For the majority of the first half, it looked the Browns may be on their way to a 2-0 sweep of the Ravens this season. Although they only led by six points, the Ravens could get nothing going on offense, as their first four drives resulted in a turnover on downs, a fumble and two punts.
With just a couple minutes remaining in the second quarter, though, the Ravens finally decided to wake up and strap on their boots. In the blink of an eye, Lamar Jackson and company were leading 14-6 heading into the half. From there, they maintained a grip on their lead and held on for an 11th-straight victory.
Takeaways are in order . . .
1) “I just flipped a switch . . .”
Feel free to ignore the subtle Drake reference. However, boy did the Ravens ever flip a switch in this game.
Up until the two-minute warning in the second quarter, the Ravens couldn’t muster any sort of momentum on offense and were victimized by multiple self-inflicted wounds on the defensive side of the ball. On Cleveland’s initial touchdown drive, the Ravens gifted them yardage with three penalties.
First, Marcus Peters was called for holding on fourth down, negating a one-handed interception by L.J. Fort. Then, Chuck Clark was flagged for encroachment on 4th-&-1 just four plays later. The icing on the cake, though, was Jimmy Smith being flagged for a phantom pass interference call in the end zone, which led to a 1-yard touchdown reception by Demetrius Harris.
Just when it felt like nothing was going to go in the Ravens’ favor all day, Lamar Jackson and company exploded for back-to-back touchdown drives. The first took just two plays and resulted in a 38-yard reception from Mark Andrews. The second? Seven completions from Jackson in just 46 seconds, capped off with another Andrews touchdown catch.
The momentum continued into the second half, where the Ravens scored 17 more points on their next three drives. All-in-all, the remarkable change of events served as another reminder that when this offense is clicking, it’s an absolute buzzsaw.
2) Lamar Jackson puts his stamp on the MVP race
Much has been made about the MVP award over the past several weeks, a race that eventually narrowed down to Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson. To his credit, Wilson is having a terrific season, but there’s a reason Jackson emerged as the frontrunner. He’s simply been operating a high level for months on end and it would have taken a remarkable turning of the tide for Wilson to leapfrog him on the MVP ladder.
Jackson was nearly perfect against the Jets and in what will almost surely be his last showing in the regular season, he did nothing to lose his grip in Week 16.
Jackson completed just 5 of his first 11 pass attempts for 38 yards in the first half but quickly got into a rhythm, tossing the two aforementioned touchdown passes to Andrews in the final two minutes of the second quarter. In that same 78-second stretch, he threw 138 passing yards and completed all but two of his nine pass attempts.
On the day, he wound up finishing with another superb stat line. He completed 20/31 throws for 238 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 103 yards on the ground. If you listened closely through the television, you could hear “MVP chants” roar out of FirstEnergy stadium in the second half.
For the year?
3,127 passing yards, 36 passing touchdowns, just six interceptions and a completion percentage of 66%.
1,207 rushing yards a league-leading YPC average of 6.7.
Oh, and I failed to mention other categories like QBR and passer rating, where Jackson is at or near the top, too.
3) Not bad for a backup running back(s)
Their performances dominant many headlines, but Gus Edwards and Justice Hill deserve credit for helping the Ravens secure a victory.
Greg Roman seemed to make more of a concentrated effort to get Hill involved today and it paid dividends. The rookie speedster turned six touches into 51 scrimmage yards, highlighted by an 18-yard rushing touchdown that iced the game. On that same drive, Edwards rushed four times for 36 yards.
Hill was active as a receiver, too, catching three passes for 32 yards. During Baltimore’s two-minute drill at the end of the first half, Hill was on the field for all seven plays and saw two targets, one of which he turned into a vital 14-yard gain. He demonstrated his burst and speed in open space, which were especially valuable on swing passes.
Edwards’ contributions were crucial after Mark Ingram II exited the game (more on that later), as the “Gus Bus” prevented any sort of drop-off in rushing production. Edwards has been effective in small spurts for most of the season, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see him do it again.
As for Hill, however, the Ravens could have an offensive X-factor on their hands down the stretch.
4) Vacation time
Now that the Ravens have clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, they can rest most of their starters against the Steelers next week. On top of that, they will get a first-round bye in the playoffs, essentially giving them a two-week bye overall.
It couldn’t come at a more opportune time.
Baltimore saw several players get nicked up against the Browns. Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith left the game early in the first half (and returned later), while Mark Andrews and Lamar Jackson both appeared a bit shaken up on the same play. Andrews ran to the sideline and had his ankle wrapped. Jackson limped but remained in the game.
The biggest concern, though, is the status of Mark Ingram. Ingram suffered a non-contact calf injury on the first play of the fourth quarter, falling to the ground after attempting to walk off his discomfort. Ingram was labeled questionable to return but ultimately remained in the locker room.
Coach Harbaugh said after the game that there are “no structural issues” with Ingram’s injury and that he’ll provide an update on Monday. Needless to say, however, that this two-week vacation will definitely be valuable for the Ravens.
5) The road comes through Baltimore
It wasn’t the outright, dominating victory that many were hoping for, but the Ravens handled their business against Cleveland. In doing so, they effectively secured home-field advantage in the postseason, a feat that is important and vital.
History shows that home playoff teams prevail more often than not and regardless of what happens next week, the Ravens are guaranteed to play host in the divisional round (and conference championship, hopefully) to whoever advances in the AFC bracket.
It’s a luxury the Ravens have never been afforded, as the franchise has never once been the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but they earned it this year.
11 straight victories, historic offensive production, a mid-season defensive turnaround and strong special teams play - add it all together and this is a remarkable feat.
Buckle up, Ravens Flock. This ride is far from over.