BALTIMORE —A boisterous crowd had gone quiet at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Houston Texans had tied the game on a 67-yard punt return and fans were reliving a nightmare they first experienced with a home playoff failure in 2019.
This time, quarterback Lamar Jackson would not let his team fail, and he orchestrated four consecutive scoring drives in the second half to lead the top-seeded Ravens to a 34-10 victory over No. 4 Houston in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs on Saturday.
The Ravens will host the AFC championship next weekend for the first time in franchise history.
“There’s an amazing spirit on this team,” coach John Harbaugh said. “With that, [it’s the] first-ever AFC Championship Game played in Baltimore since 1970.”
Jackson completed 16 of 22 pass attempts for 152 yards with two touchdowns. He also led the team with 100 yards rushing with another two scores.
Jackson became the first player in Ravens playoff history with a rushing and passing touchdown in the same game.
The Ravens were also the No. 1 seed in the 2019 postseason but they were upset by the Titans, 28-12, in the divisional round.
Jackson delivered a fiery halftime speech to make sure the Ravens did not experience the same disappointment.
“We had no other choice – the offense as a unit. We just weren’t putting points,” Jackson said. “The first half, [we threw] the ball a couple times in the first half, but we didn’t have success. Our defense was playing lights out, but we were not responding. So, we just had to dial in at halftime. Like coach said, ‘Get the ball out quick and let the defense play us honest,’ and that’s what we did.”
The Ravens had a lackluster first half offensively with 118 total yards, but Jackson carried them on the opening drive of the third quarter. He led a 6-play, 55-yard drive and scored on a 15-yard run for a 17-10 lead.
The Ravens extended the lead to 24-10 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Isaiah Likely, who twisted his body and leaped over a defender to make the reception. That capped a 12-play, 93-yard drive that seemed to deflate the Texans’ defense.
Likely has scored six touchdowns in seven games since Mark Andrews was sidelined with an ankle injury.
“This is my first playoff win as a Raven,” Likely said. “So, it’s definitely a blessing, and I’ll be joyful about it. But as we are always reminded, it’s always about the next game and it is right around the corner. Our goal now is two games. We’re blessed with this opportunity, and we are going to go out next week and take the next step.”
Jackson put the game away with an 8-yard score with 6:20 left in the game as chants of “MVP” reigned down from the stands. Justin Tucker added a 43-yard field goal to round out the scoring.
The Ravens had 229 yards rushing on 42 carries.
Houston had just 38 yards rushing on 14 carries. Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud played tough and completed 19 of 33 passes for 175 yards with no touchdowns or turnovers.
“That’s a great Ravens team over there, and they deserve the win,” Stroud said. “It’s tough to get embarrassed like that, but definitely I think our future is bright.”
Houston had trouble handling the crowd noise and was penalized 11 times for 70 yards, including six pre-snap penalties.
“We know who we are, deep down, each and every guy in this locker room,” Ravens inside linebacker Roquan Smith. “So, all we have to do is go out and play to the best of our abilities. And if we do that, nobody can touch us. If we get complacent, then people can hang with us. That’s the mindset we have. It’s about being consistent.”
The Ravens took the lead on their first drive on a 53-yard field goal by Tucker. The Texans tied the game on their final drive of the quarter on a 50-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn.
The Texans had minus-1 yard rushing and six penalties for 40 yards in the opening quarter but still outgained the Ravens, 88-72.
The Ravens answered on the ensuing drive on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Nelson Agholor.
However, the Texans silenced the crowd on a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by Seven Sim, and the game was tied, 10-10, with 4:17 left in the half.
It was the Texans’ first punt return for a touchdown since 2016.
“They are a really good football team – credit to the Ravens there,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “They came out in the second half, and they executed better than we did. We did not execute well enough to be in position to win the game in the second half, and that’s what it came down to. Credit to Lamar. He made a ton of great plays, probably, that’s why he’s the MVP. He made a ton of great plays.
Notes: The Ravens’ inactive players were quarterbacks Josh Johnson and Malik Cunningham, wide receiver Tylan Wallace, offensive linemen Sam Mustipher and Sala Aumavae-Laulu, linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey … Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 26-7 against rookie quarterbacks in the regular season and playoffs, tied with Bill Belichick for the most such wins by a head coach since 1950.