OAKLAND, Calif.—- With a stunning stiff- arm - both literal and figurative - the Ravens pushed aside the Oakland Raiders and clinched a wild-card playoff spot.
Willis McGahee bashed a Raiders player to the turf on his way to a 77-yard touchdown, and the Ravens grounded the hopes of several AFC playoff contenders in similar fashion with their 21-13 victory over the Raiders before an announced 38,400 at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium on Sunday.
The defining moment of Sunday's triumph was the left arm that McGahee used to drive Raiders free safety Hiram Eugene to the ground at about the Ravens' 45-yard line en route to his 77-yard scamper, which was the second of his three touchdowns on the day.
"I wasn't expecting it to work that well," said McGahee, who finished with a career-high 167 yards and a single-season best 14 touchdowns, which is tied with Jamal Lewis and Michael Jackson for the franchise record. "I was shocked just like everybody else was shocked. I knew I was going to stiff-arm him, but I didn't know he was going to fall backward."
Coach John Harbaugh, who had a clear view of the play, called the move "impressive."
"I don't know if it was a stiff-arm or a beat-down," Harbaugh said. "I mean, that was a physical play, as physical a play as you're ever going to see."
Powered by McGahee, the Ravens compiled 240 yards on the ground - the offense's second-best total behind its 308-yard demolition of the Detroit Lions on Dec. 13.
It was an eye-opening display considering that McGahee had taken a back seat to Ray Rice, the versatile tailback who earned his first Pro Bowl invitation Tuesday.
"It means a lot, but my season went pretty good," McGahee said. "I have 14 touchdowns, so I can't complain. I might not have all the yards, but I've got all the touchdowns."
Added Harbaugh: "Willis took over the game with the way he ran. And I think our offensive line deserves a lot of credit. Obviously, there were holes, but this guy was running north and south. He was powerful, he was explosive, and I think he's worked really hard all season to have this kind of game.
"And his attitude, his work ethic has been off the charts. Willis McGahee is a leader on this football team, and it was so good to see him step up the way he did."
McGahee's showing helped overshadow a poor performance by the passing attack. Ranked 15th in the NFL in passing, the Ravens could muster just 90 net yards through the air.
Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for a season-worst 102 yards and was sacked four times. The wide receiving corps of Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington combined for just four catches for 37 yards.
"These guys are a big, tough, physical defense," Flacco said of the Raiders. "They played tough, and you have to be impressed with their performance."
The offense's struggles were especially poignant in the third quarter as the unit went three-and-out on its first three possessions, accumulating no yards.
That's when the defense filled the void, surrendering just a field goal to Oakland in that period.
After the offense's third three-and-out, the Raiders began marching toward midfield. But on first-and-10 from his 38, quarterback JaMarcus Russell - filling in for Charlie Frye, who strained his lower back and did not return after halftime - telegraphed a pass to tight end Zach Miller that was intercepted by rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
After Ellerbe returned the interception to the Raiders' 22-yard line, the Ravens needed just five plays for McGahee to score his third rushing touchdown of the game.
Russell, lustily booed when the Oakland offense took the field, heard the same catcalls when he held the football too long, was sacked by linebacker Antwan Barnes and lost the football. The fumble was recovered by Ellerbe at the Ravens' 23. "That was exactly what we needed," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said of the two takeaways.
The return to the tried-and-true formula of running the ball and playing solid defense wasn't lost on linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs.
"With that type of formula, that's how you win playoff games - defense and an aggressive running game," said Suggs, who sacked Frye once. "I think we just knew that we had to win by any means necessary and give ourselves a shot at redemption. Now we're in the playoffs, and everybody's 0-0 now."
SaturdayAFC: 4:30 p.m. - Jets at Cincinnati (chs. 11, 4)
NFC: 8 p.m. - Philadelphia at Dallas (chs. 11, 4)
Sunday, Jan. 10AFC: 1 p.m. - Ravens at New England (chs. 13, 9)
NFC: 4:40 p.m. - Green Bay at Arizona (chs. 45, 5)