The Baltimore Ravens had the playoff-bound Los Angeles Rams on the ropes on their must-win interconference matchup in Week 17 but ultimately couldn’t hold on through the final minute. They were still without their star quarterback, Lamar Jackson, for the third straight game and still nearly came away with a victory in a game where there was some good, some bad, and some ugly.
Chuck Clark: After only securing three interceptions through his first 77 career games, the veteran safety nearly matched that total in his best game as a pro to date with two. He returned his first 17-yards for his second career touchdown and he climbed the ladder to high point the ball for his second. Clark finished with seven total tackles and capped off a strong day in coverage with three pass deflections.
OH MY GOODNESS!— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 2, 2022
ANOTHER INT FOR CHUCK!!
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Tyler Huntley: The second-year signal-caller continued to stake his claim as one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league with his impressive play on Sunday. Despite being under consistent duress for most of the afternoon, Huntley managed to make plays with his arm and legs, finishing 20-of-32 for 197 yards passing and adding another 54 yards rushing on six carries. He got the ball out quick and was decisive in his decision-making for the majority of the game outside of his lone turnover and some instances where he should’ve tucked the ball and ran.
Mark Andrews: The two-time Pro Bowler didn’t extend his streak of consecutive games with 100 or more receiving yards to four but he made history nonetheless. Andrews caught all six of his targets for a team-leading 89 yards and his first not only accounted for 18 yards of his total but it also set a new single-season franchise receiving record. It stood for 25 years since former Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson set it in the inaugural 1996 season with 1,201 yards and Andrews now sits at 1,276 with another game left to go.
The play #Ravens TE Mark Andrews set a new franchise record for single-season receiving yards on. @gregolsen88 says No. 89 belongs in the conversation as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. pic.twitter.com/jxytaFFCWR— Bobby Trosset (@bobbywbal) January 2, 2022
Tyus Bowser: The Ravens pass rush was inconsistent for much of the game but Bowser came up with a clutch strip-sack to add to his team-leading sack total on the season when the team needed to make a stop. The Rams marched 55 yards to the Baltimore 11-yard on a swift-moving drive that looked destined to finish in the end zone for a touchdown to open the second half. Bowser was able to beat right tackle Rob Havenstein inside and engulfed Matthew Stafford in the backfield, forcing a fumble on the way to the ground. Fellow veteran edge defender Justin Houston recovered the loose ball and the Ravens converted the turnover into a scoring drive that extended their lead back to two possessions.
Two-minute drive before halftime: Huntley and Co. bounced back from an ugly sequence that saw their lead cut from double digits to just a field goal with a well-executed two-minute drill on offense in less than 60 seconds. They had four plays of over 10 yards and even overcame a loss of six yards on a sack to set up their All-Pro kicker for a 46-yard attempt that he successfully made and gave them a six-point lead heading into halftime.
Sam Koch: The veteran punter was an absolute weapon in the first half with the way he flipped the field and pinned the Rams back deep inside their territory twice in the first quarter. Koch’s first punt of the game was downed by rookie wide receiver Tylan Wallace at the four-yard line and his second was fair caught by Cooper Kupp at the eight-yard line. His third boot was 61 yards and his longest of the game that came when the Ravens were backed up against their 12-yard line.
Justin Tucker: The five-time Pro Bowler was perfect again and should always be acknowledged for his enduring excellence. He converted all four of his field-goal attempts including a pair of 46 yarders as well as his lone extra-point attempt.
Devonta Freeman: The veteran running back didn’t start but he was the most productive rusher that the Ravens had at their disposal on Sunday. He led the team in rushing with 76 yards which was his second-highest total of the season and most since Week 9. Freeman averaged his second-highest yards per carry with 5.4 and ripped off his longest run not only of the season but since 2017 with a 32-yard gallop.
Breaking FREE❗️❗️— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 2, 2022
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Patrick Ricard: It’s not a coincidence that the three-time Pro Bowler’s return to the lineup coincided with the Ravens’ best rushing performance in eight weeks. He played a key role in the offense putting up their fifth-highest yardage total on the ground of the season with 165 thanks in large part to his extraordinary ability as a lead/kick out blocker
Turnover before halftime: The Ravens were in complete control of the game and held a 10-0 with just over a minute and a half in the second quarter. They were on the verge of shutting out Los Angeles in the first half for the second straight time with the last coming in the immortalized 45-6 rout on Monday Night Football during Jackson’s MVP season.
However, the Rams were given new life off a turnover just when it appeared the Ravens were poised to add even more to their point total. Huntley committed one of his few but arguably biggest mistake of the game when he was intercepted by safety Jordan Fuller on an underthrown and off-target pass to speedy wide receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown. Fuller returned the errant pass 34 yards to set up the Rams offense in prime scoring position just inside the Ravens’ 30-yard line.
Tyler Huntley with a ugly INT. pic.twitter.com/VUozTVvr7s— Main Team (@MainTeamSports2) January 2, 2022
Defense on Kupp touchdown: It took the Rams only three plays and 34 seconds to capitalize on the golden opportunity that was given to them by their defense. After an 11-yard completion to running back Sony Michel and an incompletion on a short pass intended for tight end Tyler Higbee, Stafford hit Kupp over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown strike.
As disheartening as it was to watch the Rams cut the Ravens lead to just field goal with swiftness, the most aggravating and baffling part of the play was who was tasked with covering the most dangerous and productive pass catcher in the league this season. Guarding the Pro Bowl wideout and triple crown receiving leader was second-year inside linebacker Patrick Queen. He understandably got beat inside for the quick score.
Who knows if the result would’ve turned out differently had it been a cornerback or even a safety assigned to Kupp on the pivotal play. However, when a quarterback, especially a veteran with Stafford’s seasoning and recognition gained through spending over a decade in the league, sees a clear mismatch pre or post-snap, odds are the ball is headed in that direction. There were a few other instances where Queen found himself as the nearest defender to Kupp and seemed just a step behind as Stafford hit him in stride for a nice gain.
Pass protection: The Ravens offensive line held their own at times against one of the best defensive fronts in the league that features two future Hall of Famers. Despite their valiant efforts, the Rams still sacked Huntley five times on Sunday, including four from inside the pocket and just one outside of it. Veteran stalwart Kevin Zeitler surrendered his first two sacks of the season and the unit crumbled at the most inopportune times.
A quick pressure by Aaron Donald that was allowed by rookie Ben Cleveland prevented Huntley from hitting a wide-open Devin Duvernay for a touchdown. On the drive that could’ve put away and won the game, Huntley was sacked by a pair of Rams defenders on third-and-goal and the Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal instead of going up by double digits. The last nail in the unit’s collective coffin was the final sack of Huntley that essentially won the game for Los Angeles in the final minute and likely extinguished the Ravens’ best chance at making the playoffs in one fell swoop.
Alejandro Villanueva false start: The veteran offensive tackle committed an egregious false start penalty on the Ravens’ second drive of the third quarter that wound up having a costly ripple effect. Not only did it stall a drive that picked up seven yards on first down following the first down, but it ultimately squandered the only three-and-out that the defense forced all game. Huntley was sacked on second down, threw an incompletion on third-and-11, and the Rams offense was back on the field in a favorable position at their 45-yard line 12 seconds later. Los Angeles proceeded to go on a seven-play scoring drive that saw them make it a one-score game on a one-yard touchdown plunge from Michel.
Tavon Young on fourth-and-5: After holding the Rams at bay for nearly the entirety of the game, the Ravens had a chance to make a stand at their 12-yard line. Facing fourth-and-5, Stafford dropped back and connected with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. right at the line to gain for a new set of downs. While Young made the tackle to ensure that Beckham didn’t gain another yard, he gave an unnecessary cushion to the strong-handed wideout who was operating out of the slot. Beckham not only extended the drive, he scored the game-winning touchdown on the very next play. Had Young played Beckham tighter and stayed in his hip pocket, perhaps the ultimate outcome would’ve ended in his team’s favor.
Failing to finish in the red zone: I authored an article ahead of the game detailing keys to an upset win over the Rams. While the Ravens mostly accomplished three of the four, one major key they fell short of achieving was maximizing their scoring opportunities. They at least got into Tucker’s range for the two 46 yard field goals but failing to finish in the end zone on the two drives where they marched inside the red zone proved to be the difference in the game. Had they managed to score a touchdown instead of settling for either of Tucker’s shorter attempts, they likely would’ve won the game and been in control of their playoff destiny heading into the regular-season finale next week.