BALTIMORE — The best teams find different ways to win, something the Ravens had to do in Sunday’s 37-31 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
The NFL’s best defense had its worst game of the season, allowing season highs in total yards (410), yards per play (5.6), touchdown passes (three), and net passing yards (282). A vaunted secondary will also hold its breath waiting on the status of standout safety Kyle Hamilton, who exited the game with a knee injury early in the second half.
So used to playing ahead all season and even in the bulk of their three losses, the Ravens trailed at halftime, at the end of the third quarter, and with less than five minutes to go, needing a 21-yard touchdown pass from Lamar Jackson to Zay Flowers on third-and-17 to take the lead with 1:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. But even that sensational score and subsequent 2-point conversion weren’t enough as quarterback Matthew Stafford drove the Rams — who have looked much better than their 6-7 record over the last month — down the field for a field goal to force overtime.
After both offenses went three-and-out to start the extra period, the unlikeliest of heroes emerged in what will go down as one of the most memorable moments in recent franchise history.
Replacing an injured Devin Duvernay and having committed an offside penalty that led to a touchdown drive for the Rams in the second quarter, third-year wide receiver and special-teams contributor Tylan Wallace broke multiple tackles to run back a punt 76 yards for the walk-off touchdown. The former fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma State had neither returned a punt nor scored a touchdown in his NFL career prior to Sunday.
Not as “special” as usual this season, the special teams saved the day.
“The emotions right now are electric. It’s not a championship, but it was like a playoff atmosphere,” said Jackson, describing the on-field celebration beyond the end zone and a euphoric locker room. “It was a team game [and] team win. But shoutout to Ty and the return team because that was a heck of a return.
“That was crazy.”
Indeed. In fact, it’s a win that will feel even more significant if Baltimore is playing in Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas two months from now.
If being honest, this is the kind of game the Ravens have too often lost over the last couple years, which has cast some doubt on their ability to make a deep January run with even a healthy Jackson. When the tide has turned in the opponent’s favor late in games, even the superstar quarterback’s play has sometimes spiraled with the rest of the team. But playing in the December rain, Jackson — without three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, mind you — was at his best on the final drive of regulation, going 7-for-10 for 73 yards and finding the rookie Flowers for both the touchdown and the 2-pointer.
With endless chatter about needing to be able to go toe-to-toe with other top-shelf quarterbacks in January, Jackson — who threw three touchdowns and eclipsed 300 passing yards for the second time this season — answered the bell against Stafford, one of the league’s few active quarterbacks with a Super Bowl title. Even if the Rams aren’t the same team they were two years ago, this is a win from which Jackson and the Ravens should be able to draw confidence if facing a similar spot next month and beyond.
“Experience is always the greatest teacher,” said wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who registered 97 receiving yards and a touchdown against his former team. “Being able to be over there, to see how it got done, to know what kind of caliber team that they had. To know what kind of caliber team we have if not a more talented team, now it’s just about putting it all together and finding ways to win.”
Having won seven of their last eight games to improve to 10-3, the Ravens remain in excellent shape in their quest to secure the top seed and home-field advantage in the AFC, especially after both Kansas City and Jacksonville lost on Sunday. With just one game separating the No. 3 spot from the 11th spot in the conference, the final four weeks of the regular season are sure to be a rollercoaster, but the Ravens remain ahead of the pack along with 9-3 Miami, who will play Monday night.
With their biggest strength surprisingly at its worst, the Ravens found different ways to win on Sunday. It’s what championship teams need to be able to do.
Sometimes you even find an unlikely hero along the way.
“It’s a chapter written in the story, and we’ll see,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s the thing. It’s like, ‘Will we be looking back on this moment saying it was a galvanizing moment?’ The team has been galvanized, so maybe the galvanization is reflected in a moment like this for everybody to see.”