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Baltimore 23, Houston 19

HOUSTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Jeff Blake threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns and Matt Stover kicked three field goals Sunday to lead the Baltimore Ravens to a 23-19 victory over the Houston Texans.

"Our offense played well against an outstanding defense and we made it difficult for them to move the ball," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said. "We knew we had to win this game and the way we responded was big."

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Baltimore (7-7) pulled into a tie with Cleveland for second place in the AFC North, 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore hosts Cleveland next week and closes the regular season Dec. 29 at Pittsburgh. The Steelers play at Tampa Bay next week.

"This was a very important week. Coach Billick told us that if we want to get into the playoffs this is what it takes," said Blake, who completed 18 of 30 passes. "You've got to go into a hostile territory and win."

Blake hit Travis Taylor with a 26-yard touchdown pass and Stover kicked two field goals from 22 yards to give the Ravens a 13-7 halftime lead.

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Blake connected with running back Chester Taylor on an 11-yard touchdown with 3:33 left in the third quarter to increase the lead to 20-7.

Avion Black, replacing injured former Raven Jermaine Lewis, scored on a 76-yard punt return with four seconds remaining in the third quarter to pull the Texans within 23-14.

Stover kicked a 47-yard field goal with 6:48 left in the fourth quarter after Blake directed a 57-yard drive.

Kris Brown kicked a 41-yard field goal with 2:56 remaining and the Texans (4-10) added a safety when Ravens punter Dave Zastudil ran out of the end zone with 2:19 left.

After the ensuing free kick, Houston took over at its own 32. But after two incompletions, David Carr had a pass intercepted by rookie safety Chad Williams at the Houston 41 with 1:57 left.

The Texans challenged the call after it appeared that the ball hit the ground.

"I was surprised they ruled it that way, especially after one official called it incomplete," Carr said. "I think everyone in the stadium saw that the ball hit the ground."

"It was close but I knew I had possession. They made the right call," Williams said. "It was a big concern when they decided to review the play but I knew I had caught it."

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Carr was 19 of 34 for 196 yards with two interceptions and was sacked twice, leaving him two sacks shy of the NFL record of 72 set by Randall Cunningham in 1986. Tight end Billy Miller was Carr's chief target with eight catches for 77 yards.

"When it gets hot in the kitchen we don't put it together," Miller said. "We've got to get over people saying that we're young. It's too late in the year for that."

Former Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper, who was selected in the expansion draft by Houston, led the Texans with 12 tackles.

"There is a fine line between winning and losing and we didn't make enough plays to win," Sharper said.

Houston held Baltimore 1,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis to 49 yards on 20 carries.

Travis Taylor had five receptions for 96 yards, but did most of his damage in a seven-play, 87-yard drive late in the second quarter, catching three passes for 79 yards. Just after the two-minute warning, Taylor capped the drive with a leaping 26-yard touchdown catch, giving Baltimore a 13-7 lead.

"It was great to see Travis Taylor make a play like that," Billick said. "The kid has a 40-inch vertical leap. I think we should see more of that."

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Stover kicked the first of his 22-yard field goals in the first quarter after rookie safety Ed Reed returned an interception 20 yards to the Houston 12. His second 22-yarder in the second quarter came after Blake completed 4four of five passes for 40 yards.

Houston put together a 14-play, 91-yard which lasted nearly eight minutes. Carr hit tight end Jabari Holloway with a 24-yard pass before rookie Jonathan Wells scored on a one-yard run 1:27 into the second quarter.

The Ravens increased their lead to 20-7 when Blake capped an 11-play, 84-yard drive with an 11-yard pass to Chester Taylor with 3:33 left in the third quarter. Blake completed four of four for 37 yards and also scrambled 17 yards to highlight the drive.

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