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Ravens use running game, defense and ball control to win

Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards (35) rushes the ball in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Using staples from their past — a relentless ground game and a stifling defense — the Baltimore Ravens have put together a hot streak that has them in the middle of the AFC playoff race.

The Ravens won a Super Bowl in 2000 when they averaged 137.4 yards rushing per game and deployed a Ray Lewis-led defense that allowed only 165 points over the entire regular season. That same formula is being used by the current squad, which has gone 4-1 since fleet-footed rookie Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback for strong-armed Joe Flacco.

Baltimore (8-6) heads into a Saturday night showdown against the Los Angeles Chargers looking to move one step closer toward ending a three-year playoff drought. The Ravens’ resurgence coincides with the team’s improved running attack under Jackson, who has rambled for 427 yards over the last five games.

With Jackson as a starter, Baltimore is averaging 230.4 yards rushing per game, including 242 Sunday in a 20-12 victory over Tampa Bay.

“To me, it’s good football,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

The Ravens’ second-ranked defense held the Buccaneers to only 241 yards, in part because the Ravens ran 74 offensive plays compared to only 47 for Tampa Bay.

“We’re playing great team football right now to a T,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re playing well off each other – running the ball, controlling the clock, third-down conversions.”

Jackson isn’t a one-man show. Gus Edwards ran 19 times for 104 yards against the Bucs and Kenneth Dixon added 48 yards on 11 carries. Baltimore has rushed for at least 190 yards in five straight games, the first team to pull off that feat since the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers.

“The players deserve credit and the coaches deserve credit,” Harbaugh said. “It’s tough to stop that style of play when it’s executed well with physicality. Our guys are doing it. I’m proud of them for that. That’s the way we’re playing football right now, but don’t discount the pass play.”

Unlike most teams in this pass-happy NFL, the Ravens put the ball in the air just to keep the defense on its toes. Jackson threw 23 times on Sunday and ran 18 times.

“The plan was to keep hammering away,” Harbaugh said.

It’s a sure thing that the Ravens will be looking to do more of the same against the Chargers. The best way to stop the Philip Rivers-led offense is to keep it off the field, and that’s one huge byproduct of Baltimore’s grinding run game.

Against Tampa Bay, the Ravens held the ball for more than 22 minutes in the second half and rattled off 39 plays to just 17 for the Bucs. Baltimore had three drives of more than seven minutes, including the game-ender in which the Ravens moved from their own 38 to inside the Bucs 10 before taking a knee on three straight snaps.

“It means a lot to finish the game on offense, not putting your defense back on the field,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens currently stand as the No. 6 seed in the AFC. They have gone over all the playoff scenarios, and understand that the path to the postseason becomes less obtrusive with a win on Saturday night against the Chargers (11-3), who are tied with Kansas City for the top seed.

“They’re playing outstanding football,” Weddle said. “We’ve got everything in our hands, as do they, so it’s going to be an amazing game, one that will define where our season goes from there.”

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