In Week 16, the Baltimore Ravens faced their toughest challenge of the season and came away with a dominant 33-19 win over the NFC-leading San Francisco 49ers. It marked the Ravens’ fifth straight victory, improved their record to 12-3, and has them just one win away from clinching the top seed and home-field advantage in the AFC for the playoffs.
In a game where they were not favored to win, the Ravens silenced all of their doubters with a bold statement win thanks to some underrated yet impactful performances from a handful of well-known starters and several of their less-heralded players making plays on both sides of the ball.
This article highlights the players whose performances flew under the radar but were still clutch — the unsung heroes.
While they didn’t take over the game and impose their will in the ground game to the tune of another 200-plus yard rushing effort, the Ravens’ starting blocking unit and top rotational backup tackles did a tremendous job keeping a ferocious 49ers front at bay in pass-protection. The Ravens still rushed for 100-plus yards for the 32nd game in a row dating back to Week 2 last year and quarterback Lamar Jackson was only sacked twice with one of them being because decided to hold onto the ball rather than risk a turnover.
Veteran tackles Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses in particular had great bounce-back performances after rough outings last week and were key in keeping reigning defensive player of the year Nick Bosa from impacting the game much as a pass rusher although he still recorded three solo tackles for loss as a run defender.
First they put Bosa in a blender… then turned it on.— Spencer Schultz (@ravens4dummies) December 27, 2023
Morgan Moses takes him for a ride in the fourth quarter and gets a FATALITY.
The Ravens held, clawed, double teamed, ran at him, away from him, chipped him, cut him and threw the sink at him. https://t.co/ULF4QWsXbZ pic.twitter.com/N8g52j7Dtw
Even though Jackson does a great job of masking or making up for the occasional mistakes or missed blocks by his linemen, they still deserve a lot of credit for holding up as well as they did against one of the better defensive units in the league. Veteran utility lineman Patrick Mekari and second-year pro Daniel Faalele also played well when they subbed in at left and right tackle.
DE Brent Urban
The 10th-year veteran quietly had one of the best and most impactful games of the season and his career. For the first time as a pro and even dating back to his college days at Virginia, he recorded two sacks in a game both of which came on the 49ers’ final drive of the game. His first came on the very first play for a nine-yard loss and his second came on third and goal from the Ravens one-yard line and resulted in a 11-yard loss after outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney forced the initial pressure. Through 15 games, Urban has set new career highs in sacks (three), tackles for loss (five), and quarterback hits (six).
RB Gus Edwards
The sixth-year veteran only touched the ball 10 times between carries and catches but was able to make the most out of two of them to both score himself and put the offense in position to score. He went untouched into the end zone on a brilliantly designed fourth-and-goal play to give the Ravens their first lead and record his 12th rushing touchdown of the season as he continues to prove to be an unstoppable force inside the opposing team’s five-yard line.
While he only managed 31 rushing yards on nine carries, Edwards finished with 70 total yards from scrimmage thanks to his lone reception resulting in a huge gain. He leaked out of the backfield and took a check down from Jackson 39 yards to the San Francisco five-yard line. Even though he didn’t get to finish off the drive himself, the Ravens made the most of their opening possession of the second half by scoring a touchdown two plays later.
DT Travis Jones
The second-year pro continues to come on very strong in the second half of the season as one of the Ravens’ ascending young defenders. Against the 49ers on Christmas, he was a consistently disruptive force yet again with the way he applied pressure and stuffed the run. Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald lined him up inside as well as on the edge where he was able to bulldoze his way through right tackle Colton McKivitz and graze the elbow of Brock Purdy enough to make his pass intended for running back Christian McCaffery veer off course and into the grasp of inside linebacker Patrick Queen for the defense’s fourth interception of the game in the third quarter.
My lord, look what Travis Jones (98) does as an edge rusher here. pic.twitter.com/GsCkLgRD7V— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) December 26, 2023
On the defense’s final drive of the game, he prevented the 49ers from making it a one-score game on the play just before Urban’s second sack. Jones joined forces with veteran nose tackle Michael Pierce to dominate San Francisco’s interior linemen off the line of scrimmage and then disengaged to limit McCaffery to a one-yard gain on second and goal from the two-yard line. He finished the game with a pair of solo tackles, a batted pass, and a quarterback hit.
The game wasn't over yet when Travis Jones and Michael Pierce made this goal-line stop on CMC.— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) December 27, 2023
Pierce bench presses his blocker and Jones is virtually unblockable 1-on-1.
This play gives me some Goose/Sam Adams vibes. pic.twitter.com/IowKe3q5dE
TE Isaiah Likely
The second-year pro had another strong performance as a pass catcher, finishing with three receptions on four targets for 56 receiving yards that included a 34-yard catch and run where he delivered a nasty stiff arm that made franchise legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ray Lewis take notice.
Love from the ‼️GOTTA BE CHRISTMAS https://t.co/6VjwDj3C6C— Isaiah Likely (@DaGorilla4) December 26, 2023
However, his inclusion in this article isn’t for the contributions he made in the passing game as impressive as they were. On the clutch go-ahead score by Edwards to put the Ravens up for the first and what would be the final time, it was Likely who lined up in the backfield and made the key block that allowed him to cross the goal almost unscathed. He didn’t just block any average player on the crucial play either, the defender he prevented from making a stop was none other than All-Pro inside linebacker Fred Warner.
Gus Edwards' 1-yard TD on fourth down was a huge play in the game. I love the play design and execution.— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) December 27, 2023
1. Likely's pre-snap motion into the backfield throws off the 49ers a bit, gets Dre Greenlaw leaning the wrong way.
2. Lamar sells the hell out of the QB keeper run, gets… pic.twitter.com/c0pOwPVVgS
It marked just the latest and one of the more glowing examples of how he is developing into a complete tight end and stepping up in place of injured three-time Pro Bowler Mark Andrews in more ways than one.
WR/RS Tylan Wallace
The third-year pro made his presence felt on special teams both as the starting kick and punt returner as well as a gunner on the kick and punt coverage units. In his second full game as the starting returner since All-Pro return specialist Devin Duvernay landed on injured reserve, Wallace had a kick return of 26 yards to open the game and made the most of his lone punt return opportunity. Even though it’s only reflected in the box score as a 23-yard return, it resulted in the Ravens starting their first drive of the second half already past midfield because of the impressive contact balance that Wallace displayed and caused 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky to get flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting him late as he was going out of bounds.
DT Broderick Washington
The fourth-year pro played a season-low 16 total defensive snaps but found a way to make his presence felt nonetheless with his lone tackle of the game. On the drive, after the Ravens took the lead and two plays before safety Kyle Hamilton would record his second interception of the game and the defense’s third of the first half, Washington stonewalled McCaffery with a massive collision for a solo takedown that limited him to a gain of just two yards.
TE Charlie Kolar
The second-year pro played 20-plus offensive snaps for the second time this season and the second week in a row. While technically only touched the ball once, he helped the offense pick up a pair of key first downs. The first came on his lone reception of the game that resulted in a season-high 17 yards and a first down past midfield and into 49ers territory on the Ravens’ last drive of the second quarter that eventually ended in a lead-extending field goal.
The second came on the Ravens’ first drive of the fourth quarter with the offense facing a third-and-short from San Francisco’s 44-yard line. He lined up under center to get ready to run a quarterback sneak but before he could get the chance to finally record the first official carry of his career, they were gifted a new set of downs because Warner jumped offsides trying to time the snap count. That drive would’ve marked the Ravens’ eighth straight had Jackson not taken a six-yard sack three plays later that pushed them out of comfortable field goal range.
Fred Warner was like OFFSIDE offside pic.twitter.com/C3Ck7n9lBP— CJ Fogler account may or may not be notable (@cjzero) December 26, 2023
WR Nelson Agholor
The ninth-year was only targeted four times and caught just three passes for 10 receiving yards but one of his snags was a six-yard touchdown strike from Jackson that extended the Ravens’ lead to double figures at the end of their first drive of the second half. After the original play didn’t work out as planned, his quarterback went into scramble mode and that’s when Agholor was able to get open late in the front of the end zone, catch the ball, and keep both feet in bounds.