Another gritty, nailbiter of a performance went down to the wire and as was the case last week, the Ravens came out on top, this time downing the Bills by a score of 24-17. Far from a pretty game, a back-and-forth tilt filled with hard hits and penalties ended with the Baltimore’s defense making a stand.
Takeaways are in order.
1) Winning ugly is still winning . . . *shrugs*
After seeing the Ravens steamroll the likes of Cincinnati, Houston, and Los Angeles in consecutive weeks, fans likely became accustomed to blowout victories. These past two weeks have shown that the Ravens are finding different ways to win, and it will likely prove valuable when postseason play rolls around.
Last week, torrential rain impacted both the Ravens and 49ers. This week, it was the wind that played a factor, especially early. Some of Lamar Jackson’s throws were carried just a bit too far ahead or above his receivers. For Josh Allen, he struggled to connect on anything in the first half and overthrew his target on multiple occasions.
The Ravens weren’t their usual selves on the offensive side of the ball, but a few timely plays and strong defense helped compensate for a lack of chain-moving. Jackson’s touchdown passes of 61 yards to Hayden Hurst and four yards to Willie Snead IV were difference-makers.
Hardly pretty, certainly not perfect . . and still, the Ravens are victorious.
2) Nicely done, zebras
It’s important to preface this by explaining that “zebras” equate to the referees or officials, due to their striped, black and white uniforms.
Now that that’s out of the way, the refs certainly seemed interested in giving the Bills a shot to win this game. I hate harping on and/or blaming officiating more than anyone, but the penalty flags thrown in the final minutes of this game were questionable, to say the least.
DT Michael Pierce was flagged for unnecessary roughness after tackling Devin Singletary for no gain and bringing him down. Should he have twirled him around after wrapping him up? Probably not, but it hardly looked like an excessive, intentionally-aggressive play.
Just two plays later, Jaylon Ferguson was flagged for a personal foul after Chuck Clark tackled Singletary for a 3-yard loss. The icing on the cake, though, came later in the drive, when CB Marlon Humphrey was called for pass interference after getting tangled up with WR Cole Beasley.
The Bills needed 16 yards on fourth down and were gifted 26 because of a phantom call. Combine these three penalties together and the Bills gained 56 yards on their final drive.
3) Unsung heroes continue to step up and make plays
“Unsung” may not be the best word to describe the likes of Chuck Clark, L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes anymore. Maybe “unlikely” is more fitting, as essentially nobody expected them to have a very significant impact on the defense’s success.
Week after week, they continue to make plays and against the Bills, they were especially important. Clark put forth another strong showing and much like in Week 13, he was all over the field. He finished tied for the team-lead in tackles with seven, while also chipping in a TFL, pass breakup and QB hit.
Clark was a key cog in the onslaught of pressure the Ravens were able to apply on Josh Allen. So too was L.J. Fort, who also finished the game with a sack and QB hit. Fort was the one who sacked Allen for a 12-yard loss on Buffalo’s final drive, forcing them into a 4th-&-16. Had Humphrey not been flagged for DPI, we’d be looking at Fort as the game-saver.
Bynes also had a sack and two QB hits, as well as a pass breakup in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. He continues to make steady and stabilizing plays in the middle of the field.
Humphrey, Matthew Judon, Earl Thomas III and Marcus Peters, among others, may be the headlining forces on this defense, but without the contributions of the aforementioned players listed above, the Ravens are almost certainly not sitting at 11-2.
4) Dear “G-Ro”, can we not get too cute please?
The Bills defense deserves credit. They put forth an outstanding effort and were able to limit the league’s No. 1 ranked offense to just 257 total yards. Buffalo was touted as a defense with speed and aggression entering this matchup, and that proved to be true.
With that being said, however, it felt at times like the Ravens were making life relatively easy on them because of gimmicky, ineffective play designs. This falls on the shoulders of Greg Roman, the team’s offensive coordinator.
Roman was been terrific and virtuoso-esque for the majority of this season, so it’s unfair to beat up on him too much. Still, some of the play calls in this game were head-scratching.
It felt like they refrained from running the ball at all in 3rd-&-short situations, where they’ve been effective all season. Instead, they opted for crafty rollouts and bootlegs that the Bills had no issues sniffing out.
Maybe the worst play of the game in the third quarter. Jackson took the snap and immediately rolled out to the right, then threw across field to WR Marquise Brown, who was swallowed up right away by Lorenzo Alexander for loss of eight yards. Predictably, the Ravens punted the ball away on this drive.
5) Please be okay, Mark Andrews . . .
A glaring caveat to this game was the absence of Mark Andrews, who suffered an apparent leg injury in the first quarter and did not return. The status of Andrews and severity of his injury remains to be seen, but it was clear that the team missed him on the field.
Andrews is not only the Ravens’ leading receiver on the season, but he’s their primary converter on third downs and in the red zone. Without him, the Ravens converted on just three of their 11 third-down attempts and were unable to find a rhythm in the passing game for the majority of four quarters.
Fortunately, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst stepped up in spurts, with the former snagging a red zone touchdown and the latter popping off for a 61-yard score in the third quarter.
Still, Andrews is evidently crucial to the team’s offensive success, so let’s hope his injury isn’t too serious or lengthy.
6) Playoffs? We talking about playoffs?
Indeed, indeed we are. With this win, the Ravens have officially clinched a postseason berth and remain in the driver’s seat of the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. If the Steelers lose to the Cardinals today, they’ll also win the division for the second straight year.
The team’s 15-point loss to the Browns in Week 4 seems like ages ago. Since then, the Ravens have not lost. Yes, they have won NINE straight games. It’s a remarkable feat, especially considering the level of competition they’ve had to play over the past several weeks.
Life is good.