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5 takeaways from the Ravens’ vindicating win over the 49ers

The Ravens won their fifth straight in dominant fashion to stay atop the AFC and knock off the top team in the NFC.

Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens traveled to California for the second time this year and came away with their biggest win in recent memory — a 33-19 shellacking of the San Francisco 49ers. In the highly-anticipated clash between the top two seeds in their respective conferences, the Ravens came in as underdogs but proved that they are indeed the top dog in the entire NFL. They now have the best record in the league at 12-3, have won five straight, and made the boldest statement a championship contender can make in the final weeks of the regular season.

Their defense made the previous MVP frontrunner look inept by forcing numerous turnovers, generating relentless pressure, and delivering big hits with thunderous authority. Meanwhile, the offense recovered from a rocky start and became the first team since 2005 to score on seven consecutive drives against the 49ers, as they recorded 30+ points for the seventh time in their last nine games.

Below are some of the top takeaways from the Ravens’ victory in Week 16.

Never publicly disrespect or count the Ravens out

This game was dubbed by many in the national media as the game of the year and a potential Super Bowl preview, while others didn’t even think the Ravens had a fighting chance. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio even went as far as to say that they would get “the s*** kicked out of them” during his Friday show. Not only did neither scenario come to pass, but after a whacky opening few minutes that saw the Ravens fall into an early 5-0 hole, they took the fight to the 49ers and flipped the script on both sides of the ball.

In the week leading up to the game, multiple players and even Head Coach John Harbaugh himself admitted to hearing some of the noise, slights and shade being thrown their way via the media. After they took care of business on Sunday, they made it known that such disrespect was uncalled for and that they take tremendous pride in making their doubters and detractors eat their words.

“Everybody wrote us off before we had a chance to play,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “Everybody counted us out. Everybody was saying we were going to get blown out by double digits.

“We worked too hard for people to be writing us off,” Queen said. “You feel a certain kind of way when people write you off. My message was to take what we want.”

Harbaugh was proud of how his team went out and earned their respect by letting the pads and their play do the talking a Christmas night for the ages.

Lamar Jackson is the “MVP hands down”

It was widely believed that the quarterback on the winning side of this game would emerge as the frontrunner to be voted the most valuable player in the league. If it wasn’t abundantly clear coming in, the Ravens’ franchise signal caller left no shred of a doubt that he should be the favorite to receive the prestigious honor for the second time in his career.

“I thought Lamar had an MVP performance tonight,” Harbaugh said. “It takes a team to create a performance like that, but it takes a player to play at that level – to play at an MVP level – it takes a player to play that way. And Lamar was all over the field doing everything. He operated a pretty complicated gameplan.

Jackson was sensational for the third week in a row since returning off the bye as he outdueled 49ers’ second-year starting quarterback Brock Purdy, who didn’t even finish the game or throw a single touchdown pass. The Ravens’ two-time Pro Bowler did a tremendous job avoiding pressure from a ferocious front seven by buying time with his legs. He finished as the team’s leading rusher and passer for the third straight game, going 23-of-35 for 252 passing yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers, and a passer rating of 105.9.

Although he only finished with 45 rushing yards on seven attempts, his biggest play came on a scramble just before halftime. Jackson ripped off a 30-yard gain to move the ball to the San Francisco 11 yard line to set up a chip-shot field goal to extend the Ravens’ lead to 16-12.

As efficient as Jackson’s final stats were, they still failed to fully grasp just how awe-inspiring his performance truly was, as has been the case for the vast majority of this season. While he missed some easy throws early on, he made several extremely difficult throws look easy as the night went on. Whenever the team needed a play on offense, he either was the one who made it or got it to the player who did just before the pressure could get home.

“I think if anybody watched the game [or] if anybody watches football this season and watched the Baltimore Ravens, they know for a fact [that] Lamar Jackson is the MVP, hands down,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “Anyone that watches football and knows football and [can] see the type of impact he has on the game – not even stat-wise, but just individually, the plays that he makes quarter in and quarter out, play in and play out – compare his film to anyone else in the league. Then, I would love to hear what anyone else has to say after that.”

Ravens’ championship caliber defense flexed its muscles

Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald and his suffocating unit faced their hardest test of the season to date and passed with flying colors. Coming into this epic clash of NFL titans, Purdy had only thrown seven interceptions to 29 touchdowns through 14 games. Through the first three quarters of this game, the former odds-on favorite to win MVP threw four with no touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, his backup was picked off to bring the total amount of turnovers to a season-high five. The Ravens also racked up four sacks and nine quarterback hits as a team.

“We play a brand of football that people don’t want to play,” Queen said. “Everybody wants to be out here [being] cute, playing basketball on grass and stuff, and we [are not] with all that. You can do all that stuff; we’re just going to hit you in the mouth every play, honestly. We couldn’t care less about all the pretty stuff you do, gimmick stuff. You still have to line up and play football. You still have to get touched, so that’s our mindset. That’s how we want to come out and just hit people in the mouth.”

While it was a complete and utter domination by the unit as a whole, some individuals that shined the brightest included second-year breakout safety Kyle Hamilton, Queen, and 10th-year veteran outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.

Hamilton led the team with two first-half interceptions and three pass breakups before leaving the game due to a minor knee injury. His first takeaway was a great instinctual play where he undercut a pass to end a promising opening drive for the 49ers. His second showed resiliency after getting chop blocked but instead of giving up on the play, he rose to feet and was able to corral a tipped pass.

Queen recorded one of the interceptions that he nearly returned for a touchdown, delivered several big hits, generated some key pressures, and made open field tackles for some key stops. He finished tied for second-most total tackles on the team with seven, a pass breakup, and a quarterback hit.

Clowney was terrorizing both of the 49ers’ quarterbacks in the fourth quarter, especially after All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams left the game with an injury. While he only finished with one sack, the three-time Pro Bowler generated several initial pressures that led to sacks for some of his teammates and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

Starting cornerback tandem Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens made far more plays than they gave up in coverage. They both made pass deflections that led to interceptions with Stephens volleyball-setting a ball up in the air that was hauled in by Humphrey, who would tip the ball that resulted in Hamilton’s second interception. The three-time Pro Bowler also made several big hits and was tremendous in run support with the way he got penetration into the backfield.

Special teams is turning a corner

After being inconsistent in the third phase of the game for most of the season, the Ravens made numerous impactful plays outside of the typical lights-out performances of their two specialists. Harbaugh went as far as to say that the unit had its “best game of the year.”

“It was pretty much a complete game by all three phases,, playing complementary football together and playing off of each other” Harbaugh said.

He praised their ability to shorten the field position and set up the offense with good field position on numerous plays. Even though they allowed one kick return for 34 yards, he was pleased by how they covered and limited what he described as a “very good return team, especially kickoff return.”

In his third game since taking over starting returner duties, third-year receiver Tylan Wallace made key contributions in the return game. He showed impressive contact balance that drew a key late flag after a strong punt return for 23 yards. He also returned a kickoff 26 yards on his lone attempt in addition to covering kicks.

Second-year punter Jordan Stout only punted three times but managed to pin San Francisco’s offense inside their own 20-yard line on two-thirds of them. Future Hall of Fame kicker Justin Tucker was a perfect 4-of-4 on his field goal attempts.

Ravens avoid serious setbacks on injury front

Over the course of the second half, the Ravens had a handful of starters and key rotational pieces leave the game. That included right guard Kevin Zeitler with an injured thigh, utility lineman Patrick Mehkari with a head injury, and Hamilton, who appeared to have aggregated his already sprained knee. Thankfully, none of the players had to be assisted or carted off the field and were able to walk under their own power. Hamilton and Zeitler were even spotted on the sideline still uniform after being injured.

After the game, Harbaugh not only didn’t announce any serious injuries, he even said that the team is “fairly optimistic about everybody.”

The fact that he didn’t have any definitive answers about any of their statuses immediately following the game even though nothing is definitive is great news in itself. It means that initial tests on all of them didn’t reveal a devastating result, as was the case last week when undrafted rookie running back Keaton Mitchell suffered a season-ending torn ACL.

As tough as a blow as that loss was, not having Hamilton available for any stretch of time would severely impact the Ravens’ elite defense. Zeitler is playing the best ball of his career and Mekari plays an indispensable role as the primary backup left tackle but can play the other four positions on the starting line as well.