Quarterback Lamar Jackson passed for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, leading the top-seeded Ravens to the AFC championship game with a breakthrough playoff performance in a 34-10 win Saturday over the Houston Texans.

After an uneven first half, the Ravens scored touchdowns on their first three drives and outscored fourth-seeded Houston 24-0 to secure their first appearance in the AFC title game since 2012. With a Jan. 28 win in Baltimore over the second-seeded Buffalo Bills or third-seeded Kansas City Chiefs — the first time an AFC championship game will be played in Baltimore since the Colts hosted the Raiders in 1971 — the Ravens would advance to Super Bowl LVII.

They leaned on a familiar recipe Saturday: Jackson and their defense. Jackson, the presumptive NFL Most Valuable Player favorite, struggled against the blitz in the first half, taking three sacks. But he finished 16-for-22 for 152 yards and two touchdowns and added 100 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

The Ravens, who entered halftime tied at 10, didn’t need long to surge ahead. Less than three minutes into the third quarter, Jackson capped a six-play, 55-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown on a designed run.

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After a Texans three-and-out, the Ravens covered 93 yards over 12 plays and just over seven minutes. Jackson gave the Ravens their first double-digit lead, 24-10, less than a minute into the fourth quarter after he turned a fake designed run into a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Isaiah Likely. Jackson put the Texans away for good with a third straight touchdown drive, scoring from 8 yards out on a bootleg led by left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (79) blocks Houston Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard (52) so quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) can score a touchdown during a playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Jackson’s greatest accomplishment might’ve been outshining the Ravens’ defense. A week after tearing the Cleveland Browns’ elite unit to shreds, Houston finished with just 213 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per play. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, the favorite for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, went 19-for-33 for 175 yards against a Ravens secondary missing top cornerback Marlon Humphrey. The Texans turned four first-half drives into Ravens territory into just three points.

For the game’s first 30 minutes, a blowout seemed unlikely. The Ravens took a 10-3 lead on a 3-yard pass from Jackson to wide receiver Nelson Agholor midway through the second quarter, capping an 11-play, 76-yard drive.

But after a three-and-out on the Ravens’ next drive, Texans wide receiver Steven Sims, a practice squad player, returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown to even the score. Jordan Stout, whose 24-yard punt had given the Texans a short field on a drive that ended with a field goal, missed an open-field tackle on Sims as well.

Credentials stamped

Baltimore Ravens fans cheer during a playoff game against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

For a half, the Ravens were in danger. So was their reputation. Even if they got out of Saturday night with a win over a young, flawed Texans team, there was no way the Ravens would enter next weekend’s AFC championship game with the swagger and style of a potential Super Bowl champion, right?

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Wrong. The Ravens stamped their NFL championship credentials with an unspeakably dominant second half, all but tossing Houston into the Inner Harbor with a 24-0 showing. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ passing offense figured out the Texans’ blitz packages and coverages. The Ravens’ run game started running downhill, cranking out one chunk play after another against a stout front. And the defense — well, the defense did what it almost always does, putting a talented passing game in a headlock until C.J. Stroud cried uncle.

The Ravens didn’t look like the NFL’s best team Saturday — until they absolutely did.

— Jonas Shaffer, Ravens reporter

I want to hear that halftime speech

Second-half adjustments mean a lot more than second-quarter adjustments. For a little while there, the Texans had M&T Bank Stadium silent. DeMeco Ryans brought the blitz, frazzling the Ravens’ offensive line and quarterback. Maybe the wide receivers were getting open, but Lamar Jackson had little time to throw. Instead, the Ravens were forced to lean on their run game, an optimal situation for the Texans’ stout run defense.

Both teams made halftime adjustments, I’m sure. But the Ravens made better ones. Jackson found his composure. The line tightened. And the offense started rolling. Even with Jackson connecting with his receivers, the Ravens still looked to their running backs, and they found success there, too, an impressive feat against the Texans. Meanwhile, the Texans continued to struggle with the Ravens’ pressure. While Stroud connected for a few big passes, the defense continued to hold. And the Ravens ran away with it.

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— Giana Han, Ravens reporter

Go away forever, 2019 demons

Lamar isn’t a playoff quarterback? Disproven. The Ravens can’t stop an elite downfield quarterback in the postseason? Dispelled. The ghosts of 2019, the last time Baltimore was upset as a No. 1 seed in the divisional round feel exorcised. And, after a first half of struggle, the Ravens showed the same adjustments that made them such a feared team in the regular season.

This felt very much like the hump to get over. The Ravens are going to the AFC championship for the first time in the Jackson era. You can’t get more impressive than the four-touchdown performance Jackson put up, and the run game absolutely smashed a Houston team that was among the best run-stoppers in the league. Mike Macdonald put together another gem, not allowing the Texans in the red zone at all. Baltimore is for real, and at last the fans can let themselves believe it.

— Kyle Goon, columnist

Pretty convincing!

Lamar smiles after OBJ put a “Top 10” necklace on him after the game. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

This played out largely how I expected it to, with the Ravens stumbling early before finding a way.

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Only, they didn’t just find a way. They bulldozed a very good team. Fully. Completely. In every which way once the second half began. It had been a while since it felt like the Ravens were in danger of losing a game that mattered, but that was certainly the vibe going into halftime. But they came out with the perfect methodical approach — with just enough creativity built in to never become predictable.

It’s been too long, AFC championship game. Welcome back to Baltimore.

— Chris Korman, editor

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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