Monday, December 20, 2021

The Packers hold off the Ravens' remarkable comeback to become the first NFL team to secure a season playoff berth

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The Green Bay Packers arrived at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and did what any NFC-leading team preparing for a deep postseason run should do against a physically tired opponent: they won.

In any case, the Ravens' battered visitors had to fight hard for their 31-30 victory. Slice had a chance to win with 42 seconds left after Baltimore erased a 31-17 fourth-quarter lead. Tyler Huntley, who started in place of an injured Lamar Jackson, orchestrated two fourth-quarter scoring drives and scrambled for two touchdowns, but his toss to Mark Andrews on a two-point attempt later was insufficient, preventing Baltimore's bid to take the lead.

Green Bay recovered the onside kick and took a knee on two consecutive plays to run out the time and leave with the victory.

With the win, the Packers clinched the NFC North title and became the first NFL team to secure a season finisher spot with three weeks remaining in the regular season. Matt LaFleur has now led the Packers to a division title in each of his first three seasons as head coach. Green Bay has reached the NFC title game in each of the previous two seasons, losing to the San Francisco 49ers in 2019 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. The Packers will prepare for another charge in less than a month, one they hope will see them overcome the obstacle and ultimately win the Lombardi Trophy.

They have games against Cleveland, Minnesota, and Detroit, among others, and will try to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

The game between Green Bay and Baltimore on Sunday was originally thought to be a preview of a future Super Bowl meeting. In any event, the Ravens came into the game with a weary option, in need of help defended and hostile lines, and were without Jackson, who was out of the game due to a lower leg strain suffered in the second quarter of last week's loss to Cleveland.

The Packers intended to pull away with the game, breaking a 14-14 tie at halftime with a 17-3 scoring surge in the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers completed 23 of 31 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers.

However, that 31-17 lead with nine minutes to go wasn't as big as it appeared.

Baltimore led a daring push behind their backup quarterback, whose quickness caused the defense to struggle once more. Huntley scrambled for 73 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries and completed 28 of 40 throws for 215 yards and two touchdowns, channeling his inner Jackson.

The Cincinnati Bengals climbed to 8-6 with a win over the Denver Broncos, dropping Baltimore to 8-6 and losing its formerly commanding grasp on the AFC North. In the meantime, the Cleveland Browns have a 7-6 record and play the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday in a game that was rescheduled from Saturday to Monday and has the potential to move into first place in the division with a win.

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