Well, that happened.
Things looked good for the Ravens on Monday night. Then, they began to look quite gloom as the game winded to a close. However, a storybook ending saw the Ravens escape with a much-needed win over the Browns by a score of 47-42.
Some thoughts below:
1) Lamar Jackson seizes the moment
With all the chips on the table in the biggest game of the season, the league MVP came up huge when the Ravens needed him the most. The storybook ending will garner all of the headlines, and rightfully so, but Jackson’s performance prior to end of the fourth quarter should also be credited.
Aside from a few throws, Jackson and the Ravens did little to push the ball downfield through the air. What they did do, though, is carve the Browns up on the ground for roughly two-and-a-half quarters. Jackson in particular was dynamic, consistently ripping off chunk gains on scrambles outside of the pocket.
Jackson only ran nine times but rushed for 124 yards (!), highlighted by a 44-yard scamper and two touchdown runs. The Browns had no answers for Jackson’s escapability and speed in the open field. He was the catalyst for the Ravens jumping out to 28-14 and 34-20 advantages, despite only throwing 11 times and completing six throws at the time.
Then, after exiting the game with cramps and missing the first 10 minutes of the first quarter, Jackson returned from the locker room in dramatic fashion following Trace McSorley’s injury. Jackson’s 44-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown gave the Ravens new life — but he wasn’t done yet.
After the Browns marched down the field and tied the game at 42-42, Jackson completed five straight passes to move the Ravens 38 yards down the field. From there, Justin Tucker took the mantle and put the cherry on top of what was an iconic showing from Jackson.
2) Justin. Tucker. That is all.
One of the takeaways from last week’s game was “Justin Tucker is human.” This of course came after Tucker uncharacteristically missed a 36-yard field goal attempt against the Cowboys, something that rarely — if ever — happens.
Call it regression to the mean if you will, but Tucker reminded me and everyone else on Monday night that maybe he isn’t actually human after all.
After a wild, back-and-forth slugfest over the final two minutes of play, the Ravens chances of pulling out a victory in regulation rested on the shoulders of Tucker. It’s a situation Tucker has found himself in more than a few times during his career. The common denominator is that he always comes through in big moments and this was no different.
Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history but he may also be the clutchest kicker ever, and certainly one the of the clutchest players in the league today. When Tucker trotted out to the field to attempt a 55-yarder, there was really no doubt what the result would be.
And yet it was still as sweet as can be. Call him the mailman, because Justin Tucker always delivers.
3) “You can’t make this stuff up . . .”
It’s already been said a bunch and will continue to be for the forseeable future, but the end of this game legitimately felt like something out of a movie script.
Primetime game? Check.
Divisional battle? Check.
Two former Heisman Trophy winners dueling at quarterback? Check.
Jackson, just two weeks removed from coming down with COVID-19, suffers cramps out of nowhere in the second half. At the time, the Ravens were leading 34-20 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and had momentum on their side after Baker Mayfield tossed an interception on Cleveland’s prior drive.
In Jackson’s absence, Mayfield and the Browns put together back-to-back drives of 12 plays that ended with touchdowns. In between, the Ravens — with Trace McSorley at the helm — went three-and-out. Then Jackson trots out the locker room in heroic fashion and immediately throws a game-saving touchdown.
It took only 75 seconds for the Browns to respond. Four quick completions from Mayfield, capped off with a 22-yard connection to Kareem Hunt, even the scored up at 42-42. It was only fitting that the game ended with a last-second field goal.
This game had everything you need in an instant classic. It’s surely the game of the year in the NFL this season but also, and maybe this is just recency bias, one of the most memorable games and victories in Ravens history.
4) Now to the negatives . . .
A win is a win, and the Ravens needed one in the worst way. However, there were some glaring issues during this game that almost cost the Ravens a victory. Specifically what I am referring to is the defense, which was . . . not great.
Baltimore’s defense has been the strength of their team for most of the season but tonight, they struggled to do much right — especially down the stretch. There were a handful of occasions throughout the night in which defenders were out of place and out of sorts.
The Browns didn’t do anything very out-of-the-box offensively but managed to move the ball effectively nonetheless. The Ravens brought pressure at times but failed to finish plays and get sacks. Mayfield managed to move around the pocket, buy time, and extend plays.
Cleveland scored touchdowns on four of their five offensive drives in the second half. Three of them lasted 10+ plays and the Browns marched 70+ yards down the field on all four of them. Baltimore played soft coverage in the second level and consistently ceded medium-to-large gains in the passing game.
It’s understandable to be riding high after such a momentous win, but it goes without saying that the defensive performance was concerning to say the least.
5) The stage is set
We’ve been waiting for the Ravens to turn a corner for several weeks now. If this doesn’t prove to be a turning point, nothing else will.
The importance of this win cannot be understated. If the Ravens lost this game, they would have had to win their remaining three games AND receive quite a bit of help from other teams to make the postseason. However, after picking up this victory on Monday night, they’re in remarkably better shape.
Now, sitting at 8-5, the Ravens are technically still on the outside looking in of the playoff picture but are in the thick of the wild card race. Should they handle their business in the home stretch of the season against the Jaguars, Giants, and Bengals, the Ravens should be in prime shape to earn another shot in the postseason.
It’s “run the table” time. Game on.