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(Sunday, December 20th)
Final Score: Baltimore 31, Chicago 7
Baltimore, MD (Sports Network) - Joe Flacco threw for 234 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes as the Baltimore Ravens preserved their playoff hopes with a 31-7 win over the Chicago Bears at M&T Bank Stadium.
Flacco (21-of-29 passing) hit tight end Todd Heap with a pair of first-quarter touchdowns, later connecting with wide receivers Demetrius Williams and Derrick Mason on early third-quarter TD strikes that effectively put the game out of reach from the struggling Bears (5-9), who are 2-8 in their last 10 contests.
With the victory and the Broncos' loss to the Raiders, the Ravens (8-6) took over the first of two wild card positions in the AFC playoff race, with a critical two-game road stretch at the Steelers (Dec. 27) and Raiders (Jan. 3) to help determine their fate over the season's final two weeks. Baltimore also moved within a game of AFC North-leading Cincinnati - which lost late at San Diego - but would need to win out and have the Bengals (9-5) lose out to the Chiefs and Jets in order to claim the division title.
"Hopefully we're building momentum at the right time," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "That's what we're trying to do. But then again, every week stands on its own. We're going to come out with a new challenge against our arch rivals next week at their place, and that's going to present its own set of challenges."
Baltimore's aerial approach was somewhat incongruous to the local setting, which saw roughly 20 inches of snow fall upon the Baltimore area as storms swept the east coast on Saturday. The game time was moved from its original 1:00 pm slot to 4:15 pm, as more than 1,000 volunteers cleared the stadium of snow, allowing for the home team's offensive fireworks.
The Bears, who did not arrive in Baltimore until 11:00 pm Saturday night, due to the wintry conditions, appeared at times to still be grounded on the runway.
Chicago committed six turnovers in the game and did not score an offensive touchdown, finishing with just 13 first-downs and 220 yards of total offense.
"That wasn't an issue," said quarterback Jay Cutler of the travel difficulties. "We got here in plenty of time. If we had gotten here two hours before kickoff, I could see that being a problem. But we were well-rested, and we were ready to roll when kickoff came around."
The struggles for Cutler continued, as the former Denver Broncos Pro Bowler completed just 10-of-27 passes for 94 yards without a touchdown and with three interceptions. Cutler has now thrown an NFL-high 25 interceptions on the year.
"I think you can look at what's been our team's problem," said head coach Lovie Smith. "Jay's been a part of that, turning the ball over too many times. We've had opportunities to make plays, when you're not a good football team, there's a lot of things that go wrong."
The Ravens got out in front early, as the Bears cashed in on Cutler's first interception of the day when Flacco finished a five-play, 52-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Heap just over three minutes into the game.
On Chicago's next drive, Cutler marched the Bears all the way to the Ravens 14-yard-line before being intercepted by Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson on a tipped ball. Flacco made Chicago pay for that error was well, leading Baltimore on an 81-yard march culminating in Heap's second touchdown of the quarter, a seven-yard catch to stake Baltimore to a 14-0 lead.
"When you have a tight end that you can get the ball to, it's huge for your offense," said Flacco of Heap. "And Todd, what he's done over his career, I just wanted to come in and make sure I continues to help him do that."
The Bears kept the score there until experiencing their most positive moment of the game. At the 5:45 mark of the second quarter, after pinning the Ravens deep in their own end, Chicago punt returner Earl Bennett took a Sam Koch kick back 49 yards for the team's first points.
But Baltimore began pulling away early in the third-quarter, when from the Chicago 32-yard-line, Flacco lofted a ball to the end zone. Williams, positioned between cornerback Charles Tillman and safety Al Afalava, made a leaping grab between the defenders for another Baltimore touchdown.
The Bears fumbled the ensuing kickoff, leading to an 18-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Mason that put the Ravens ahead, 28-7.
In addition to his touchdown pass numbers, Flacco would finish the game with a career-best 135.6 passer rating.
Chicago again turned the ball over to Baltimore on its next touch as a Matt Forte fumble was turned into three points on a Billy Cundiff 40-yard field goal with 7:55 left in the third.
The Ravens concluded the home portion of their regular season schedule, finishing 6-2 at M&T Bank Stadium...Baltimore has never fallen to a team with a losing record under Harbaugh...Baltimore finished 2-2 against the NFC North, while Chicago was 2-2 versus the AFC North...Ravens' Mason notched the 850th catch of his NFL career on a 15-yard reception in the first- quarter...Bennett's punt return for a touchdown was the first such score for the Bears since Devin Hester brought one back 64 yards against the Saints on Dec. 30, 2007. Hester was inactive Sunday with a calf problem...The punt return for a score was the first against Baltimore since the Browns' Dennis Northcutt scored on a 62-yard play on Jan. 6, 2006...Bears defensive Adewale Ogunleye was helped off with a lower leg injury in the third quarter and did not return...Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb left the game with a leg injury and did not return...Baltimore's six takeaways matched a single-game franchise record, matched on five other occasions.
12/20 21:09:52 ET