In what was dubbed as a potential super bowl preview, a marquee matchup between the Ravens and 49ers lived up to the hype.
After a back-and-forth slugfest in rainy conditions, the Ravens defense came up big and Justin Tucker kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired, giving Baltimore their 10th win of the season and eight consecutive victory.
To the takeaways we go.
1) Ding, Ding, Ding . . .
Talk about an absolute battle between two of the best teams in the NFL, quite possibly THE two best teams in the NFL. This game had the feel of a heavyweight boxing match with both teams landing jabs and punches. After steamrolling their opponents for the better part of the past two months, the Ravens finally met their match but ultimately prevailed.
When WR Deebo Samuel caught a 33-yard touchdown reception on San Francisco’s opening drive, it was clear that this was not going to be another 30-point blowout for Baltimore. To their credit, the Ravens responded with back-to-back touchdown drives, one of which was set up after Chuck Clark forced a fumble in scoring territory.
The Ravens held a 17-14 lead at halftime after Robbie Gould’s 51-yard field goal attempt was tipped by Marlon Humphrey. It looked like they were primed to pull away but Lamar Jackson was stripped and the 49ers responded with a game-tying field goal drive.
From there, it was a defensive struggle on both sides. Here’s hoping we see this matchup again. Of course, that could only happen in the super bowl . . .
2) Bend, then bend some more . . . but don’t break
Entering Sunday’s matchup, the 49ers boasted the league’s second-ranked rushing, trailing only the Ravens in total rushing yards per game. With that being said, nobody on the planet envisioned San Francisco’s third-string running back, Raheem Mostert, ripping off 146 yards on the ground and averaging 7.7 YPC.
That’s exactly what happened, though. The 49ers rushed for 174 yards overall and punched the Ravens defensive front in the mouth at times. For much of this game, it looked the 49ers were going to beat Baltimore at their own game.
However “Wink Martindale’s unit responded and came through in the end.
It was far from a pretty performance, especially early. Missed tackles from Marcus Peters and Earl Thomas III brought back flashbacks of the team’s Week 4 loss to Cleveland. To his credit, QB Jimmy Garoppolo made some key throws throughout the game.
But in the fourth quarter, the Ravens came up with back-to-back stops when they needed them the most. DE Chris Wormley made maybe the play of the game, tipping Garoppolo’s pass attempt on 4th-&-1 late in the fourth quarter.
3) Lamar Jackson, willing this team to victory
This was far from the virtuoso performances we’ve seen from Lamar Jackson over the past several games. He completed 14/23 passes and delivered a 21-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews in the first quarter, but his passing yards (105) left much to be desired.
He was off on some throws and had a couple passes dropped, but you simply can’t look at the box score and make a judgement about this game. Unfortunately, many people will point to his lack of passing yards anyways.
The 49ers have the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense and it showed. They cover the field extremely well and broke up more than a few pass attempts that Jackson threw. And in the end, Jackson made plays at the end to will his team to victory.
On the final drive of the game, Jackson completed all four of his pass attempts, two of which were especially crucial. He connected with Andrews for a 12-yard gain and threw across his body to find Hayden Hurst for 10 yards several plays later. He also kept the drive alive with a QB sneak conversion on 4th & 1.
That’s what matters. Oh, 101 rushing yards isn’t bad either.
4) What qualifies as a pass interference penalty nowadays?
It’s silly to harp on officiating too much, especially in a victory. But seriously, can the league figure out and define what pass interference actually means?
With the 49ers facing a 4th-&-1 in the third quarter, Garoppolo’s pass atempt to Deebo Samuel fell incomplete after what appeared to be blanket coverage by Marlon Humphrey. However, Humphrey was flagged for defensive pass interference for making contact with the receiver before the ball arrived.
Even 49ers fans will likely admit this was a ticky-tack call and contact was minimal. Then, on the Ravens next drive, Jimmie Ward broke up a deep pass attempt from Jackson to Andrews over the middle of the field. Ward almost came up with an interception but nearly obliterated Andrews in the process, leaning into his shoulder and head while in mid-air.
Harbaugh threw the challenge flag but the call was upheld, forcing the Ravens to punt it away.
Pass interference has been at the forefront of discussion and criticism around the league this year, and these instances are yet another example of why.
5) Is there anyone else left?
That’s who the Ravens have beaten since October 20. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that the Patriots and 49ers are two of the league’s top-three teams, while the Seahawks aren’t far behind and the Texans are a division leader.
They may not have dominated the 49ers as they did their other opponents, but there’s no denying this team as a contender any longer. The Ravens are a freight train.