Again facing second-half adversity, Ravens find way to finish in London

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It was happening to the Ravens again. 

For the third time in four weeks, a game that should have been in hand wasn’t anymore with Tennessee cutting Baltimore’s 15-point halftime lead to 18-13 and driving with just under 20 minutes to play in London. 

In the third quarter, Mike Macdonald’s defense was reminded by NFL officiating that it’s not 2000 or even 2012 anymore as nose tackle Michael Pierce was penalized for not being able to defy gravity to avoid landing on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, which wiped away a third-down sack and a punting situation. On the ensuing Tennessee drive, safety Kyle Hamilton was flagged and ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Titans receiver Chris Moore, the latter half of the call certainly up for debate. 

Titans running back Derrick Henry’s two longest gains of the day — a 63-yard gallop and a 15-yard touchdown — immediately followed those penalties, leading to 10 points and a one-score game. 

In the midst of the momentum swing, the Ravens offense turned the ball over when Lamar Jackson threw an interception after an apparent miscommunication with wide receiver Rashod Bateman. It was bad enough that Baltimore had scored only one touchdown and settled for field goals on two other trips deep inside the red zone in the first half, but the Ravens were seemingly entering self-destruct mode for the second straight week, an unsettling feeling reinforced by a three-and-out on the drive following Henry’s touchdown run. 

Tennessee was getting its ground game going and had moved into Baltimore territory before a third-and-2 at the 48 with under five minutes remaining in the third period. Tannehill threw deep to tight end Chig Okonkwo before backup safety Geno Stone — who had replaced the disqualified Hamilton — broke on the ball and intercepted the pass. 

Similar to his goal-line interception in the Week 2 win at Cincinnati, Stone swung the momentum back in Baltimore’s favor and quelled fears of a repeat of what occurred in Pittsburgh last week. 

“Such a big play. I mean, you have to make plays,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You can’t go out there and just play perfect and make tackles. If you do that, they’re going to move the ball down the field and score eventually unless they make a mistake. You have to find a way to come up with a sack. You have to get a sack-fumble, knock a ball loose, get an interception. 

“Geno has had a couple big ones this year so far. That was a huge play.” 

The Ravens were far from perfect from that point as an offense still searching for its identity needed to settle for two more Justin Tucker field goals inside the red zone, but they sustained a pair of drives that drained more than 11 1/2 minutes from the clock the rest of the way. With Tannehill leaving the game with an ankle injury after Stone’s interception, the Baltimore defense — which also lost starting safety Marcus Williams to a hamstring injury — made life difficult for backup Malik Willis, sacking him four times in the final quarter. 

By the time the Titans meandered their way down the field to settle for a 38-yard field goal with 38 seconds to go, the Ravens only needed to recover an onside kick to seal a 24-16 win, which was quite the pleasant contrast from their first trip to London six years ago. 

Though cleaning up the plague of drops from a week ago, Todd Monken’s offense scored only one touchdown in five true trips inside the red zone with the other being the 29-yard field goal off the fumble from Titans punt returner Kyle Philips with one second left in the first half. After going an impressive 12-for-15 inside the red zone over their first four games, the Ravens are now 2-for-9 over the last two weeks. 

A big reason why was the ineffectiveness of the running game between the tackles with the offensive line struggling to win at the line of scrimmage and schemed runs to Gus Edwards and Justice Hill finding little space. 

Tucker’s six field goals matched his career high set in the Monday night win at Detroit in 2013. 

“We just have to find a way [to] lock in more,” said Jackson, who threw for 223 yards and a touchdown pass to Zay Flowers and ran for 62 yards. “We do a great job with driving the ball down the field, but it’s like every time we get there, it’s like we’re just kicking field goals — it’s up to ‘Tuck.’

“But we don’t need that. Protect the ball. The biggest emphasis was we caught the ball this week. We drove the ball down the field. We protected it except for that one interception, but we have to punch it in. That’s going to help our defense out a lot, and they’re doing a great job protecting us.”  

We’re still waiting for this offense to put it all together, but the Ravens will gladly take a win in their longest road trip of the season, especially with Cincinnati winning its second straight game and Cleveland upsetting San Francisco to keep the AFC North standings tight on Sunday afternoon. 

Though not emphatic, the Ravens did finish, something they could’t say in two of the previous three weeks against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Enduring such a third-quarter storm was a step in the right direction after a poor track record in that department recently.

“We’re kind of looking in terms of what are we capable of becoming,” Harbaugh said. “We lost some games we should have won. We played good football in stretches, but we made mistakes. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot way too many times. 

“What success looks like right now is heart, the ability to overcome adversity, keep fighting till the end, find a way to win, make plays when it counts, and to keep improving.”

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