The Ravens continued to make NFL history in Jacksonville on Sunday, becoming only the fourth team in over a century to lead by more than one score in each of its first 11 games.
The first three — the 1942 Chicago Bears, the 2009 New Orleans Saints, and the 2011 Green Bay Packers — were all undefeated at this point in their respective seasons, making it reasonable to assume the Ravens would be on a similar path if one hadn’t watched them play all year. Instead, Baltimore fell to 7-4 to continue one of the more maddening campaigns in recent memory. Yes, the Ravens have been both good enough to accomplish such a feat and bad enough to squander such leads in over a third of their games.
That internal tug of war between offense and defense — and the special teams on occasion — to determine who is going to cost the Ravens resurfaced with a collaborative effort against the Jaguars. As was the case in Weeks 2, 4, and 6, there was plenty of blame to go around after a 28-27 loss that snapped a four-game winning streak.
Through three quarters, the Ravens offense had been the culprit of the day with all-too-familiar woes inside the red zone, settling for Justin Tucker field goals in each of the first three red-zone trips. Since starting the 2022 season a red-hot 8-for-10 scoring touchdowns inside the 20, Baltimore has gone a brutal 14-for-33 over the last eight games, easily one of the worst marks in the NFL. The Ravens entered Monday ranking 24th in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage, a mark that can’t continue for an offense that works at such a painfully slow pace.
Still, after finally breaking through with two touchdowns in the final period, Baltimore had managed to score 27 points and led by seven with 2:02 remaining. After forcing a third-quarter turnover to set up the Ravens’ first touchdown for a second straight week and standing tall in a sudden-change situation that could have been disastrous when Gus Edwards fumbled deep in his own territory with under six minutes to go, the defense had the chance to close. An ascending group that had received an awful lot of hype in recent weeks for bullying Andy Dalton and Baker Mayfield had its chance to put an exclamation point on a tough road win against second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars.
Instead, Mike Macdonald’s defense collapsed, allowing a 10-yard touchdown reception to Marvin Jones and a 2-point conversion catch by Zay Jones with 14 seconds to go. Those game-deciding plays had followed a 16-yard reception on third-and-21, a 10-yard catch on fourth-and-5, and a 29-yard pass play on third-and-6 on the drive.
This season has taught us over and over that games are won and lost in the fourth quarter, and the Ravens defense wasn’t good enough when it mattered most — again.
While the Roquan Smith acquisition has sparked much optimism over the last month, the Ravens remain too vulnerable at cornerback beyond two-time Pro Bowl selection Marlon Humphrey. The recent emergence of rookie safety Kyle Hamilton at the nickel spot had helped mask that weakness against lesser offenses, but his Week 12 absence and the up-and-down play of Marcus Peters both came to the forefront on Sunday.
Second-year cornerback Brandon Stephens had his moments filling in, including drive-ending tackles on Jacksonville’s first two possessions of the second half, but he was targeted often and was beaten on the game-winning 2-pointer. And while it’s impossible to know how Hamilton might have fared against Jacksonville, there’s a reason why he had settled into the nickel spot in recent weeks after Stephens and rookies Damarion Williams and Jalyn Armour-Davis had struggled in their auditions as the third cornerback earlier in the season.
The bigger concern at this point has to be Peters, whom Pro Football Focus credited for allowing six catches on seven targets for 55 yards and all three Jacksonville touchdowns in coverage. Fully acknowledging the steep challenge of returning from last year’s torn ACL, the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback has made his share of plays this season and shouldn’t be judged too harshly, but the Ravens are depending on him to provide high-level play that just hasn’t been there as consistently as in the past. One hopes he can still return to that form before season’s end, of course, but Peters will turn 30 in January and is scheduled to become a free agent in March, further complicating the evaluation in both the short and long term.
The pending returns of Hamilton and free safety Marcus Williams should help, but watching Lawrence and the Jaguars carve up the Baltimore defense in the fourth quarter makes one shudder to think what the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa, and Joe Burrow might do in January without the Ravens getting better play at cornerback down the stretch. You can’t just keep waiting for optimal health in a sport that’s all about attrition.
Given the opportunity in crunch time to validate the mostly undeserved hype that this was becoming the next great Baltimore defense, the Ravens once again proved to be more sizzle than steak, blowing another fourth-quarter lead.
They were good enough and bad enough once again.