 29.
But Baltimore looks nothing like the team it was three months ago as the marvelous, multi-dimensional Jackson has taken the league by storm with his arm and legs. Jackson finished with 238 yards passing and went over 100 yards for the fifth time this season.
The Ravens did suffer an injury that could hurt the playoff hopes as running back Mark Ingram went down without being touched in the fourth quarter. Ingram immediately grabbed his lower left leg and collapsed when he tried to stand.
Ingram, who went over 1,000 yards rushing in the second quarter and caught a 12-yard TD pass from Jackson in the third, was able to walk to the sideline to be evaluated before limping to the locker room.
The Browns (6-9) were officially eliminated from the postseason, and now first-year coach Freddie Kitchens may be down to his last game. Kitchens has appeared overwhelmed at times and the home finale was a microcosm of this disappointing season as the Browns underperformed and will miss the playoffs for the 17th straight season.
Baker Mayfield threw a 3-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to Odell Beckham Jr., whose acquisition by the Browns in March sent expectations soaring.
In the closing minutes, Beckham flung his helmet on the sideline in frustration and exchanged words with Kitchens.
Mayfield finished 20 of 33 for 192 yards with two TDs and a pick.
Outplayed and in their own way for most of the first half, the Ravens scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes to take a 14-6 lead at the break.
Jackson connected on a 39-yard TD pass to Andrews with 1:18 for Baltimore’s first score, and then hooked up with his tight end again on a sensational play the electrifying QB can add to his MVP candidacy.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates with wide receiver Marquise Brown (15) celebrates after Andrews scored a 39-yard touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Jackson stayed alive in the pocket long enough to buy time and fired an off-balance pass to the back of the end zone, where Andrews made a terrific leaping catch.
Baltimore had been unable to do anything on its first four possessions and the Browns appeared on their way to a surprising halftime lead. However, Kitchens made another head-scratching play call on third-and-1 when he had Mayfield pitch the ball to Kareem Hunt, who looked like he was going to throw it before being brought down for an 8-yard loss.
The Ravens hurt themselves with some uncharacteristic mistakes to set up Cleveland’s first touchdown after Jackson’s fumble near mid-field.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) scrambles against the Cleveland Browns during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Cleveland. The Ravens won 31-15. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Baltimore’s defense committed two penalties on fourth down to extend the Browns’ drive and cornerback Jimmy Smith was called for pass interference in the end zone, giving Cleveland first-and-goal at the 1.
On the next play, Mayfield rolled to his right and hit tight end Demetrius Harris.
Ravens: Ingram stopped and spoke to some teammates on his way to the locker room. He’s got 1,018 yards on 202 carries.
Browns: RB Dontrell Hilliard suffered a left knee injury on a hard hit in the first half and did not return. Hilliard caught a short pass and was hit by Ravens CB Marcus Peters, who was also shaken up but stayed in.
ODDS & ENDS
Jackson set the team record for TD passes with his first strike to Andrews, who leads all tight ends with 10 scores. Jackson’s 34th TD pass broke the previous record he shared with Vinny Testaverde, who threw 33 in 1996, the Ravens’ first season in Baltimore after leaving Cleveland. … Ravens coach John Harbaugh improved to 20-4 against Cleveland. … The Ravens are on pace to be the first team in league history to average 200 rushing and passing yards.
Ravens: conclude regular season at home Sunday against Steelers.
Browns: visit Cincinnati in regular-season finale.