The Ravens’ night opened in the most Las Vegas way possible, all glitz and bright lights: a Gladys Knight national anthem inside a $2 billion stadium; a Steve Aoki soundtrack, the bass pumping; a season-opening introduction from none other than Mr. Big Fight himself, Bruce Buffer.
Their night ended in the most crushing way imaginable: with a go-ahead Lamar Jackson rally spoiled by a diced-up defense, a sure-thing Raiders touchdown turning into a glimmer of Ravens hope in overtime, then a second costly Jackson fumble all but handing the win over. Zay Jones’ 31-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Derek Carr secured a 33-27 win inside a vibrating Allegiant Stadium and sent the Ravens into a daunting Week 2 primetime game.
The Ravens, who will return home Sunday to face the Super Bowl favorite Kansas City Chiefs, had gotten a second life on Monday night. After losing the coin toss in overtime, they were down to their last yard. Then they stopped Carr on a quarterback sneak. Then there was a false-start penalty. Then there was something not even Cirque du Soleil could have dreamed up: Carr whizzing a fastball past a wide-open Willie Snead IV, watching it ricochet off safety DeShon Elliott’s helmet and fall into the waiting hands of cornerback Anthony Averett, his first interception a timely one.
But Jackson fumbled on third-and-long, the Raiders recovered and pretty soon it was over. Carr’s 33-yard pass to wide receiver Bryan Edwards on third-and-4 on Vegas’ opening drive had gotten the Raiders to the 1-yard line. The Ravens didn’t even sniff midfield.
It was a fitting finish to a frantic fourth quarter. The Ravens burned nearly three minutes of game clock on a go-ahead 47-yard field goal by kicker Justin Tucker. But the 37 seconds they left the Raiders were enough. Las Vegas covered 38 yards in five plays, setting up kicker Daniel Carlson for a 55-yard field goal he left no doubt on with just two seconds remaining. The Ravens took a knee and headed for overtime.
After three touchdowns in the first three quarters, there were three in the final 15 minutes of regulation, and 27 points total. A 45-yard pass to wide receiver Sammy Watkins, dropped in perfectly over his shoulder, put the Ravens in the red zone for the first time all half. The next time they lined up, they went back to their run-game bread-and-butter. Running back Latavius Murray, signed only days ago, stormed into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown that pushed the Ravens back up 24-17.
It was a big answer. Las Vegas had a bigger response. Just over two minutes later, Carr found tight end Darren Waller for a 10-yard touchdown in which he slipped tackles from safeties Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott.
The game nearly swung on a turnover. The game swung on a second-down scramble. Two plays after Jackson gave the Ravens some breathing room with a 13-yard pass to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, he dropped back from his 36 and felt pressure. He scrambled up the middle, left his feet and had the ball punched out cleanly by defensive end Quinton Jefferson (Maryland). Inside linebacker Denzel Perryman recovered the fumble, and the Raiders took over at the Ravens’ 41.
Five plays later, they were celebrating. A 15-yard run by Josh Jacobs, who slalomed past a gassed Ravens defense, evened the score at 17 with less than 10 minutes remaining. Jackson took over with the stadium rocking and the momentum swinging.
“The train is moving fast,” coach John Harbaugh said Friday, after the Ravens’ rash of injuries had cast a pall over the team. “We’re excited to go play Monday night. The game is going to go off at 5 o’clock Pacific time, and we’re going to be there right on time. We won’t be late. Our whole team will be there ready to go. We’ve been preparing for this for a long time as a team.”
The aftershocks of the Ravens’ injury epidemic rippled throughout the game. Without the team’s top three running backs, all stuck on the season-ending injured reserve, offensive coordinator Greg Roman seemed more eager to pass — or at least less inclined to run the zone reads that have made his rushing attack the NFL’s best the past two years.
Without left tackle Ronnie Stanley fully healthy, still regaining his flexibility after a season-ending ankle injury 10 months ago, and right tackle Alejandro Villanueva still adjusting to his new post, Jackson rarely had a clean pocket to throw from. The second-quarter exit of left guard Tyre Phillips, who was carted off the field with a knee injury less than two quarters in, destabilized the line even further.
And without cornerback Marcus Peters, the fifth Raven lost to a season-ending injury in a torturous 19-day span in preseason, the defense shuttled cornerback Marlon Humphrey between coverage on Waller and the Raiders’ less dangerous wide receivers.
Pass protection was an issue, but there were glimpses of the Ravens passing attack that looked so explosive during offseason workouts and for stretches of training camp. Brown, who dominated the first day of training camp in late July before hurting his hamstring on the second, had four catches on four targets for 52 yards in the first half.
Jackson didn’t have first-round pick Rashod Bateman (groin) or fellow wide receiver Miles Boykin (hamstring) available. But he was so confident someone would uncover during a second-quarter scramble that, rather than run for a first down, he waited until Brown separated in the back of the end zone. His 10-yard catch doubled the Ravens’ lead to 14-0.
By then, the Ravens’ ground game had found a new workhorse. Their first running score didn’t come courtesy of J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards; the two running backs, who combined for 1,588 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns last season, had long since been ruled out with season-ending knee injuries. It was Ty’Son Williams, who entered training camp with no NFL carries and little chance of making the roster in his second season, running for a 35-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 on the Ravens’ second drive.
But as their offense slowed, the Raiders’ revved up. A nine-play, 66-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a 2-yard run by running back Josh Jacobs, halved the Ravens’ lead late in the quarter. A 34-yard field goal by Carlson, made possible by a fourth-down stop on Murray in Raiders territory, cut Las Vegas’ halftime deficit to 14-10.©2021 The Baltimore Sun. Visit at baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.