For every statement win in the NFL, there are also weird games that don’t make much sense — or carry much consequence — in the season’s big picture.
Sometimes, “a win is a win” really is the most appropriate way to describe a performance, especially for a 6-2 Ravens team that’s now tied with three others for the AFC’s best record after Kansas City suffered an upset loss at Denver.
A week after looking like an emerging juggernaut dominating upstart Detroit, the Ravens reverted to the team that plays to the level of its competition, this time daring one-win Arizona to pull off a miracle comeback late in the fourth quarter. And though the outcome never really felt in doubt from the moment Baltimore took a 14-7 lead in the final minute of the first half, Sunday’s 31-24 final was neither all that impressive nor indicative of how the first 50 minutes played out.
After giving up a touchdown on the game’s opening possession, the Ravens defense — led by a dominant effort from nose tackle Michael Pierce — had blanked the Cardinals on nine straight drives. The stretch included a pair of interceptions leading to short fields and two touchdowns for a Baltimore offense that hardly resembled the explosive unit we saw against the upstart Lions in Week 7. However, after Justin Tucker’s 48-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 24-7 lead with 9:27 to go, the defense surrendered 17 points on the Cardinals’ final three drives, which prompted the need to recover an onside kick to seal the one-possession win in the final seconds.
Evident by the postgame reaction from the team’s defensive leaders, the letdown was too much to dismiss as mere garbage time. The 24 points surrendered were the most the Ravens had allowed in a game since the Week 2 win at Cincinnati, and it came against an Arizona team that had eclipsed 16 points only once in its previous four contests. The Cardinals also ran for 129 yards on 32 carries.
“We didn’t play to our standard at the end of the day,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith told reporters in Arizona. “But that’s just a credit to those guys for coming out ready to play, and honestly, we just have to look ourselves in the mirror knowing there’s going to be a tough Seattle team coming into town next week. We just can’t let the same mistakes throughout this game.”
Easily the more consistent side of the ball over the first half of the season, the Ravens defense has more than earned the benefit of the doubt in 2023, especially when it was Mike Macdonald’s group doing the heavy lifting for much of Sunday’s game. But the 31-point output also didn’t reflect the frustrating day it was for an offense that had seemingly experienced a breakthrough last week and had started fast with a touchdown on Sunday’s opening drive.
The Ravens didn’t score again until late in the first half when Cardinals quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw an ugly interception to cornerback Brandon Stephens, setting up Baltimore on a short field that led to a Gus Edwards touchdown run and a 14-7 halftime lead. The offense didn’t score again until the final minute of the third quarter after safety Geno Stone grabbed his league-leading fifth pick to put the Ravens on the Arizona 23, which led to another Edwards score.
Despite facing a Cardinals defense that entered Week 8 ranking 23rd in passing yards per game allowed, 30th in yards per pass attempt allowed, and 31st in pass defense DVOA, Lamar Jackson threw for a season-low 157 yards and was sacked four times. He ran the ball just twice in the first half and finished with a season-low 17 rushing yards for the game.
“The type of defense they were playing, some of the plays we had, we shouldn’t be holding the ball long,” Jackson said. “They were able to get after us a little, disrupt the backfield a little — that’s all. But hats off to their defense because they fought well.
“When they would drop back in coverage, we had longer-developing routes and their defensive line was causing havoc.”
To its credit, the offense finished on a high note, scoring 10 points on its last two drives and finally getting the ground game going with 80 rushing yards in the final quarter. But the performance certainly wasn’t the building block Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Monken had in mind after last week’s convincing win.
You’ll gladly take a weird win over an inexplicable loss, a sentiment Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs could attest to after a bad Broncos defense held them to just nine points. The Ravens know they’ll need to be better than they were against the 1-7 Cardinals, but every other AFC contender has expressed similar thoughts at some point over the first half of the 2023 season.
Baltimore was good enough on Sunday, and that’s all that really needs to be said — or remembered — about this one.