5 KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Defense and special teams defined the Baltimore Ravens' cause again as they secured a first-round bye with a 19-7 victory Sunday night over the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium as cornerback Chris McAlister's 31-yard interception return for a touchdown created just enough separation to clinch the game.

Baltimore had been leading only 9-7 with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter until McAlister broke in front of a J.P. Losman pass intended for Peerless Price to give Baltimore a 16-7 advantage. Cornerback Samari Rolle, who had been beaten for a 44-yard touchdown pass by Lee Evans to bring the Bills to within two points in the third quarter, intercepted Losman in the fourth quarter with 2:26 left. That allowed Baltimore (13-3) to run out the clock and enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak along with the best regular-season record in franchise history.
2. Kicker Matt Stover booted four field goals, converting from 26, 37, 39 and 29 yards. His first three kicks staked Baltimore to a 9-0 lead by the third quarter.
3. The Ravens' top-ranked defense shut down running back Willis McGahee, limiting him to 23 yards on 11 carries for a 2.1 average per carry. Buffalo gained just 39 total rushing yards on 14 carries.
4. The Ravens nearly doubled the Bills in time of possession, controlling the clock for 36 minutes and 21 seconds to the Bills' 23 minutes and 39 seconds.
5. Quarterback Steve McNair didn't throw a touchdown pass, but converted 23 of 35 passes for 216 yards in a conservative attack, hitting three different receivers for five completions, including Todd Heap, Ovie Mughelli and Derrick Mason.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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