In Week 17, the Baltimore Ravens faced another daunting challenge against an elite opponent for the second week in a row and came away with an even more dominant win over the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins 56-19. It marked the Ravens’ sixth straight victory, improved their record to 13-3, and clinched both the AFC North crown as well as the top seed and home-field advantage in the AFC for the playoffs.
In a game where they were slightly favored to come out on top, the Ravens won in overwhelming fashion 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.
For the second week in a row, the Ravens’ offense faced another elite defensive front and not only more than held their own but flat-out dominated for the vast majority of the game. They provided their MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson with consistently clean pockets to carve up the Dolphins secondary to the tune of 321 passing yards, five passing touchdowns, and the third perfect passer rating performance of his career. They also paved the way for a resurgent rushing outing after they barely eclipsed 100 yards last week with 160 on Sunday and the unit as a whole finished with nearly 500 yards of total offense. One player that deserves special recognition is third-year pro Ben Cleveland who stepped up and started at right guard with veteran Kevin Zeitler out with injury and didn’t allow a single sack or pressure on 26 pass blocking snaps according to Pro Football Focus.
“He played really well [in] run blocking [and] pass blocking – really all of it,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “I thought he had an excellent game.”
Veteran right tackle Morgan Moses also deserves a nice shoutout and tip of the cap for helping running back Melvin Gordon score his first touchdown of the season late in the fourth quarter. The two-time Pro Bowler was initially stood up short of the goal line by former Ravens safety DeShon Elliott but didn’t stop churning his legs and then Moses gave him a big push from behind to get him across and increase the team’s lead to 30 in the process.
Never taking our foot off the gas ❗— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 1, 2024
Tune in Saturday vs. Steelers at 4:30PM on ABC/ESPN! pic.twitter.com/UJYhyLiNSn
CB Arthur Maulet
The seventh-year veteran was vital to the success of a short-handed Ravens secondary that came into this game without two of the top players. Starting outside cornerback Brandon Stephens and star safety/nickel hybrid Kyle Hamilton were inactive with injuries and three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey left the game early with a calf injury. Maulet came up with several clutch stops on third down in the form of open field tackles and plays on the ball that either forced punts or made the Dolphins settle for a field goal. He finished with a pass breakup and five solo tackles including an impressive takedown for a loss of one yard on a play where set the edge like a defensive end twice his size brought down the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage.
Arthur Maulet has been very solid in Baltimore.— Cole Jackson (@ColeJacksonFB) January 2, 2024
The #Ravens were cashed outside the D gaps. Maulet's gonna come down hard and make a play in the run game.
Good, physical, run D off the edge from a CB for a loss on 1. pic.twitter.com/l0MAqkTorl
FB Patrick Rircard
Anytime the offensive line makes the unsung heroes list, the four-time Pro Bowler almost certainly be featured at some point given that he is essentially a sixth lineman and third tight end rolled up into one. While his responsibilities on a given play may differ from down to down, usually involves imposing his will on a defender smaller or sometimes bigger than him as a pass or run blocker and Sunday wasn’t any different. However, he did get to join in on the scoring with an impressive display of athleticism by hauling in his first touchdown of the season with one hand to put the Ravens up by three scores after the Dolphins were able to cut their lead to 16 points early in the fourth quarter.
CB Ronald Darby
With Stephens out, the ninth-year veteran started the game as the Ravens’ No. 2 outside corner opposite Humphrey, and by halftime, he was No. 1 by default but didn’t disappoint with his standout performance. Darby also finished with five solo tackles including three straight late in the second quarter when the Dolphins were trying to put together a swift two-minute drive. His savvy situational awareness to make sure he didn’t let the offensive skill players get out of bounds to stop the clock after they caught short passes in the field of play was instrumental in helping the Ravens kill the clock and hold serve.
Even though he wasn’t credited with a pass breakup, Darby (5-foot-11) made a clutch play in coverage against Chase Claypool (6-foot-4) in a contested catch situation to prevent what would’ve been a huge touchdown strike late in the third quarter that would’ve cut the Ravens lead to two scores with a whole quarter left to play.
Ronald Darby stepped up big time in the absence of Brandon Stephens.— Cole Jackson (@ColeJacksonFB) January 2, 2024
It's 35-13 here at the end of Q3 on 2nd and 11
If there was an opportunity for it come back it'd be putting it to a 2 score game with a big TD.
Darby competes at the catchpoint to get the ball out here. pic.twitter.com/ipsRBTVvh2
WR Rashod Bateman
The third-year pro didn’t go off in the box score stat sheet like standout rookie receiver Zay Flowers but his contributions were just as meaningful and resulted in him recording season highs in both receptions (four) and receiving yards (54) and tying his season-high in targets (six). All four of his catches resulted in first downs, three of which were crucial given that they came on eventual scoring drives that finished in the end zone. His biggest catches of the game came on back-to-back plays to spark the drive that was capped off by Ricard’s touchdown. Bateman had 26 total yards on consecutive gains of 11 and 15 yards as the Ravens marched 49 more yards in five more plays to go back up comfortably by three scores.
Remember the Dolphins giving Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense fits with the blitz in 2021?— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) January 2, 2024
Lamar recognizes the blitzing LB, the Ravens have an immediate answer, simple completion to Rashod Bateman for 14 yards. pic.twitter.com/7NqVxJh7hP
“I saw him Friday – [and] I said, ‘Big game ‘Bate.’ It’s going to be a big game for ‘Bate,’’ and he came up with some massive catches for us,” Harbaugh said. “He kept some drives going. That’s just a prelude to what’s coming.”
TE Charlie Kolar
The second-year tight end continues to come on strong down the stretch as his role on offense expands. Kolar played a season-high 28 offensive snaps which was nearly 50 percent of the team’s total and like Ricard, made contributions both as blocker and pass catcher. He made a key block that helped veteran running back Gus Edwards score his 13th rushing touchdown of the season and in the fourth quarter, Kolar hauled in his first career touchdown on a 19-yard dime from backup quarterback Tyler Huntley to create a rare Scorigami following Justin Tucker’s extra point.