The Baltimore Ravens returned home to M&T Bank Stadium in Week 17 to take on the Miami Dolphins with a chance to ensure that the pathway to the Super Bowl in the AFC runs through Charm City. In the highly-anticipated clash between the two top teams in the AFC, they not only clinched the No. 1 seed, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the AFC North crown, but they did so with a powerful show of force in a 56-19 win. They now own the best record in the league at 13-3, have won six straight, and emerged from the toughest slate of their schedule battle-tested and surging into the new year on a high note.
Their short-handed defense rebounded from a rocky start and put the clamps on the top-ranked offense in the league. Meanwhile, the offense recorded a season-high and franchise home-game record in points, highlighted by another awe-inspiring passing performance from their MVP quarterback.
Below are some of the top takeaways from the Ravens’ victory in Week 17.
Ravens are the most dangerous team in the league
Less than a week ago, this team notched their biggest win in recent memory over the surging San Francisco 49ers, who were widely viewed as the favorites to win the Super Bowl on Christmas night. Their triumph over the Dolphins feels even more momentous and impressive given the adversity they had to overcome, how complementary they played in all three phases, and what they accomplished.
The Ravens had to fly across the country on a short week following a physical primetime game to play another top contender on New Year’s Eve down a handful of key starters. But that didn’t stop them from completing their mission of clinching a division crown and the No. 1 seed with a week to spare in the regular season.
This was not only their most impressive victory of the season but also the most complete. The Ravens executed at a high level and made game-changing plays in all three phases of the game, the likes of which Head Coach John Harbaugh has never seen in a game to date.
Harbs is proud of the team and the fans pic.twitter.com/xDnOSYg7Ct— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 31, 2023
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a more impressive performance in a game. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more impressive performance in a season to date,” Harbaugh said. “We have a lot of work to do in front of us. It’s a mature football team, and they understand that. They understand week to week that it’s a one-week challenge, and I just think the way they’ve approached every single game this year from the beginning on through – adversity, travel [and] quality of opponents we’ve had to play.
“To step up and play the way they have and to put an exclamation point on it – a triple exclamation point on it – with a performance like this, pretty much a well-rounded, perfect performance like that after the opening bell. Even that, to bounce back from the beginning of the game the way they did, it says about who they are.”
The Dolphins marked the fifth division leader that the Ravens beat soundly this season and the fourth and final opponent of what was perceived as the gauntlet of a stretch during the second half of their schedule following their Week 13 bye. In less than seven days, they held the top two scoring offenses in the league to 19 points each on defense while outscoring them by a combined 89-38 points. They simply played their best against the best and welcomed the challenges that come with facing stiffer competition.
“I’m not sure exactly how to define it, but I think you know it when you see it,’ Harbaugh said. “That’s pretty remarkable. I don’t think it’s ever been done in the history of the National Football League, what these guys have done in that sense. It’s amazing. It’s something that they’ll have for the rest of their careers. We all will, but there’s a lot of work to be done still. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
While sports talk shows will debate who the sleeper or under-the-radar team that could make some noise come mid-January, the Ravens are clearly the most dangerous. They’re owners of the longest active winning streak in the league, are peaking at the right time, and have the third-best DVOA through 16 games since 1981 with a mark of 48.5 percent according to Aaron Schatz.
Happy New Year! The Baltimore #RavensFlock are now the No. 3 DVOA team since 1981. Obviously, most seasons before 2021 had 16 games, so we're now comparing the Ravens and #49ers to full seasons.— Aaron Schatz (@ASchatzNFL) January 1, 2024
Looking for more SB winners? 2004 NE, 2013 SEA, and 1998 DEN are just below this. pic.twitter.com/01CKpGwboo
Lamar Jackson end MVP debate with epic mic drop performance
The Ravens franchise quarterback already has a unanimous Most Valuable Player honor under his belt and on Sunday, he likely locked up the second of his career to date. In this game, he proved it again on tape and also posted the eye-popping box score stats to further reinforce his case as the obvious choice.
“I feel like if you can tell you’re in the zone, you’re not in the zone,” Jackson said. “So, I was just trying to focus on a play, whatever play [offensive coordinator Todd Monken] called, just focus on that play. I have the ball in my hands, [just] make something happen and [try to] take advantage of what the defense gave me, and that’s pretty much what it was. So, yes, I was just locked in.”
Jackson only picked up 35 rushing yards on six carries but finished with 356 yards of total offense. He did the vast majority of his damage against the Dolphins through the air with his arm. He threw more touchdowns than incompletions, going 18-of-21 for 321 passing yards, 15.3 yards per attempt, five passing touchdowns, and a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
“His performance was even better than last week,” Harbaugh said. “He played a great football game. He played a perfect football game in terms of the passing game. He was just on point.”
The two-time Pro Bowler took the same field as two other MVP candidates in Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill but was the only one of them that was able to make play after play for his respective offense. Jackson helped propel his team to victory while the other two showed flashes early on but made costly mistakes that led to momentum shifts and their ultimate demise.
Jackson’s probable MVP-clinching performance was so awe-inspiring that even NBA superstar LeBron James took notice and declared that he is the obvious choice.
Ok so what y’all gone say about @Lj_era8 MVP nod now????!!! Always on some hatin when it comes to him. Man give him the trophy now and his— LeBron James (@KingJames) December 31, 2023
Since he will likely be one of a handful of players that sit out the Ravens regulars season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18, Jackson will finish the year with career highs in passing yards (3,678), completion percentage (67.2), and passing yards per attempt (8.0). He threw for 24 touchdowns, ran for five more, and recorded 821 rushing yards in 16 games. While those aren’t record-breaking stats, any game film of Jackson this year, even in the three losses, will show without a doubt, that he is the rightful league MVP.
Securing first-round bye is huge for the banged-up Ravens
Given that only one team in each conference can earn a first-round bye in the playoffs under the new format, clinching it a week early gives the Ravens even more rest at a time they need it the most.
This team has been dealt some serious blows on the injury front throughout the season, including season-ending injuries to their top two running backs and losing three-time Pro Bowl tight Mark Andrews indefinitely. They played their Week 17 matchup down a pair of starters in the secondary as well as one of their best offensive linemen.
"It's going to be very valuable."— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 31, 2023
Coach Harbaugh on the extra time: pic.twitter.com/qcDBujUZxC
“It’s going to be valuable. There’s no doubt about it,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys are going to keep working hard and preparing to be ready to play. They’ll practice. They’ll lift. They’ll do all the things they have to do, but that extra week is going to be very valuable.”
In addition to the players that they lost along the way and didn’t have available due to injury, the Ravens had even more go down during the game and still have several key veterans who have been dealing with lingering injuries for most of the season who will greatly benefit from some additional rest.
The three players on the top of that list include starting offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses and star safety Kyle Hamilton. The two bookend blockers have performed exceptionally well in their past two games and are already trending in the right direction. Hamilton has been dealing with a sprained knee since Week 14, missed his first game of the season this past Sunday, and is arguably the most indispensable player on the Ravens’ entire defense with all that he can do and all the ways he allows his teammates to be deployed.
Depth stepped up and shined bright on both sides of the ball
In addition to Hamilton, the Ravens were able to blowout the Dolphins without starting cornerback Brandon Stephens and right guard Kevin Zeitler who both are having stellar years and missed their respective first games of the season as well. As if that wasn’t enough adversity, they lost even more starters and primary backups as the game went on, including three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey with a calf injury, defensive back Daryl Worley and nose tackle Michael Pierce to stingers.
Seventh-year veteran slot cornerback Arthur Maulet briefly left the game to be evaluated for an injury but returned and was one of several players on both sides of the ball who rose to the occasion and played impressive winning football by making clutch plays and key contributions.
Harbs on the team depth shining today: pic.twitter.com/YJoQm8tctq— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 31, 2023
“We had a lot of guys out this game coming off that physical game last week, guys that couldn’t end up going [and] couldn’t make it,” Harbaugh said. “Our corners – for the way our corners stepped up the way they did [and for] receivers like [Rashod] Bateman that come out and play the way they did. It was just a very impressive performance. Ben Cleveland came out and played great, and there’s a spiritual depth to this team as well that underlines all that. I think that’s where the real power comes from.”
This is arguably the deepest and most complete team in franchise history. The Ravens are built to withstand nearly any form of adversity including perceived devastating injuries to key players.
All three of their running backs combined for over 120 rushing yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage. Both of their tight ends and four-time Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard combined for four receiving touchdowns between the three of them. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley finished with a perfect passer rating as well after completing his lone pass attempt for a touchdown. Maulet and fellow veteran cornerback Ronald Darby came up with clutch five solo tackles in the open field that were either short of the line of gain or ensured that the pass catcher stayed in bounds so that the clock could continue to drain.
Fifth-year veteran running back Justice Hill, in particular, was sensational with his contributions on both offense and special teams. He ripped off a team-long 41-yard run, and a 78-yard kick return to open the second half, and caught all five of his targets for a season-high 64 receiving yards that included a 20-yard touchdown for the Ravens’ first points of the game. Hill finished with 213 all-purpose yards and was the second-highest-graded player on the team against the Dolphins according to Pro Football Focus behind Jackson with an overall of 86.0.
Top Ravens @PFF grades vs. Dolphins (min. 10 snaps):— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) January 1, 2024
QB Lamar Jackson (95.0)
RB Justice Hill (86.0)
WR Zay Flowers (84.5)
WR Odell Beckham Jr. (77.7)
LT Pat Mekari (76.5)
CB Arthur Maulet (77.1)
OLB Jadeveon Clowney (73.2)
OLB Tavius Robinson (72.4)
DT Michael… pic.twitter.com/bVNijCQUD5
“We had a lot of guys banged up, nicked up with injuries, [and] guys who couldn’t play,” Jackson said. “We had guys who stepped up [and] knew the situation, and they played lights out [in] all phases. We all know it was important for us to get this win, and we did just that.”