The Baltimore Ravens traveled down to Duval County for the second year in a row to face the Jacksonville Jaguars. This time around, their matchup was nationally televised on Sunday Night Football and they were the victors in a 23-7 triumph. In an AFC clash between two division-leading teams with championship aspirations, the Ravens took control of the game in the second half and became the first AFC team to punch their ticket to the postseason.
Their defense likely would’ve pitched a shutout hadn’t not been for a blown coverage early in the third quarter thanks to a bend but don’t break effort that was highlighted by clutch plays. Meanwhile, the offense returned to its roots and steamrolled the Jaguars on their own home turf led by a sensational performance from their star quarterback.
Below are some of the top takeaways from the Ravens’ win in Week 15.
Lamar Jackson was Lamarvelous yet again
If there was ever a year to almost disregard box score counting stats and just let the tape do the talking when it comes to the league MVP race, 2023 is a perfect test case. The Ravens franchise quarterback would be the run-away favorite under those circumstances and performances like the one he had on Sunday night would be a prime example to support that claim.
Just looking at his final box score numbers, Jackson’s 14-of-24 for 171 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception looks pedestrian by his normal standards but the electrifying plays that Jackson makes seemingly every other play are abnormally awe-inspiring. He put on a Harry Houdini-esk clinic on how to escape sacks and buy time to make plays. When his targets weren’t open downfield, Jackson would take matters into his own hands and use his legs to gash the Jaguars’ defense. He finished with a team-leading and game-high 97 rushing yards on 12 attempts.
“I could give Lamar Jackson our game ball every single game,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He wouldn’t take them. He wouldn’t have anywhere to put them in his house. [He’d have] too many game balls, but that’s the way he plays. I’ve said it before; I believe he’s the best quarterback in the National Football League. I’ve said it many times before, and he continues to prove it. He proves me right. He just took the game over in so many different ways, all the different ways he does it, with spectacular throws.”
While he made several impressive throws on the run and stood tall in the pocket despite pressure barreling toward him, Jackson’s best play of the game came on a scramble drill where he slipped a dead-to-rights sack by Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot and fired a ball into a tight window for a 26-yard completion.
“I just had to make a play [and] make something happen,” Jackson said. “I [saw Isaiah] Likely. I believe if he wasn’t so free, Likely would have scored because I already [saw] him, but I couldn’t throw it because [No.] 91 was rushing, and I [didn’t] want to have a fumble happen, so I just made something happen, and I [saw] him.”
Defense was dominant and timely
When the Ravens went down to Duval County in Week 12 of last season, they were the top seed in the AFC and heavy favorites to prevail over a 3-7 Jaguars team. While the offense had one of its better performances of the year, their defensive counterparts had one of their biggest letdowns. They allowed Jacksonville to mount a fourth-quarter comeback down two scores that included a game-winning touchdown drive with just over two minutes left in the clock.
On Sunday night, they refused to let history repeat itself and made one clutch play after another to stall promising drives by the Jaguars. In the first half, the Ravens kept them on the edge of comfortable field goal range on a night where winds were swirling, which led to veteran kicker Brandon McManus missing both of his field goal attempts that came from 50 or more yards.
At the end of the second quarter with Jacksonville threatening to make it a one-score game after moving the ball to the Baltimore five-yard line, veteran free safety Marcus Williams made a clutch open-field tackle, on what would be his last play of the game before leaving with injury, to bring rookie wide receiver Parker Washington down in bounds to run out the rest of the clock and preserve a first-half shutout.
You can see Marcus Williams wince in discomfort after that last tackle in the first half. pic.twitter.com/ilLpBtGWF8— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) December 18, 2023
Second-year breakout safety Kyle Hamilton didn’t let his sprained knee or the bulky brace that kept it stable prevent him from missing his first game of the season or having a profound impact on the end result. He was a force in the box and near the line of scrimmage, finishing with a team-leading seven total tackles that included one for a loss and blowing up a screen for no gain.
Hamilton also made back-to-back big plays in coverage that prevented the Jaguars from scoring a touchdown in red zone. On the first, he got in the way of a pass over the middle that caused it to fall incomplete and on the next play, he used every bit of his incredible length to prevent veteran wide receiver Calvin Ridley from cleanly catching a touchdown pass in bounds. Jacksonville challenged the play but it was upheld after a review.
“My parents always raised me, ‘If you can go, go.’ So, I felt like I [could] go and throughout the week got better,” Hamilton said. “I felt decent Friday, and then it was just up to me whether I felt my pain tolerance was enough. I went out there before the game [and] had some pain. It was really just pain managing throughout the game, [and] adrenaline was going and everything, so I feel good.”
Fourth-year breakout defensive tackle Justin Madubuike recorded the Ravens’ lone sack of the game but it came at a pivotal moment with the Jaguars trying to mount another comeback with plenty of time left in the game. It resulted in a forced fumble that was recovered by linebacker Patrick Queen and gave the offense a short field while also tying an NFL record for the most consecutive games with at least half a sack. The clutch play increased his career-high and team-leading total to 12. He nearly had another that resulted in an intentional grounding penalty on Jaguars’ quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The Ravens also got great play from both of their starting cornerbacks as well as veteran nickel Arthur Maulet. They joined forces to hold Ridley to just five receptions on a game-high 12 targets for 39 receiving yards. Three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey had a great bounce-back game after a rough return to action last week and finished with four solo tackles and a pass breakup against Ridley on the Jaguars’ last drive of the game. Third-year breakout Brandon Stephens was sticky in coverage as well, outside of giving up one deep completion, and finished with four total tackles including one for loss against Ridley in the open field on a wide receiver screen.
Isaiah Likely continues to step up and produce
The second-year tight is emerging as one of Jackson’s most trusted and explosive targets in the passing game since three-time Pro Bowl starter Mark Andrews went down with a serious injury that required surgery. In addition to being on the receiving end of one of his quarterback’s top career highlights, Likely was a reliable and consistent presence throughout the game and finished as the team’s leader in receptions (five) and receiving yards (70) and tied for the lead in targets (six) and scored a 16-yard touchdown.
In the three games since Andrews went down, Likely has recorded 14 receptions on 19 targets for 193 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Sunday marked his second straight game of at least five catches and 70-plus receiving yards and a score. His growing chemistry with Jackson gets stronger and his dynamic run-after-the-catch ability gets put on full display with almost every ball that comes his way.
“That’s just repetition [and more] repetition,” Likely said. “I feel like now, I have a good idea of where [Jackson] is going to be most of the time when he’s back there being Lamar.”
Running game took over in the second half
Despite leading by double digits at halftime 10-0, it didn’t feel like the Ravens were in firm control of the game, and after the defense blew a coverage to give up their longest play of the season for a 65-yard touchdown on their first drive of the second half, they no longer were. However, that would change over the course of the final two quarters after the offense started to lean on and commit to running the football more following a more pass-happy script in the first half.
Through the opening two quarters, the Ravens had less than 50 yards on the ground. By the end of the game, they had racked up 251. It marked their second-highest rushing total of the season, their second time eclipsing the 200-yard threshold, and their most yards gained on the ground since Week 9 in early November. Including Jackson, they had three different ball carriers record 50-plus yards rushing and averaged six yards a carry as a team.
“We just kind of kept coming, and after a while, it had its impact,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys were blocking really well, [our] backs were running really well, and Lamar [Jackson] had a number of yards, as well. Yes, that was a big factor in the fourth quarter, too. We had a bunch of yards – maybe 100 in the fourth quarter, or something like that – so it was good.”
Injury bug claims another key offensive playmaker
The Ravens playoff-clinching win came at a great cost on the injury front as they lost another one of their top playmakers on offense to a season-ending injury. After the game, Harbaugh announced they rookie running back Keaton Mitchell suffered a serious knee injury and on Monday, he confirmed that it was a torn ACL.
Coach Harbaugh on RB Keaton Mitchell's injury: pic.twitter.com/VhmOzyD4hC— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 18, 2023
Mitchell racked up 88 yards from scrimmage on 11 total touches before leaving the game. He helped jump-start the Ravens’ dominant second-half rushing effort with several chunk gains that included runs of 10, 12, 24, and 13 on the play he got injured.
“That was very tough,” Jackson said. “I believe [Keaton Mitchell’s last run] was going to be a touchdown. He’s lights out. He was just starting to get started, so that’s tough to see. My thoughts and prayers are with him because he’s a guy. That was a crazy injury.”
The undrafted gem will join Andrews and fellow former lead running back J.K. Dobbins, who suffered a torn Achilles in the season-opener, on injured reserve. While Andrews still has an outside chance to potentially return if the Ravens go on a deep playoff run, Mitchell will have to undergo surgery before embarking on the road to recovery to be ready for the 2024 season. Thankfully, due to the advancements of modern medicine and the fact that Harbaugh said there is no additional damage in his knee, this setback isn’t the death knell it was once upon a time, so his future is still very bright in Baltimore.