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Ravens defense looking more and more special after another dominant effort

BALTIMORE — Leading 14-3 lead with 59 seconds left in the second quarter, the Ravens made the kind of mistake that opened the door for Seattle to climb back in the game. 

Catching a 15-yard pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson, veteran wideout Odell Beckham Jr. failed to secure the football and was stripped as the Seahawks recovered the fumble at the Baltimore 43. Having just put together their first scoring drive of the afternoon moments earlier, quarterback Geno Smith and Seattle had two timeouts and a chance to make it a one-score deficit at intermission. 

The miscue could have changed the game in a way similar to how turnovers plagued Baltimore in losses to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh earlier this season. Even looking like the better team, the Ravens know better than anyone over the last few years that it doesn’t take much to change fortunes in the NFL. 

As safety Geno Stone put it, the defense had to “put the fire out” after the fumble, and Mike Macdonald’s group did exactly that, transforming Seattle’s golden opportunity into a scoring chance for the Ravens in a matter of three plays. Defensive tackle Travis Jones and outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy combined to squash any visions of a close halftime score as Seattle moved backwards and then lost the football, leading to a Justin Tucker field goal and a 17-3 lead at the break. 

“Their offense is out there and going to start cooking,” defensive tackle Justin Madubuike said. “Travis disrupted that [momentum] with the batted ball, so it’s second-and-10. Kyle gets the sack. It’s [third-and-21], and then [Van Noy] gets the strip-sack and [we] get the ball. 

“That’s our defense. That’s our standard. We just have to keep bringing it every single game.” 

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The standard is growing more intimidating and impressive every week.

That was apparent in a 37-3 drubbing that moved the Ravens to 7-2 for the first time since 2019 when they finished 14-2 and earned the top seed in the AFC. The Baltimore offense eventually poured it on the Seahawks after a scoreless opening period and two second-quarter turnovers, but the defense dominated from start to finish with Van Noy’s strip-sack expediting a blowout.  

“I think that’s the turning point in the game. That’ll probably be the ‘lion spike’ when you talk about that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “For that situation to turn out the way it did and the defense to get the stop and we get the field goal because of that stop and just flip the whole thing around was massive.”

Seattle would collect only two first downs in the second half, the kind of finish the Ravens defense sought after being displeased with its fourth-quarter showing in last Sunday’s 31-24 win at Arizona, the only time Baltimore has allowed more than 17 points since Week 3. Despite not exactly facing a murderers’ row of offenses early in the season, the defense has now made a 2022 Pro Bowl quarterback look completely lost and miserable for the second time in three weeks. 

The Ravens are not only rapidly emerging as a Super Bowl favorite, but it’s time to start giving the proper respect to a defense playing much better than just the “good for today’s NFL” compliment we’ve grown accustomed to using in recent years. 

Baltimore is now allowing just 13.8 points per contest, which would be good for third in franchise history behind the legendary 2000 Super Bowl champions (10.3) and a 2006 team (12.6) that finished 13-3 and sent six defensive players to the Pro Bowl. 

With four more sacks on Sunday, the Ravens have an NFL-leading 35, keeping them on pace to break the single-season franchise record set by that 2006 defense (60) — even for 16 games. Now with 7 1/2 sacks after setting a new team record with at least a half-sack for a sixth straight game, Madubuike remains on pace to become the first Baltimore defender to reach double-digit sacks in a season since Terrell Suggs in 2017. 

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And one of the NFL’s best stories, Stone collected his league-leading sixth interception on Sunday, which already gives him the most by a Ravens player for a full season since Eric Weddle’s six in 2017. Before that, you have to go back to Hall of Famer Ed Reed’s eight interceptions in 2010. 

When you’re being mentioned in the same breath as the franchise’s all-time best defenses — from much different eras of football, mind you — and some of the most decorated players in team history, you’re working on something special. And it makes the Jackson-led Ravens that much more dangerous, especially when the offense runs for 298 yards like it did Sunday. 

Still chasing a higher level of consistency, the Baltimore offense flashed new upside with a breakout performance by speedy rookie running back Keaton Mitchell, who had a 40-yard touchdown run as well as another 60-yard rush. But with apologies to Cleveland after its shutout of a quarterback named Clayton Tune on Sunday, the Ravens continued to look more and more like the best defense in football after smothering another NFC division leader. 

They hardly sound content after outscoring Detroit and Seattle by a 75-9 margin over the last two home games. On Sunday, the Ravens allowed just six first downs and a season-low 151 total yards while holding the Seahawks to one third-down conversion in 12 tries.

The second-half schedule doesn’t get any easier, but Baltimore’s defense is looking more than up for the challenge.

“You [get] 10 yards on us, we’re going to be upset no matter what it is,” Stone said. “Big play, we’re going to be upset. We’re probably going to have plays that we look [at] on film, and we’re like, ‘We can be way better.’ 

“It’s great. You want a defense like that because you never want to be satisfied.” 

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