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Two decisions, MVP-like performance prove to be difference for Ravens

Posted on 21 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens offense had run only three plays in nearly a full quarter of action, thanks in part to newly acquired cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception return for a touchdown late in the second quarter.

Midway through the third quarter of a 13-13 game, Seattle was dominating time of possession by almost 11 minutes and had carried the ball five times for 31 yards on its second drive of the third quarter. Facing a fourth-and-3 from the Baltimore 35, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll could keep his offense on the field to try to wear down a front that was already down a starting outside linebacker or try a 53-yard field goal on a wet surface — with a kicker not named Justin Tucker.

Jason Myers missed wide right, and with that failed kick went Seattle’s best chance to seize control of the game. Perhaps the Ravens defense would have stopped the Seahawks on fourth down anyway, but it was a decision that stood in stark contrast to what would happen on the ensuing drive.

John Harbaugh had decided to go for a short field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 8. After two Mark Andrews drops, a delay of game, and a fantastic 13-yard run by Lamar Jackson on third-and-15, the Ravens head coach was going to take the sure three points and a lead late in the third quarter. But after settling for field goals on each of their two red-zone trips in the first half, Jackson was having none of it as he came to the Baltimore sideline and the field goal team ran onto the field.

“I’m like, ‘This time we aren’t kicking no field goal because Russell Wilson is getting the ball again,'” Jackson told reporters in Seattle, “and if we didn’t score, it might look ugly.”

Harbaugh acquiesced and called a timeout before Jackson powered his way behind a heavy front into the end zone to give the Ravens the lead for good in one of their biggest road victories in years. It was a defining moment for a 22-year-old quarterback who’s not only emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate in his first full season as a starter but as the unquestioned leader of his team.

It was ultimately about trusting your best player rather than analytics or settling for a small lead in a game with more than 16 minutes remaining.

Whenever the Ravens needed a play on a day when his best wide receiver was out and his top pass catcher — tight end Mark Andrews — had the worst game of his career, Jackson said no problem, rushing 11 times for 119 yards before taking the final three kneels of the 30-16 victory. Critics may mock Jackson going 9-for-20 for 143 yards on a difficult passing day in which he wasn’t helped by the wet conditions or his receivers, but anyone who watched objectively wouldn’t even try to diminish the performance. Jackson was the best player on a field that included Wilson, the early MVP favorite who threw his first interception of the season and completed less than 50 percent of his passes against a rejuvenated and revamped Baltimore defense that scored two touchdowns.

Unsurprisingly, Jackson was the talk of both locker rooms after the game, a theme becoming more popular by the week.

“We can’t rush how we want,” Seattle defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “Can’t get out of the rushing lane because we’re scared he’s going to run with the ball like he did today. Even though we stayed in our rush lane, he still found a way and made a play and got through there. He made a lot of guys miss today. He had a good game.”

Jackson is now on pace to run for a staggering 1,316 yards, a single-season total eclipsed by only Jamal Lewis (three times) and Ray Rice (twice) in Ravens history. His arm wasn’t the difference in Sunday’s game, but the young quarterback is completing 63.3 percent of his pass attempts and is on pace to throw for just under 3,800 yards with a 94.1 passer rating, the kind of progress with which both the organization and fans would have been thrilled in the offseason. As Peters noted about his new quarterback after Sunday’s win, “He’s only going to get better.”

The Ravens now enter their bye week with a 5-2 record and a 2 1/2-game lead in the AFC North. It’s their first time entering the off-week with a winning record since 2014, the last time they won a playoff game. Harbaugh’s team is not only sitting pretty in a lackluster division, but the Ravens now see a wide-open AFC behind undefeated New England, especially with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes expected to miss at least a few weeks with a knee injury suffered last Thursday night.

The win over the Seahawks transformed thoughts of the Ravens being merely the best team in a bad division and benefiting from a soft early schedule to visions of 2019 being something special. Of course, there’s a very long way to go with the Ravens playing five of their next six games against teams currently sporting winning records, but none of those games — not even Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and defending champion New England coming to town in two weeks — seem as daunting after wining in Seattle, one of the most difficult places to play in the NFL for years.

It started with contrasting decisions by two Super Bowl-winning coaches in the third quarter and ended with the ball in the hands of the game’s best player.

The Ravens should like their chances with Jackson every time.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Houston

Posted on 28 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over .500 and into the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race with a 23-16 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was ugly, but Monday was the first time the Ravens have won a game in which they trailed all season. After wilting in some late-game situations earlier this season, the defense forced Tom Savage turnovers on Houston’s final two possessions. That’s how you finish off a close game.

2. Compliments for Terrell Suggs are regularly attached to some acknowledgement of him not being the player he once was, but it’s time to recognize this being the best he’s played in years. He was the best player on the field and is now quite possibly cementing his spot in Canton.

3. I’m running out of ways to describe this passing game that was facing a bottom-10 pass defense entering Week 12. Awful. Joe Flacco needs more help, but I struggle more each week to recognize what he’s bringing to the table. He committed no turnovers, but he misfired on countless throws.

4. What does it say for the offense that the punter turned in the best pass of the night? Sam Koch and Chris Moore executed nicely on the fake punt that swung the momentum, but credit Jerry Rosburg. His special teams units are exceptional every year and make a real difference.

5. Running the ball and stopping the run is this team’s formula for success. Baltimore averaged 4.5 yards per carry to bounce back from some recent lackluster performances and allowed only 2.6 yards per carry. The defense ranks third in the NFL in fewest yards per carry allowed since Week 8.

6. A mere look at his torn jersey said all you needed to know about the fits DeAndre Hopkins gave Ravens cornerbacks. Jimmy Smith has played at an All-Pro level this season, but Hopkins made even him look bad several times.

7. Marlon Humphrey played just seven snaps because of a leg injury, which meant Smith saw his highest volume of snaps since Week 6. That’s something to monitor with the Ravens getting ready for Detroit on a short week and the veteran already missing practice time every week.

8. Give the coaching staff and the offensive line credit for making adjustments against Jadeveon Clowney, who dominated in the opening quarter. He had a quiet second half and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as the Ravens effectively used double teams and chip blocks.

9. Penalties were a problem with seven — all but one against the defense — for 89 yards, but that was only the fourth time this year the Ravens have had more than 60 yards in penalties. That’s a major improvement from where they’ve been in recent years.

10. The two-minute offense at the end of the first half was hardly a thing of beauty, but the drive resulting in a 53-yard field goal was probably one of the better ones we’ve seen this season. That’s not saying very much, but at least Justin Tucker continues to be money.

11. After Flacco broke his second knee brace in two seasons, he admitted that he’s thought about not wearing one. Seeing him move around without it makes me think it could be worth the risk for improved mobility within the pocket if nothing else.

12. Speaking as someone who doesn’t pay to attend games and wouldn’t tell others how to spend their money, it was still sad seeing thousands of empty seats for the first Monday night home game in over five years. Games like that used to be a big deal in this town.

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Wild-card weekend drives home key points for Ravens

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Watching wild-card weekend from home for the third time in the last four years, the Ravens had to be thinking what might have been.

They have no one to blame but themselves after losing three of their last four games to finish a mediocre 8-8, but a survey of the wild-card round field only reinforced the lack of high-quality teams in the NFL this year and in most seasons. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are, but you could argue that Baltimore was better than a few of the playoff teams if going off the eyeball test.

Oakland deserves a pass with the unfortunate injury to Derek Carr, but the Ravens would have certainly put up a better fight against Brock Osweiler and a Houston offense that was abysmal all season. The Texans finished minus-49 in point differential this season — Baltimore was plus-22 — and took advantage of a lousy AFC South with a 5-1 division record.

No one should have been surprised to see the Pittsburgh offense steamroll Miami after the Ravens scored 38 points against that same group last month. The Dolphins deserve credit for beating the teams they were supposed to under first-year head coach Adam Gase, but they registered only one victory against a team that finished with a winning record this season.

The Detroit Lions were a good story with so many exciting finishes, but they lost three straight to close the regular season, beat only one team that finished with a winning record, and finished with a minus-12 point differential.

The Ravens might have been an Antonio Brown tackle away from entering Week 17 atop the AFC North, but the defining stretch of the season was their winless October in which they lost to a non-playoff team at home (Washington) and dropped a 24-16 road contest to the woeful New York Jets. A single victory over that 0-4 stretch would have changed the dynamics of the final two weeks of the season.

Of course, being able to measure up to a few playoff squads doesn’t mean John Harbaugh’s team is close to being back at a championship level. Looking beyond the Texans’ lottery-winning draw of a Carr-less Raiders team on Saturday, the other three winners of the weekend — Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay — each possess dynamic playmakers, a truly special quarterback, or both.

The Ravens have a respectable collection of quality players — including the league’s best kicker and the top guard in the NFL — but they have nothing that measures closely to the impact provided by five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and two-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who combined for four touchdowns and just under 300 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 30-12 victory over Miami. And Joe Flacco didn’t come close to playing at a special level this year, either.

With Flacco arguably having more job security than anyone in the entire organization after signing a contract extension last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome better find him a playmaker or two if the Ravens’ fortunes are to markedly change for the better any time soon. It’s been a talking point for a few years now, but that makes it no less true after another non-playoff campaign.

** The four games had an average margin of victory of 19.0 points, making it the most lopsided wild-card weekend since 1981. Most expected all four home teams to prevail, but it was quite a contrast between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders this weekend.

** I couldn’t help but feel for the Raiders as they played in their first playoff game in 14 years without the benefit of their young franchise quarterback under center. Oakland should be back with such a talented group of young players on which to build, but return trips to the postseason can’t be taken for granted.

** It’s great to see Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finally showing off the ability that warranted him being selected first overall in the 2014 draft after two disappointing seasons. He finished with an interception, two batted passes, and four quarterback pressures in a terrific performance against overwhelmed rookie quarterback Connor Cook.

** Even if Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot after Sunday’s win was much ado about nothing, why in the world was the Pittsburgh quarterback and several other key starters still in the game so late in the fourth quarter?

** Can you imagine how long their fans would have been screaming about the Packers’ failed fourth-down run from the their own 42-yard line in the third quarter if it had resulted in the turning point of a New York Giants win at Lambeau Field? I suppose having a future Hall of Fame quarterback helps to cover up a bad coaching decision as Rodgers was sensational on Sunday.

** No, I don’t believe the Monday trip to Miami made by Odell Beckham Jr. — and several of his teammates — was the reason why the Giants lost to Green Bay, but it did fairly call his focus and priorities into question just days before the biggest game of his young NFL career.

Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is highly respected around the league and summed it up nicely via his Twitter account. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should, and Beckham certainly fueled the flames of the story by turning in a lousy performance.

Maybe he should have asked Tony Romo if a pre-playoff vacation is worth the potential backlash.

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