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By NOAH TRISTER | AP Sports Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) — Lamar Jackson threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores, and the Baltimore Ravens pulled away in the second half for a 34-10 win over the Houston Texans on Saturday to advance to the AFC championship game.
On one of his most productive rushing days of the season, Jackson helped the Ravens (14-4) take control in the third quarter after the teams entered the half tied at 10.
His 15-yard scoring run put Baltimore ahead to stay. Although C.J. Stroud had a solid, composed first half for Houston, the Texans (11-8) ultimately couldn’t turn enough promising drives into points against an impressive Ravens defense.
Now Baltimore will host the AFC title game for the first time since January 1971, when the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders on their way to a Super Bowl championship. The Ravens will play in that semifinal round for the fifth time since their arrival in Baltimore. They’ll take on the winner of Sunday’s matchup between Buffalo and Kansas City.
Ravens fans have been haunted by what happened in the playoffs four years ago, when Baltimore went 14-2 in the regular season but dropped its postseason opener to Tennessee. Houston did enough to create some anxiety, especially when Steven Sims returned a punt for a touchdown and Jackson struggled with the blitzing Texans defense.
But on the first possession of the second half, Jackson guided Baltimore 55 yards in six plays and scored on a run up the middle. Then, a 15-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Likely early in the fourth made it 24-10.
Jackson’s final touchdown came on an 8-yard run with 6:20 to play, and the fired up quarterback kept running right into the tunnel in that corner of the field.
Sims’ return was the only TD for the Texans, whose offense never did reach the end zone in 120 minutes against the Ravens this season. Houston lost 25-9 in its season opener at Baltimore.
Jackson rushed for 821 yards during the regular season, which is a big part of the case for his second MVP award. But he surpassed 100 yards on the ground only once. He ran for exactly 100 on Saturday on 11 attempts. A 14-yard bootleg on fourth-and-1 near midfield led to the touchdown by Likely that gave the Ravens some breathing room.
Jackson also passed for 152 yards. He won a playoff game for the second time in five starts.
Stroud threw for 175 yards and didn’t take a single sack against a tough Baltimore defensive front, but the Texans dropped to 0-5 in the divisional round of the playoffs.
They’re the only current franchise that hasn’t reached a conference championship game.
The Ravens led the NFL in sacks this season, but it was Jackson who was under pressure in the first half, when Houston got to him three times. Two of those sacks came back-to-back in the final minute of the second quarter after a missed field goal gave Baltimore decent field position.
Penalties held the Texans back all day — they ended up with 11 for 70 yards. After Justin Tucker opened the scoring for Baltimore with a 53-yard field goal, Houston appeared headed for points of its own before two false starts and an intentional grounding flag pushed the Texans out of range.
Houston did eventually tie it on a 50-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn, but the Ravens answered with a 76-yard march capped by Jackson’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor. Jackson scrambled for 23 yards on the first play, and 15 yards on third-and-5 to put the ball at the Houston 2.
Down 10-3, the Texans struck back on special teams. Sims, who was signed from the practice squad to the active roster earlier in the week, broke free up the middle for a 67-yard touchdown.