CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals completed their first undefeated season at home since 1988 with a 34-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North title.
The Bengals will play the AFC's final qualifier, the San Diego Chargers, in Cincinnati next Sunday.
Quarterback Andy Dalton overcame a career-high four interceptions by throwing for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns and ran for the go-ahead touchdown in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter as the Bengals finished the regular season 11-5.
Cincinnati outscored Baltimore 17-0 in the fourth quarter after the Ravens (8-8) had come back from a 17-6 halftime deficit to tie the game.
"You don't win the game in the first, second or third quarter," said Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga. "It all comes down to the fourth and when everyone rallies and does their job this is what happens. We came out with the W."
Baltimore will miss the postseason for the first time in six seasons under the leadership of head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco.
The Ravens became the 15th Super Bowl champion that failed to reach the playoffs the following season.
"That's it. That ends it. That stings," said Harbaugh.
Flacco completed 30 of 50 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown but was picked off three times in the fourth quarter.
Dalton threw interceptions on Cincinnati's first two possessions, including the first offensive play of the game, but Baltimore turned those takeaways into just six points. Justin Tucker made field goals of 38 and 22 yards as the Ravens took the lead.
Baltimore converted just one of its four red-zone possessions into touchdowns.
"If we could have gotten 14 or even 10 points there, it would have made a big difference," said Harbaugh. "When you have some momentum and you have a chance to get out in front of them like the way we did and getting turnovers the way we did, and (then) not converting those into touchdowns. ... That's been an issue down the stretch for us."
Cincinnati answered with a 53-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to wide receiver A.J. Green, their 11th scoring connection of the season, with 17 seconds left in the first quarter to wipe out that deficit. The Bengals had gained 25 yards on three runs by BenJarvus Green-Ellis before Dalton used a play-action fake that caught safety Matt Elam out of position.
That score tied Dalton with Carson Palmer for the franchise record for most touchdown passes in a season with 32. He took over the record with 1:51 left in the first half with a 16-yard throw to Marvin Jones. Dalton also surpassed Palmer for most yards passing in a single season with 4,296.
"It's an honor to accomplish those things," Dalton said. "There have been some really good quarterbacks who have played here, so it's going to be cool to look back on all these things."
What the Ravens said
"With a new team, we didn't capitalize on the opportunity that we had. I have said this before, you learn more in failure than you ever will in success. ... We're going to learn tremendously from it and we have to live with it for the whole offseason. You had better believe that we're going to come in and to next season with a sense of urgency." -- Linebacker Terrell Suggs.
What the Bengals said
"In the certain circumstances of the game, it was a great (90-yard) drive. It meant a lot. The great thing about this football team is that you can't pinpoint anybody in this locker room and say they're the reason. That's the epitome, to me, of a really strong football team." -- Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth.
What we learned about the Ravens
1. The Ravens face the challenge of going from the high of a Super Bowl victory to the disappointment of missing the playoffs the next season. There is talent and an expectation of winning on this team but the turnover from last season -- losing long-time leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as well as receiver Anquan Boldin -- obviously proved too much.
2. Baltimore ran for just 1,328 yards this season, the lowest total for the franchise since it came into existence in 1996. The previous low was 1,589 yards in 1997 when the Ravens went 6-9-1. In five previous seasons under John Harbaugh, the Ravens rushed for at least 1,831 yards and averaged 2,060.8 yards per season.
Ray Rice was the team's leading rusher with 660 yards, breaking his streak of four consecutive seasons with at least 1,143 yards on the ground. His 921 yards and four touchdowns of combined offense were his lowest totals since his rookie season of 2008 when he had 727 combined yards rushing-receiving and no touchdowns. He averaged 1,876 yards and nearly 10 touchdowns the last four seasons.
What we learned about the Bengals
1. The Bengals will be playing in the postseason for the third straight year, this time at home after losing at Houston as a wild card the last two postseasons. This is Marvin Lewis' fifth trip to the playoffs as the head coach -- his teams are 0-4, including 0-2 at home. There have been plenty of obstacles to overcome this season for the Bengals. Getting over this playoff win hump is next on their to-do list.
2. In two games against Baltimore this season, the Bengals gained 756 net yards but turned the ball over seven times, including six interceptions thrown by quarterback Andy Dalton. There might not be a better example of how the Bengals have been their own worst enemy most of this season.
The Bengals split their games with Baltimore, losing 20-17 in overtime at Baltimore in November, despite holding Baltimore to 411 yards in the two games. Teams usually don't win games turning the ball over four times but that's what the Bengals did on Sunday, forcing three turnovers in the fourth quarter themselves. Eliminate these mistakes and this will be a tough team to beat in the postseason.