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.
Baltimore will open the playoffs next weekend at New England.
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.
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
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.