Instead of backing into the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens made it on their own --- in decisive fashion.
Le'Ron McClain ran for two touchdowns in the pivotal first half, and the Ravens routed the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-7 Sunday to earn an AFC wild-card berth.
Baltimore (11-5) could have qualified for the postseason if Buffalo beat New England earlier Sunday, but the Patriots' 13-0 victory meant the Ravens took the field knowing they had to win to get into the playoffs.
It was 24-7 at halftime, and Baltimore never let up against the stumbling Jaguars (5-11), who committed four turnovers and were held scoreless over the final 45 minutes. The seven points were a season-low for Jacksonville.
The Ravens will open the playoffs against AFC East winner Miami next weekend on the road.
A year ago, Baltimore went 5-11 and finished last in the AFC North. This season, with a first-year coach and a rookie quarterback, the Ravens reversed their record and finished the regular season with nine wins in their last 11 games.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh guaranteed Tuesday the Patriots would win, and he was right. Quarterback Joe Flacco guessed the Jaguars would put up a fight for about a quarter, and he was also correct.
Knowing that anything short of a victory would ruin an otherwise successful season, the Ravens wasted no time getting to work. Flacco completed a 48-yard pass to Mark Clayton on the game's fourth offensive play, setting up a field goal by Matt Stover.
The Ravens then forced a fumble, but that opportunity ended with a Stover misfire from 48 yards, ending his run of 14 straight successful field-goal tries.
Jacksonville took a 7-3 lead on a 23-yard pass from David Garrard to Alvin Pearman, who was signed Thursday to replace injured running back Fred Taylor. It was the first catch of the season for Pearman, drafted by Jacksonville in 2005.
Baltimore answered with a 78-yard drive in which Flacco went 6-for-7 for 69 yards before McClain ran it in from the 5.
On their next possession, the Ravens covered 77 yards and moved ahead 17-7 on a 13-yard run by Willis McGahee. Flacco completed all three of his passes during the drive, hitting Derrick Mason twice for 57 yards and finding Clayton for 8 yards on a third-and-7.
With nothing to play for, the Jaguars could have quit. But they moved to the Baltimore 19 and were poised to at least get within a touchdown when Ed Reed ended the drive with the first of his two interceptions.
Baltimore turned that into another McClain touchdown run and a 17-point halftime lead.
Stover added a 41-yard field goal in the third quarter to complete the scoring. Reed registered his NFL-high ninth interception in the waning minutes; the nine pickoffs tied his own team record.
Flacco went 17-for-23 for 297 yards and no interceptions. McClain, a seldom-used fullback in 2007, ran for 70 yards and finished with a team-high 902 for the season.