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Ravens regular-season moment No. 17: “Our backs were against the wall”

Posted on 22 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 18 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens hadn’t won a truly critical December game in a very long time.

After missing the playoffs in each of the previous three years, Baltimore was a team in transition as rookie first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson had replaced the injured Joe Flacco during the Week 10 bye. Many assumed that makeover would continue with a new head coach as rumors had swirled about John Harbaugh and the organization likely parting ways at the end of the season.

Jackson was still another offseason of development away from blossoming into the league MVP, but his presence had revitalized a stagnant rushing attack and breathed new life into the Ravens, who had won four of five coming out of the bye week to climb back into the playoff race. The revamped ball-control offense had better complemented a defense that dominated down the stretch and finished first in the NFL in total yards allowed, second in points allowed, and third in defensive efficiency.

But a Week 16 showdown with the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers — who were coming off extra rest after an impressive Thursday road win over AFC-leading Kansas City the week before — was the kind of test the Ravens simply hadn’t passed in recent years. Memories of the Christmas loss in Pittsburgh two years earlier and the fourth-and-12 choke against Cincinnati in the 2017 finale were too strong for most to believe Baltimore would beat one of the NFL’s elite, especially on the road.

The plot felt all too familiar as the Ravens dominated the first half statistically, but they led only 6-3 at halftime after going 0-for-3 inside the red zone. Jackson’s beautiful 68-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Mark Andrews and a Justin Tucker 56-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 16-10 lead in the third quarter, but the offense then stalled with three straight three-and-outs, continuing to put great pressure on a Baltimore defense that had bullied eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers and one of the league’s best offenses all night.

In the post-Super Bowl XLVII era, Ravens defenses had remained strong statistically, but a reputation for faltering at critical moments was impossible to overlook. Even two weeks earlier, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had pulled off a miraculous fourth-down conversion to force overtime and deny Baltimore an upset bid at Arrowhead Stadium.

That’s why Ravens fans couldn’t help but feel uneasy when Sam Koch’s punt from his own end zone was returned 24 yards by Desmond King to the Baltimore 39 with three minutes remaining. Not only could Rivers and the Chargers take the lead with a touchdown, but they had a short field to do it.

Someone would have to make a play for the Ravens to keep strong playoff hopes alive.

A holding penalty pushed Los Angeles back before Rivers completed a first-and-20 throw over the middle to eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, who fought for more yardage as cornerback Brandon Carr wrapped him up. Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor arrived a moment later to punch out the football, and slot cornerback Tavon Young scooped it up and sprinted 62 yards for a touchdown.

Game over.

The defense had closed a terrific performance, and the Ravens had secured their biggest December victory in years. And with Pittsburgh losing at New Orleans the following day, Baltimore needed only a Week 17 win to secure its first AFC North championship since 2012.

The Chargers would exact their revenge in a wild-card round rematch at M&T Bank Stadium two weeks later, but the Ravens had finally broken through after not being quite good enough for too long. The Week 16 win brought Jackson’s first 200-yard passing performance as a pro, the defense’s ability to finish, and validation for the previous night’s announcement that Harbaugh would return in 2019 with a new contract extension to continue to lead a new era for the Ravens.

“Once again, our backs were against the wall,” Harbaugh said to his players in the locker room after the 22-10 victory. “Nobody thought we’d come out here and win. Except who? Us.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 19: “You want to be the last team standing”

Posted on 19 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 20 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2006 campaign was shaping up to be a pivotal one.

With the Ravens coming off their worst season since 1998, head coach Brian Billick was firmly on the hot seat and former first-round pick Kyle Boller wasn’t the franchise quarterback the organization hoped he would be after drafting him three years earlier. That prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to trade a fourth-round pick to Tennessee for former MVP quarterback and longtime rival Steve McNair to boost a mediocre offense needing to better complement a championship-caliber defense led by future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, who were both healthy after injuries the previous year.

Baltimore began the season with a bang, shutting out Tampa Bay on the road and flattening Oakland in the home opener. A fourth-quarter comeback win at Cleveland gave the Ravens the first 3-0 start in franchise history to set up a Week 4 showdown with undefeated San Diego at an energized M&T Bank Stadium. Led by MVP running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers and their No. 1 scoring offense going up against the league’s best defense felt like a potential preview of the AFC Championship game.

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, but it was an ugly affair for the Ravens for much of the day with McNair throwing two interceptions, backup tight end Dan Wilcox fumbling at the San Diego 1 in the third quarter, and top wide receiver Derrick Mason dropping a sure touchdown in the fourth quarter. But the Chargers had made their own mistakes with conservative play calling and a fumbled snap that squandered a 52-yard field goal attempt that could have put them ahead by two scores midway through the final period.

Backed up on its next possession and not wanting to give the Ravens a short field with time winding down, San Diego intentionally took a safety to make it a 13-9 game with 3:12 remaining. It was just enough time for McNair, who had led the go-ahead drive against the Browns a week earlier and was trying to redeem himself after a poor showing in front of his new fans.

After punting or committing a turnover on their first five drives of the second half, the Ravens moved into the red zone thanks to two completions to Mark Clayton and a vintage 12-yard scramble by McNair. Out of timeouts after burning all three in the third quarter, Baltimore faced a second down from the 10 with 41 seconds to go.

Motioning across the formation, Todd Heap wasn’t a primary read on the play, but the Chargers rushed only three after applying heavy pressure much of the day, allowing McNair to look back to his left. Heap, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end despite having played with a motley crew of quarterbacks over his first five seasons, reined in a high pass and absorbed a shot from Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shawne Merriman at the 3 before stretching across the goal line with 34 seconds remaining.

“I felt the hit,” Heap said after the 16-13 win. “Luckily, I was able to bounce, fight, and do whatever I could to get in the end zone. You want to be able to take the hit. You want to be the last team standing.”

The upper deck seemingly shook during one of the loudest eruptions in the stadium’s history. All that was left was for the Ravens defense to put a bow on its impressive performance against an offense that averaged just over 30 points per game that season.

A fourth-down completion from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates gave the Chargers a last-gasp chance from the Baltimore 49, but outside linebacker Jarret Johnson sacked the San Diego quarterback on the next play as time expired. The Ravens had prevailed to improve to 4-0 and would go 13-3, the best regular-season record in franchise history until 2019.

The Chargers and Ravens would finish as the AFC’s top two seeds respectively in 2006, but there would be no January rematch with both teams being upset in the divisional round. Still, you couldn’t ask for better theater in Week 4 than what Ravens fans witnessed on that early October afternoon.

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Ravens-Chargers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 01 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens are happy to be home.

Even at 1-6 and knowing their playoff hopes are all but gone with Thanksgiving still a few weeks away, Baltimore has the opportunity to go into its bye week on a high note with a win over struggling San Diego. The Ravens will play their next three games at M&T Bank Stadium, giving them an opportunity to inch back to respectability in the month of November.

Losers of three straight like the Ravens, the Chargers sport the top-ranked passing game in the NFL, which will pose a significant challenge to Dean Pees’ 28th-rank pass defense.

As expected, starting left tackle Eugene Monroe is inactive after being listed as doubtful with a shoulder injury suffered in the fourth quarter of the Week 7 loss to Arizona. He will be replaced by second-year tackle James Hurst, who started three games in place of Monroe earlier this season.

Safety Kendrick Lewis (knee) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) are both active and will start despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Both practiced all week on a limited basis, and Lewis will be making his return after missing the Monday night game against the Cardinals.

Despite being listed as probable on the final injury report, second-year safety Terrence Brooks (thumb) is inactive for the third straight game.

Meanwhile, a banged-up Chargers team received good news Sunday morning with eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates (knee) being activated despite not practicing all week and missing last week’s game against Oakland. The Ravens defense has struggled to cover tight ends through the season, making Gates a dangerous presence in the San Diego passing game.

San Diego ruled out Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle (groin) and starting inside linebacker Manti Te’o (ankle) on the final injury report of the week.

Making his return to Baltimore, former Raven and current Chargers return specialist Jacoby Jones was out on the field early visiting with his old teammates as well as his former quarterback in Houston, Matt Schaub, before pre-game warmups.

Gene Steratore will be the referee for Sunday’s game.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys and white pants while San Diego dons its white tops with navy blue pants.

The forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-60s and winds up to eight miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between the Ravens and the Chargers with the teams splitting the first 10 contests. San Diego has won two of the last three against the Ravens and will be attempting to win in Baltimore for the second straight season, a rare achievement for any team over the last 15 years.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Jeremy Butler
WR Breshad Perriman
CB Tray Walker
S Terrence Brooks
OT Eugene Monroe
OL De’Ondre Wesley
DT Kapron Lewis-Moore

SAN DIEGO
CB Craig Mager
S Eric Weddle
RB Donald Brown
LB Manti Te’o
LB Denzel Perryman
LB Tourek Williams
G Orlando Franklin

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Monroe absent from practice for second straight day

Posted on 29 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An injury-marred season continues for Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe as he remains sidelined with a shoulder ailment suffered in Monday’s loss to Arizona.

Monroe missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday, creating further doubt about his availability for Sunday’s meeting with the San Diego Chargers. The seventh-year lineman missed three games earlier this season after suffering a concussion on the opening drive of the season opener.

Should Monroe not play, second-year tackle James Hurst would start in his place despite his immense early-season struggles. Fortunately for the Baltimore offense, the Chargers have not shown a consistent ability to create pressure on the quarterback with just 12 sacks in seven games this season.

Other players missing from Thursday’s practice included cornerback Tray Walker (concussion) and wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee).

Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith was added to Thursday’s injury report as a limited participant due to a knee issue. Also limited in the workout were safety Kendrick Lewis (knee), left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee), and tight end Maxx Williams (knee/ankle).

Safety Terrence Brooks (thumb) was upgraded to full participation and appears on track to make his return after a two-game absence.

Meanwhile, San Diego was once again without Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates (knee) and Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle (groin).

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Eugene Monroe (shoulder), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), CB Tray Walker (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Kelechi Osemele (knee), S Kendrick Lewis (knee), WR Steve Smith (knee), TE Maxx Williams (knee, ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Terrence Brooks (thumb)

SAN DIEGO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Orlando Franklin (ankle), TE Antonio Gates (knee), G/T Chris Hairston (illness), NT Sean Lissemore (hamstring), LB Denzel Perryman (biceps), LB Manti Te’o (ankle), S Eric Weddle (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Craig Mager (hamstring), LB Tourek Williams (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Melvin Gordon (ankle), C Chris Watt (groin, concussion)

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