The Baltimore Ravens continued to roll and build momentum in Week 16 when they went on the road and routed the San Francisco 49ers 33-19 in primetime on Christmas night. There were several encouraging performances in this interconference heavyweight bout where they won their fifth straight with the boldest statement imaginable.
Here are a few noteworthy performances from the team’s Week 16 win that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes.
Ravens should be Super Bowl favorites
After a week filled with a tremendous amount of hype and high levels of disrespect in the national media leading up to this epic clash, the underdog Ravens proved that they are the best team in the league without a shred of doubt. They showed up and showed out on Monday Night Football in what many pundits believed would be the game of the year or a potential Super Bowl their rout of the 49ers.
The top two teams entered this game with the best records and longest active winning streaks in the league but once again, the Ravens continue to play their best against the top competition. Seven of their 12 wins this season have been by 14 or more points and come against opponents with winning records. According to OptaSTATS, no team in NFL history has ever had more than five wins in the regular season over teams that finished with a winning record. In addition to the NFC West champion 49ers, they’ve blown out the NFC North champion Detroit Lions, and the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars this year.
The @Ravens have 7 wins by 14+ points this season. All of those opponents are currently above .500 (Hou, Cle, Det, Sea, Cin, Jax, SF).— OptaSTATS (@OptaSTATS) December 26, 2023
No team in NFL history has had more than 5 regular-season wins by 14+ points against teams that finished that season with a winning record. pic.twitter.com/iKtE8gg1KW
The second half of their schedule was viewed as the most daunting, especially this current gauntlet they’ve been in since their bye week but Baltimore hasn’t bucked and appears to be peaking at the right time in all three phases heading into the postseason. Per Aaron Schatz, there have only been three teams since 1981 that have had a higher DVOA than the Ravens mark of 43.6 percent through 15 games this season.
Only three teams since 1981 had a higher DVOA at this point than the 2023 Baltimore Ravens.— Aaron Schatz (@ASchatzNFL) December 26, 2023
2007 Pats, 1991 Washington, 1985 Bears
But the 49ers were far enough ahead in DVOA before yesterday's loss that they still rank as one of the top 5 teams.#RavensFlock #FTTB pic.twitter.com/wQtQzNSShE
Despite suffering their most lopsided loss of the season and since the 2022 NFC Championship when they lost their top two quarterbacks, the 49ers still rank right behind them with a DVOA of 42.6 percent through 15 games which is a further testament to just how impressive the Ravens’ Week 16 victory was on Christmas.
On defense, the Ravens came away with five interceptions for the first time since 2007, four-plus sacks for the ninth time this season, 11 pass breakups, five tackles for loss, and nine quarterback hits. Special teams made significant contributions in scoring points on four Justin Tucker field goals and winning the field position battle with Jordan Stout’s punting couple with their kick coverage and returns from Tylan Wallace. The offense scored on seven straight drives which is the most the 49ers have allowed since the 2005 season. According to Mike Sando of The Athletic, the Ravens were the first team since 2020 to outperform the 49ers in all three phases of the game in terms of EPA.
The Ravens haven’t advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs since 2012 and after dismantling the prohibitive Super Bowl favorites in the 49ers, they should not only be favored to end their conference title game appearance drought but to run the table and hoist their third Vince Lombardi trophy in franchise history as well. It also helps their odds that their franchise quarterback now has a career record of 20-1 against NFC opponents after this latest interconference victory.
Lamar Jackson is the MVP frontrunner without a doubt
The bright side about the Ravens having played four of their last five games in primetime is that the entire country including the bullheaded box score watchers have been able to see first-hand that stats alone don’t fully encapsulate just how ironclad Jackson’s case to win his second league MVP honor is this year. As efficient as his 252 passing yards on 23 completions for two touchdowns and a passer rating of 105.9 were to go along with his team-leading 45 rushing yards on just seven attempts, the plays he made to accumulate them were truly magnificent.
One of the best football players I have ever seen in my life pic.twitter.com/qXOdf6Zznw— Blaiden Kirk (@blaiden) December 26, 2023
More than just being awe-inspiring feats of athleticism, the type of plays he made with his arm and legs in crucial situations were extremely clutch. Jackson bought more time for his targets to get open and gain separation down the field by moving up or rolling out of the pocket to elude pressure. He also made up for penalties committed by his offensive linemen that would’ve been debilitating and killed drives in years past by gaining the yardage they needed and then some to overcome long down and distances.
His most clutch play came on the Ravens’ final drive of the first half when the offense was facing a third-and-16 on the outskirts of field goal range. He held the ball as long as he could sensing the pressure from behind and all around him. Without a lot of time left on the clock, he decided to take off and picked up 30 yards on an electrifying scramble where he made multiple defenders miss in space and got down without taking a big hit to set up a chip-shot attempt for Tucker to put the Ravens up 16-12 at halftime.
When it comes to Jackson and his case for league MVP in a year where no quarterback is putting up gaudy historical numbers, he is the clear-cut frontrunner after his Week 16 performance. As Ravens All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith eloquently and accurately stated in his postgame comments, “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.”
“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,” Smith added. “I would love to hear what anyone else has to say after that.”
Kyle Hamilton is already the best safety in the league
Jackson isn’t the only Ravens young star who has been balling out all season and has benefited from playing under the national spotlight in primetime games over the last month. The second-year defensive back has been one of the best safeties in the league this season and with his sensational performance against the 49ers, he earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and firmly planted his flag in the top spot.
Served up some Christmas K-Ham ❗ pic.twitter.com/TAVAzn0pWx— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 27, 2023
Before leaving in the fourth quarter with a minor knee injury, Hamilton recorded two interceptions, three pass breakups, and five total tackles in just 48 defensive snaps—tied for the second lowest in a game this season excluding his Week 6 ejection. On his first interception, he baited 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy in thinking he had Deebo Samuels wide open on a crossing route to the right side of the field and undercut the pass for a huge drive-ending turnover after it looked like San Francisco was destined to finish their first possession in the end zone after they had marched the ball 74 yards to the Ravens 15-yard line in just four plays.
Hamilton’s second interception was a prime example of never giving up on a play even after it starts off rough because persistence can pay big dividends. After getting chop blocked by 49ers running back Christian McCaffery and then landed on by offensive guard Aaron Banks, he got back up to his feet and found himself at the right place at the right time to corral a ball that was tipped up in the air after Purdy threw a risky pass across his body.
In less than a year, Hamilton has gone from a rising star to a certified game wrecker who is the most indispensable and irreplaceable player in the Ravens’ entire defense. The way he is able to impact and influence the game from all three levels anywhere on the field allows Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald to concoct and unlock an array of creative pressures and disguised coverages. According to NextGenStats, he lined up for one or snaps at six different positions against the 49ers including defensive tackle (one), inside linebacker (two), edge (six), safety (nine), outside linebacker 14, slot/nickel (15).
Ravens have another elite cornerback tandem
Hamilton wasn’t the only Ravens defensive back that balled out and made numerous changing plays against the 49ers on Christmas. Starting cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens were incredibly impactful as well with the plays they made in coverage, run support, and as blitzers.
With veteran slot cornerback Arthur Maulet out with a knee injury and second-year pro Damarion ‘Pepe’ Williams inactive, Humphrey was tasked with sharing the load at the nickel spot with Hamilton and had his best game of the season in multiple facets. While he has previous experience having success playing in the slot, the three-time Pro Bowler had only done it for just two snaps heading into this critical game and looked like he never left.
Marlon Humphrey had only played 2 snaps at slot cornerback this season before playing 21 there vs. the 49ers, per @NextGenStats.— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) December 27, 2023
With his physicality and instincts, good things happen when Marlon is near the ball. pic.twitter.com/NTfssK5aca
Humphrey was an absolute menace near the line of scrimmage where he took on blocks to blow up plays in the backfield even when he didn’t end up being the one to make the tackle and he delivered several big hits to ball carriers and receivers alike. A defensive holding call on veteran Ronald Darby on fourth-and-short negated what would’ve been his first sack of the season and ended the 49ers’ second possession of the game. He finished with three total tackles, an interception, and a pair of pass breakups—one of which resulted in Hamilton’s second turnover.
Stephens gave up some plays in coverage down the field but made his fair share as well and tackled very well in space, finishing with five total including four solos. The third-year breakout rising star also recorded a pair of pass breakups, the first of which came on a blitz off the edge where he jumped up and tipped the ball in the air like a volleyball setter to help Humphrey notch his first interception and turnover overall of the season.
The Ravens haven’t had a pair of lockdown cornerbacks since Humphrey was paired with fellow three-time Pro Bowler Marcus Peters from midway through 2019-2022 although their truly elite seasons together were in 2019 and 2020. Peters missed all of 2021 with a torn ACL and wasn’t quite himself last year. Humphrey didn’t finish the 2021 season and was the only lockdown corner for the Ravens last season, not allowing a single touchdown and tying his career-high in interceptions with three in 17 games.
With Humphrey already under contract on a lucrative deal through the 202() season and Stephens still having a year left on his rookie contract, the Ravens’ new dynamic duo will be together for at least one more year and perhaps more if the 2021 third-rounder gets extended this upcoming offseason or next.