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Ravens beat Bills, secure first-round bye in AFC

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The Baltimore Ravens got the bye they coveted.
Now they've got a week off before resuming the pursuit of their
ultimate goal: a trip to the Super Bowl.

Using a stellar performance from the defense and an efficient
effort from the offense -- the same formula that won them a world
championship in 2001 -- the Ravens beat the Buffalo Bills 19-7
Sunday to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Baltimore finished as the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The Ravens
needed San Diego to lose to Arizona in order to gain the top seed
in the conference, but the Chargers won, 27-20.

That didn't hinder the celebration in the Baltimore locker room.
The players were given the first part of next week off, and when
they return they should have Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe)
and guard Keydrick Vincent (groin) back in the lineup.

Thus, the importance of the bye.

"Coming into the game it was something at the top of our
agenda, to come in and get the victory just so we can have that
week off," said cornerback Chris McAlister, who scored the Ravens'
lone touchdown. "A lot of people can really use it. We can rest up
a couple of injuries in guys we have that didn't suit up today."

McAlister returned an interception 31 yards for a score and the
Ravens yielded only 39 yards rushing to put a pretty bow on the
finest regular season in franchise history. Baltimore (13-3) will
enter the playoffs with a four-game winning streak and nine wins in
its last 10 games.

When the Ravens next play at home on the weekend of Jan. 13-14,
their opponent will have already played its 17th game.

"Two for one. We won one when we actually won two," Ravens
defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. "That was our focus. ... It's
something that gives us an advantage, more than anything else. Now
someone else has to come here and play us."

Matt Stover kicked four field goals for Baltimore. The Ravens
didn't need an offensive touchdown because the defense carried the
day.

The stage is set. The Chiefs-Colts game in Indianapolis will kick off wild-card weekend on Saturday, with three games to follow. First-round byes go to the Chargers (No. 1 seed) and Ravens in the AFC, and the Bears (No. 1) and Saints in the NFC. This weekend's lineup:

SATURDAY
AFC: Chiefs at Colts, 4:30 ET (NBC)
NFC: Cowboys at Seahawks, 8 ET (NBC)

SUNDAY
AFC: Jets at Patriots, 1 ET (CBS)
NFC: Giants at Eagles, 4:30 ET (FOX)

• For the complete playoff schedule, click here.

Steve McNair, who revived Baltimore's offense this season, went
23-for-35 for 216 yards in directing an attack that on Sunday was
conservative, yet effective.

"When you have the No. 1 defense in football, when you have
Steve McNair and you have our defense playing the way they are,"
linebacker Ray Lewis said, "we're going to be a hard team to deal
with in the playoffs."

McAlister's touchdown provided the Ravens with a 16-7 lead with
3:46 left in the third quarter. The Pro Bowl cornerback stepped in
front of Peerless Price, reached high to grab the pass from J.P.
Losman and scurried down the left sideline, holding the ball aloft
in his right hand over the final 15 yards.

It was McAlister's career-high sixth interception of the season,
and the fifth time this season the Ravens returned an interception
for a touchdown.

Baltimore expanded its lead to 19-7, and Samari Rolle picked off
Losman's pass in the end zone with just over two minutes left to
seal the win.

Losman went 20-for-35 for 237 yards, but Buffalo (7-9) fell
short in its bid to close at .500 in its first season under coach
Dick Jauron.

"They are a good team and they know it. They're going to the
playoffs and we are going home," Bills offensive tackle Jason
Peters said.

"We finished strong, but we didn't come and play how we wanted
to play," said running back Willis McGahee, who had 23 yards
rushing in 11 carries. "We have to wait til next year now."

The Ravens went up 9-0 early in the third quarter when Stover
kicked a 39-yard field goal after Kelly Gregg recovered a fumble by
McGahee, who was hit by Ray Lewis.

But the Bills wouldn't go quietly. Losman directed a 76-yard
drive that surpassed the total yardage Buffalo had to that point,
and his 44-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans closed the gap to 9-7.

Baltimore outgained Buffalo by more than 100 yards in the first
half (177-72), but led by only 6-0 at the break.

The Ravens opened the game with a 13-play, 55-yard drive that
produced a 26-yard field goal. McNair completed five passes to
Derrick Mason during the possession, including an 8-yarder that
enabled the quarterback to join Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton as
the only players in NFL history with 30,000 yards passing and 3,500
rushing.

"I wish I was around for the first 29,500 [yards]," Ravens
coach Brian Billick said. "He's an incredible guy to be around."

Game notes
The Ravens wore their black uniforms for the first time
this season. ... Evans had seven catches for 145 yards and his
eighth TD. ... Baltimore finished 7-1 at home. ... Ravens WR Mark
Clayton, who was battling the flu, had only two catches for 26
yards.

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