Jamison Hensley, ESPN
This marks the first time Baltimore will host the AFC Championship Game in 53 years, when the Baltimore Colts did so in the 1970 season. It’s the longest gap for a city to host a conference championship game.
The Ravens’ defense continually frustrated Stroud. After keeping the Texans out of the end zone in the season opener, Baltimore held Stroud and Houston’s offense out of the end zone in the playoffs. Ravens coach John Harbaugh is now 18-2 against rookie quarterbacks in Baltimore.
Eye-popping stat: When Jackson found Nelson Agholor in the end zone in the second quarter, it marked the signal-caller’s first touchdown pass in the postseason prior to the fourth quarter. Before Saturday, Jackson had thrown three touchdown passes in five playoff games and all came in the fourth quarter. Jackson did not record a touchdown pass in his previous two postseason games. This was also Agholor’s first touchdown catch in the playoffs; he had been one of six active players with at least 20 postseason receptions but without a touchdown catch.
Pivotal play: Jackson converting a gutsy fourth-and-1 call at midfield. With the Ravens leading 17-10 in the third quarter, Baltimore put the ball in the hands of Jackson, who ran wide left behind offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley for a 14-yard gain. It kept alive a 12-play, 93-yard drive that ended with Jackson’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Likely.
Judy Battista, NFL.com
The presumptive MVP: If there was a ding on Lamar Jackson’s résumé, it was his performance and a 1-3 record in postseason games. This game should go a long way toward ending those concerns. In critical game situations Saturday, the Ravens did the only logical thing and put the ball in Jackson’s hands. On the important opening drive of the second half, with the game tied, Jackson ran a quarterback draw for a 15-yard touchdown. On a fourth-and-1 from midfield late in the third quarter, Jackson kept it again, ran to the left, stutter stepped and then took off for 14 yards to keep a 12-play drive alive that ended with a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 14-point lead. The Texans’ blitz limited Jackson in the first half – Houston blitzed on 13 of 18 dropbacks, pressuring Jackson 10 times, sacking him three times and holding the Ravens to just 23 net yards passing in the first half, per Next Gen Stats – but they had no answer for his runs. He put the game away with an 8-yard touchdown run that he continued into the tunnel. Jackson finished the night with two rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, a completion percentage of 72.7 and 100 yards rushing.
Ravens’ adjustments: After a rocky start, the Ravens’ offense adjusted in the second half, emphasizing getting completions and going faster. Jackson picked the Texans apart, taking short completions rather than trying to push the ball down the field. The game turned on the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, when Jackson completed three short passes. Jackson said he did most of the talking during an edgy halftime in the locker room, and there was a lot of cursing. It all worked.
Gordon McGuinness, PFF
Offensive spotlight: The Ravens were frustrated in the first half, as the Texans heavily blitzed and found a lot of success, but things clicked in the second half with the Ravens scoring on four straight possessions after half time.
Lamar Jackson finished the game 16-for-22 for 152 yards with a pair of touchdowns while rushing for 100 yards and a pair of scores. Overall, the Ravens rushing attack was dominant, totaling 229 yards.
Defensive spotlight: While they didn’t dominate with turnovers and sacks, the Ravens defense essentially shut down the Texans offense for much of the game. The Ravens held the Texans offense to just one field goal, as the touchdown came on the Sims punt return.
Rookie spotlight: C.J. Stroud will win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, but his second playoff game was a step too far. He finished the game 19-for-33 for 175 yards. He wasn’t bad by any stretch, but he wasn’t able to make the same types of plays we saw from him in the win over the Cleveland Browns last week.
Mike Preston, The Baltimore Sun
The Ravens had a lot of trouble early in the game picking up blitzes and failing to stop a lot of twists and games the Texans were doing on the defensive front. Both offensive tackles Morgan Moses and Ronnie Stanley struggled in pass protection in the first half and they got some help from offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who came up with some quick hitters in the second half. The Ravens adjusted to the pressure in the final two quarters. Grade: C+
Houston basically had no running lanes inside the tackles. The Texans tried to block defensive end-outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney with a tight end and Dalton Schultz couldn’t get it done. Clowney, known more for his pass-rushing ability, was effective as a run-stopper and the Texans didn’t have anyone who could block tackle Justin Madubuike, who got a lot of pressure on rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. The Ravens had no sacks but kept the rookie off-balance. Grade: A
The Ravens’ defense played well in the first half and carried the team before the offense took over. A lot of credit goes to defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Monken had a strong half with his play calling, and the Ravens found a good way to use newly signed running back Cook. Grade: B-
Steven Ruiz, The Ringer
The Texans sent a blitz on 75 percent of Jackson’s dropbacks—a career high for the Ravens quarterback—and pressured him on over half of those plays. But the plan that worked so well for Tennessee in 2020 proved ineffective against this leveled-up version of Jackson—and the Ravens offense. Jackson completed 13 of 18 passes against the blitz for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Harbaugh credited Jackson for providing valuable input on how to adjust against Houston’s surprisingly aggressive plan and said Baltimore had to flip its protections in the second half. Jackson getting the ball out quicker also helped. His average time to throw dropped by a full second in the second half when working against the blitz.
That Monken, the Ravens’ first-year offensive coordinator, was able to adjust against a blitz-heavy plan won’t go unnoticed in Baltimore, where fans watched his predecessor, Greg Roman, struggle in that area for four years. And the fact that Monken leaned on Jackson to figure out what changes were necessary did not go unnoticed by his quarterback. “It means a lot for your OC to trust in you to be out there and putting our team in a great situation,” Jackson said. “That’s all I need, and we’re going to go from there.”
All things considered, this may have been the most impressive performance of Jackson’s career. This was an environment that had given him problems in the past: in the playoffs against an antagonistic defense. And while Jackson leaned on his legs throughout the game—making up for a ground attack that wasn’t productive on non-Jackson runs before garbage time—he won this game through quick decision-making and precision passing. It was comprehensive quarterbacking; the kind of performance his critics would have told you he’s incapable of. And he did it on the biggest stage of his career to date.