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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 3, 2010

NFL: Ravens clinch playoffs with 31-13 win over Raiders

AP Sports Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. Willis McGahee pushed aside the last obstacle standing between the Baltimore Ravens and another playoff bid.

McGahee ran for a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns, including a 77-yarder that included a vicious stiff-arm, and the Ravens clinched an AFC wild-card berth by beating the Oakland Raiders 21-13 on Sunday.

The Ravens (9-7) went into the regular season finale knowing a win would put them in the playoffs and a loss would send them home for an early winter. The Raiders (5-11) provided a stiff challenge for much of the game but were unable to pull it out in the end behind former starter JaMarcus Russell.

Dannell Ellerbe intercepted a pass from Russell late in the third quarter to set up McGahee's third touchdown that made it 21-13. Ellerbe then recovered a fumble by Russell at the Ravens 23 with 9:42 to go to end a possible scoring threat by Oakland.

After a three-and-out for the Raiders, McGahee iced the game with a 36-yard run on third-and-4 from his own 15 to cap his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. It couldn't have come at a better time for Baltimore, which struggled for three quarters before putting away the Raiders.

Baltimore will open the playoffs next weekend at either Cincinnati or New England, depending on the results of the Bengals game against the New York Jets later Sunday.

The loss gave the Raiders seven straight seasons with at least 11 defeats, the worst run in NFL history. It also could mark the end of coach Tom Cable's stint in Oakland as his job status will likely be decided in the next few days.

Cable made some progress in his 28 games as Raiders coach but his inability to develop Russell into a legitimate NFL starter may ultimately doom him.

Russell was benched midway through this season and came on in relief in three of the final seven games, including in the second half Sunday after Charlie Frye left with an injured ankle and back.

Russell led a comeback in Denver two weeks ago and appeared poised to do so again after directing the Raiders to a field goal that cut Baltimore's lead to 14-13 late in the third quarter. But his two turnovers brought out the boo birds in Oakland and provided a fitting end to a disappointing third season for the former No. 1 overall pick. Russell committed 17 turnovers while throwing only three touchdown passes all season.

The Ravens struck first when McGahee scored on a 2-yard run to cap Baltimore's second drive. It was McGahee's touchdown in the second quarter that was truly highlight-reel material.

He took a handoff at the 23 and burst through the line. With safety Hiram Eugene in position to make a tackle near midfield, McGahee stiff-armed him to the ground and took it in the rest of the way for a 14-3 lead that seemed to have the Ravens in prime playoff position.

But Frye responded by leading the Raiders on a 79-yard drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Zach Miller in the final minute of the half. Billy Cundiff missed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide right on the final play of the half, keeping Baltimore's lead at 14-10.

Frye threw for 180 yards in the first half before leaving with the injury.