With Sunday’s win, the Ravens clinched a playoff berth for the first time in three years and their first AFC North championship in six years.
#1: Ravens ride rushing attack and rack up season’s highest total
No one needed a reminder that the Ravens were going to stick with what’s been working with the Lamar Jackson offense, and that was the running game. Needing a win to host a home playoff game, the Ravens ran the football 47 times and finished with 296 yards. That marks the Ravens’ highest rushing total this season and the third-best single-game rushing total in franchise history, according to Patrick Gleason.
Kenneth Dixon led the way on the ground, finishing with a career-high 117 yards on 12 carries. It’s the first time in his career finishing with over 100 yards rushing in a game. Jackson racked up 90 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Jackson’s rushing scores came from 25 and eight yards out. If it had not been for a bogus holding call on Maxx Williams, Jackson would have added a 33-yard touchdown that would have put the Ravens ahead 27-14. Instead, the Ravens had to settle for a field goal.
Here’s another look at Williams’ “holding” penalty that negated a Ravens touchdown:
Gus Edwards followed Jackson with 76 yards on 12 carries, and Ty Montgomery totaled 13 yards on two carries. All elements of the Ravens’ running attack had success against Cleveland’s 28th-ranked run defense, as Baltimore picked up 16-of-24 first downs on the ground.
#2: Oft-criticized defenders finally come up with turnovers
The Ravens defense has been dominant all season. Baltimore exits of week 17 with the NFL’s top-ranked defense, finishing first in yards given up (4,687), fourth in run defense (1,327 yards given up) and fifth in pass defense (3,360 yards given up).
Even with all of their success, defensive turnovers have eluded the Ravens until recently. The Ravens defense tied for 22nd this season with 17 takeaways. Two veteran players on this defensive unit – linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith – went into week 17 without any turnovers on their stat line.
Smith drew harsh criticism from fans early in the season when he served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Upon returning to the field in week 5, it took more than a month for Smith to return to his form due to recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in December 2017. With Smith struggling, Marlon Humphrey stepped up and emerged as the Ravens’ top cornerback, but week 17 told a different story.
While Humphrey struggled in coverage on Sunday, Smith picked off Baker Mayfield twice. Smith’s first interception occurred during Cleveland’s first possession when Mayfield attempted a pass to Antonio Callaway on 2nd-and-5. The latter came with just over four minutes left in the half off a deflection by Tavon Young on a pass intended for Rashard Higgins. The officials initially ruled the pass incomplete, but Smith got up and immediately signaled to head coach John Harbaugh to challenge the play.
After a booth review, the call was overturned. The Ravens opened the scoring with a field goal following Smith’s first interception, but after Smith’s second interception the Ravens gave the ball up when Jackson fumbled on the goal line. Obviously the Ravens need to do a better job of translating turnovers into points, but Smith chose a great time to put together his best performance of 2018.
In regards to Mosley, fans and media alike have pointed to pass coverage being the fifth-year linebacker’s biggest flaw. Defending the middle of the field, specifically tight ends, has plagued the Ravens defense in recent seasons. In a contract year, Mosley leads the defense with 105 total tackles, but he also failed to record a single turnover until yesterday.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 with about two minutes to play in Baltimore, the Ravens, holding a two-point lead, went three-and-out on offense and punted the ball to the Browns with 1:49 left in regulation. The Ravens now had to stop the Browns from scoring on this drive to punch their ticket to the postseason. You didn’t need to remind anyone of what happened in the final minutes of last year’s New Years Eve defeat to Cincinnati. Everyone was already biting their nails thinking about it.
Mayfield and the Browns reached the Ravens’ 39-yard line following two completions of 16 yards or more to Jarvis Landry and former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman. After forcing three straight incompletions, it was fourth down and the pressure was on the Ravens defense.
Last year on 4th-and-12 Baltimore had their hearts broken when Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd connected for a 49-yard touchdown with less than a minute left on the clock. This time on fourth down, Mayfield tried to throw a pass as Humphrey and a number of Ravens defenders crept into the backfield. The ball, intended for Duke Johnson, was tipped and intercepted by Mosley with 1:01 left on the clock.
With Cleveland only having one timeout left, the Ravens simply kneeled down twice to put the game away for good.
“All of people on social media saying I can’t cover, I won’t say too much about them, people are going to talk,” Mosley said at the podium after the game. “They get it now, we’re in there.”
#3: The Flock finally comes through
On a personal level, perhaps the best part about Sunday’s playoff-clinching win was seeing how full and loud M&T Bank Stadium was. A number of factors have led to a concerning amount of empty seats at NFL football games, and the Ravens are one of many teams around the league facing this issue. Two weeks after huge patches of empty seats were visible against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ravens fans filled the stadium and were loud throughout the game.
The announced attendance is about 1,000 less than M&T Bank Stadium’s capacity. From what I saw sitting at the game, there were still some empty seats visible, but not nearly the amount that it’s been lately. I would say that the stadium was about 92% full. Considering the implications of the game and from how the Ravens have struggled to get people in seats lately, the franchise should be very happy with the turnout.
Because of the in-home experience of watching NFL football, the weather, the knee, technology taking over people’s lives, safety concerns, the cost of parking/transportation/food/drinks, bad officiating, fantasy football, and other factors, attendance for the Ravens and the NFL will continue to be an uphill battle. Not making the playoffs three years in a row certainly hurt the Ravens too, but now they’re back in the race with a weapon in Jackson that the Ravens have not had in years.
Without question, M&T Bank Stadium should be full and raucous next Sunday at 1:05 pm for the Ravens Wild Card matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, who the Ravens of course defeated less than two weeks ago in Carson California. I would imagine that a lot of fans in attendance for yesterday’s fun will definitely be looking into purchasing tickets, as well as a number of fans who couldn’t make it to the game yesterday. Last week, several Ravens players expressed their desire for a full stadium on social media. I think the players thrive on the crowd, and they’ll definitely need The Flock to bring the noise again next Sunday against the Chargers.
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun