Clifton Brown, BaltimoreRavens.com
The Ravens Deserve to Be the AFC’s Top Dog
Baltimore entered Sunday night’s game knowing the Chiefs (8-3), Dolphins (8-3), Jaguars (8-3), and Steelers (7-4) had all won in Week 12. That kept the pressure on the Ravens, and they responded with a resourceful victory riding the strength of a big-play defense.
The Chargers (4-7) may have 99 problems, but scoring points wasn’t one of them – until this game. Los Angeles had never been held to fewer than 17 points all season, but the Ravens kept talented quarterback Justin Herbert off balance by mixing coverages and pressuring him consistently. The hard-hitting Baltimore defense forced three fumbles.
It wasn’t the Ravens’ most impressive victory, but it was definitely important. Baltimore’s remaining schedule is one of the toughest in the NFL, including games against the Jaguars, 49ers (8-3), Dolphins and Steelers. It’s going to be no cakewalk to the playoffs for the Ravens. In fact, a playoff spot still isn’t even guaranteed.
However, a first-round bye and an AFC North championship are all distinct possibilities for the Ravens, and that’s a great place to be heading into December.
“Getting to the Super Bowl is the goal,” Lamar Jackson said. “We’re going to take it a week at a time.”
Coral Smith, NFL.com
Baltimore defense shuts it down. In what was a low-scoring affair, it was the Baltimore defense’s clutch performance that clinched the win. The Chargers offense entered Sunday night as the eighth-ranked scoring offense, and the Ravens held Justin Herbert and Co. to just 10 points, forcing four takeaways. The Chargers scored a field goal on their opening drive, but for their next seven possessions they were unable to get anything going, with six of the drives consisting of 22 of fewer yards gained before a punt or turnover, and the seventh ending with a red-zone turnover on a strip sack by Jadeveon Clowney. And even though Los Angeles closed the gap with a late touchdown, Baltimore locked it down, forcing turnovers on downs on each of the Bolts’ last two possessions to seal the victory. It was the fewest points scored by the Chargers since Week 3 of the 2022 season, and the Ravens defense cemented its status as one of the NFL’s elite units.
Next Gen stat of the game: Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers had just a 0.7% chance of scoring when he received the handoff on his 37-yard jet sweep touchdown in the fourth quarter, which sealed the win for Baltimore.
Gordon McGuinness, PFF
Offensive spotlight: Keaton Mitchell continued his run of explosive performances out of the Ravens backfield, taking nine carries for 64 yards and four first downs. He forced three missed tackles and averaged 5.6 yards after contact per rush attempt on first review.
Defensive spotlight: Patrick Queen racked up six total tackles, three defensive stops, one forced fumble and even forced an incompletion in coverage. He added two quarterback hurries as a blitzer to cap off a well-rounded performance.
Rookie spotlight: Ravens first-year receiver Zay Flowers scored twice in this game, once as a receiver and once as a rusher. He caught all five of his catchable targets for 25 yards, averaging 5.4 yards after the catch per reception on the night. He forced three missed tackles in total, one as a receiver and two as a runner.
Mike Preston, The Baltimore Sun
This group is good at run blocking, and guards John Simpson and Kevin Zeitler and center Tyler Linderbaum are active getting to the second level to make blocks. But both tackles — Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses — have had trouble in pass protection this season and struggled against Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack, who had two of Los Angeles’ three sacks. Grade: C-
Safety Kyle Hamilton was dominant in coverage and closing in on ball carriers, fighting off blocks and tackling. He finished with six tackles. The Ravens also got a strong game from cornerback Brandon Stephens, who played well in run support when needed and finished with six tackles. As far as coverage, the Ravens had few breakdowns and basically limited Herbert to one option in wide receiver Keenan Allen, who had 14 catches on 16 targets for 106 yards. Allen played well, but he was the Chargers’ only serious threat. Grade: B+
There is a pattern starting to emerge. Offensively, the Ravens have a habit of starting strong but struggling in the second half of games. It seems to suggest other teams make halftime adjustments and the Ravens don’t. Defensively, they dominated the Chargers, who played with a small-ball passing game and had no intermediate- to long-range attack. This was a game the Ravens should have won by at least two touchdowns, but they had to struggle until the end. Coach John Harbaugh, in a rush to dictate the pace of games, needs to slow down when a challenge might be needed. He missed at least two opportunities Sunday night. Grade: C+
Bill Barnwell, ESPN
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-3)
Week 12 result: Beat Chargers 20-10
Chances of being the 1-seed, per FPI: 22.5%
Winning is rarely a pretty endeavor for the Ravens, but pretty isn’t necessary when they’re hitting the bye after Thanksgiving with the top seed in the AFC. Sunday was a slog on offense, as the Chargers held Baltimore to 13 points for most of the night before a late Zay Flowers touchdown broke things open. The Ravens won’t care about their streak of five consecutive games with 30 points or more ending in Los Angeles.
In a season in which even the 10-1 Eagles have looked vulnerable for long stretches of games, I don’t think any team has been more cumulatively dominant on both sides of the football than Baltimore. It has led inside the final two minutes in each of its three losses, games in which it felt like it beat itself as opposed to getting outplayed by the opposing team. Drops cost them an overtime loss to the Colts, while sloppy play and five turnovers led to losses to the Steelers and the Browns.
What’s next: After the bye, the Ravens have the toughest slate among the four three-loss teams in the AFC. Their final four games are all against teams that currently hold positions in the postseason, with a road trip against the Jaguars and 49ers before home tilts against the Dolphins and Steelers. The Rams, who have won two straight and are about to get a home game against a Browns team playing third-choice quarterback PJ Walker, aren’t pushovers either.
By the time the Rams show up in Week 14, the Ravens might be out of the top spot in the AFC. The Chiefs, Jaguars and Dolphins all have better records in the conference than Baltimore, which would cost it in the case of a tiebreaker. The Ravens can help alleviate those tiebreakers by beating the Jags and Fins, but those three losses to the Browns, Colts and Steelers in the conference could come back to haunt them in a tiebreaker scenario.