There is never a day when the microphones turn on that Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh isn’t discussing his squad being the best team they can be while convincing us that it’s going to eventually be better than it currently looks. For at least the next six days – and probably moving forward with this healthier version of the 2023 team – Harbs won’t have to talk about it: there’s now a reel of four quarters of film to support that idiom.
You can’t win the Super Bowl in October. And winning the weekly power rankings whilst pumpkin spice is all the rage and the leaves are still on the trees is bit of a punchline at this point.
The Ravens will win ugly again. The Ravens will also lose a few more football games on this treacherous road through the NFL where they will fly to the West Coast three more times before you eat Christmas dinner. (And for all of the bluster about not having a bye this weekend after their European adventure, the boys did better with the London thing than they did going to Pittsburgh.)
But if they play like they did on Sunday against the surging Honolulu blue squad of Dan Campbell – the Lions were a heady 13-3 over their previous “season” in the NFL – it’s easy to make a solid case for the Ravens playing deep into winter.
This is the kind of momentum and midseason game you want to see: a thorough, dominant beat down against the best team that the NFC has to offer.
It speaks for itself.
Forget the Titans; remember the Lions!
But the measurement for all of it is seeing how good it can really be, even if just once. All of the offseason plans, the draft, the installation of a new offense with new weapons and the big free agent signing of OBJ – basically, all of of the offseason hype came to life on one fall day in Baltimore against a Detroit team most NFL insiders had anointed as “arrived” on those same power rankings.
On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens collectively said, “Not so fast…”
The cowardly Lions came and left Baltimore in quick order. Their beautifully adorned and long-suffering fans showed up and out all over the city this weekend and on Sunday buying all of the local tickets on the secondary market at real prices. Too bad their team never showed up on the field.
The Paper Lions, indeed.
And even Plimpton would’ve been quick to write the Ravens back to the middle of the pack in perception or reality after the team lost in almost inconceivable fashion to both Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, while scuffling with injuries and inconsistencies everywhere but in the presence of Roquan Smith, who has been their best football player.
But in Sunday’s 38-6 beatdown of the Lions, every single measurement you’d want to see and all of the positive quality performance indicators came to life in one quarter as the Ravens started scoring touchdowns and moving the ball at will. All of the stuff that Harbaugh told us would eventually happen with more practice and more reps.
The first down efficiency was impressive and the big plays the team was missing through drops or miscues in previous weeks mostly evaporated. Meanwhile the defense once again met every challenge, taking the ball away and shutting down a previously functioning offense and finally what we’d judge to be a quality NFL quarterback, not the woeful backups and overmatched rookies of recent weeks. We all thought Jared Goff was pretty good before the whistle blew on Sunday, perhaps the best and most seasoned signal caller and weapon that this Mike Macdonald defense will see anytime soon.
Despite the injuries on the backside, the Ravens have been impressive on defense and consistent from the outset of the season. Certainly, it’s been the stronger side of the ball.
The worst thing that happened to the defense all day was the simple submission of points at the start of the fourth quarter. It was a sack and coverage party all day long and another case study in Eric DeCosta finding the likes of Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Daveon Clowney with enough experience and fire to create chaos for an offense trying to pass protect.
But the Lamar measurements and the overall operation of the offense is the most heartening takeaway from this huge win over the Lions. The Ravens gave Jackson $260 million dollars and at times, when he goes into the phone booth and become Lamarvelous, it looks like a bargain.
Send his 21-of-27 for 357 yards and three touchdowns straight to the purple Tagliabue Louvre. And the offensive line played their asses off and came ready to fight. For six weeks we wondered when the symphony of stars and veterans would all be playing in tune healthfully. Sunday, against the besieged and overmatched once 5-1 Detroit Lions, was that day.
Mark Andrews got back on the radar with four catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Zay Flowers continues the rookie blossoming with four receptions for 75 yards and big plays (and a drop we won’t talk about). Even Odell Beckham, Jr. finally brought some impact away from the interview podium, leading the team in receptions and headbutts.
But it was Pat Ricard running through the open pasture and Gus Edwards running down the sidelines and the initial part of the rushing attack (including the legs of Lamar) early that gave us all of those powerful 2019 second-down feels.
The Ravens have good football players. The defense had been carrying the team. But this needs to be the Lamar Jackson show, featuring Todd Monken and a cast of now-on-the-field stars and first round draft picks, if this franchise is going to be a Super Bowl threat.
The stats were gaudy and legendary – as good of a day as the franchise has ever had. On the backend of London with little rest and getting that Euro piano off the back of the 2017 visit, this solid and impressive victory showed the signs you’d want to see from a championship caliber unit.
The day it all came together.
Yeah, the Orioles are long eliminated and we’ll be watching a little more real baseball for a little while but that effort on Sunday by the Ravens is a wake up call for January football in Baltimore and the possibilities of a soft division, a soft schedule and a meaty victory over the best team they’ll see for a little while.
Efficiency. Explosiveness. The ability to finish with a defense that can close and an offense that can run the ball and eat the clock.
For a day and a week: no complaints. No issues. It was almost a perfect football game.