CINCINNATI — Even when Andy Dalton is mixing interceptions and touchdowns, the Bengals somehow find a way to win at home. And that’s the best thing the AFC North champions take with them into the postseason.
Their next game will be at Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals are still perfect.
Dalton threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and set a pair of Bengals passing records on Sunday, leading Cincinnati to a 34-17 victory that eliminated the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals (11-5) are 8-0 at home and will host San Diego in a playoff game next weekend. They beat the Chargers 17-10 in San Diego on Dec. 1. Cincinnati wound up with the No. 3 seed when New England beat Buffalo 34-20 later Sunday to clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Dalton, who was 21 of 36 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. “The last couple of years we played on the road. For us to have a home game here, it’ll be a great environment.
“We’re ready for the playoffs to start.”
The Ravens (8-8) lost their last two games, denying them a chance to make the playoffs for a sixth straight season. They couldn’t avoid the Super Bowl slump that’s so common.
The Ravens became the 15th Super Bowl champ that failed to reach the playoffs the following season, and the sixth in the last 12 years. Their running game fell apart, the offense had to settle for field goals, and the defense missed Ray Lewis’ inspiration in the big moments.
“That’s it,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That ends it. That stings.”
In Cincinnati, there’s only one thing in mind: win a playoff game for the first time since the 1990 season. The Bengals lost opening-round games in Houston each of the last two seasons, leaving them tied for the seventh-longest stretch of playoff futility in NFL history.
This time, they’ll be playing at home, where they’ve scored 49, 41, 42, 42 and 34 points in their last five games.
“If we have to play next week or we have to play in two weeks, this team is going to carry this swagger and attitude into the playoffs,” offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “If we continue to put up 30-plus points a game and continue playing defense the way we are, we’ll have a chance to make a lot of noise.”
Most of the focus will be on Dalton, who had two horrid games in the playoffs. He put together one of the best seasons by a Bengals quarterback, breaking Carson Palmer’s club records for touchdown passes and yards passing on Sunday.
Dalton threw interceptions on Cincinnati’s first two possessions, then regrouped. He threw a 53-yard pass to A.J. Green, who got behind a defense that went for a fake handoff. Marvin Jones made a one-hand, diving catch in the end zone for a 16-yard score just before halftime.
Dalton’s 33rd TD pass surpassed Palmer’s club record from 2005. He finished 21 of 36 for 281 yards, breaking Palmer’s club record for yards passing in a season with 4,296.
After the Ravens tied it 17-all in the third quarter, Dalton led a 90-yard drive that ended with his 1-yard touchdown run.
“He just keeps being Andy,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He just keeps playing.”
All too often this season, the Ravens settled for field goals when they got close to the goal line. They did it again on Sunday, managing only three field goals off Dalton’s first three three interceptions. Justin Tucker was good from 38, 22 and 34 yards, giving him a club record of 38 field goals.
The Ravens took advantage of Shawn Powell’s 10-yard shanked punt and evened it 17-all in the third quarter. Flacco threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown, and Ray Rice ran for the 2-point conversion.
Dalton responded by leading the 90-yard touchdown drive culminating in his run after a faked handoff. Dre Kirkpatrick had two interceptions in the fourth quarter that sealed it, including a 21-yard return for a touchdown.
Flacco, playing his second game on a sprained left knee, was 30 of 50 for 192 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Notes: Flacco threw for a career-high 3,912 yards this season. … Brown’s TD catch tied Torrey Smith’s club record of 7 TDs by a rookie. … Rice set a club record for total yards from scrimmage with 9,214 career. … The Bengals played without TEs Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) and rookie Tyler Eiffert (neck). … The Bengals had to reconfigure their offensive line again when C Kyle Cook suffered a foot injury and tackles Anthony Collins and Whitworth hurt ankles. X-rays on Cook were negative. … The Bengals had two receivers with double-digit TD catches for the first time in their history. Green had 11, Jones 10.