Mike Preston: Befuddling Ravens find another way to win -- and that's scary for rest of NFL

Mike Preston, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Football

The Ravens are befuddling but scary, which is why they are one of the favorites heading toward the postseason.

They might not be the best team in the NFL, but they are one of the most balanced, right up there with the San Francisco 49ers. On Sunday, the Ravens beat the Los Angeles Rams, 37-31, as reserve receiver Tylan Wallace returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown in overtime to give Baltimore its third straight victory and seventh in its past eight games.

There has always been this general belief that the good teams peak in December and that momentum carries over into the playoffs. The Ravens aren’t peaking, but they’ve got guys like Wallace making plays, it makes them hard to beat, especially in a watered-down and mediocre NFL.

“That’s how these games are won, and that’s what our guys did,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s the amazing event that I’m talking about this December in this game in this stadium today – December football. I just couldn’t be more proud of those guys, because it was mountains and valleys. … Our guys just weathered all those storms – figuratively and literally – out there and found a way to make those plays to win the game at the end. As a coach, there’s nothing better than that.”

After Wallace’s thrilling, game-winning touchdown that was set up perfectly with four great blocks, the Ravens locker room was upbeat and exploding with raw emotion. This game had all the elements of a postseason win, and Baltimore fought back and won despite numerous lead changes.

The Ravens won because they have so many playmakers. In years past, they had quarterback Lamar Jackson and they went as he did. But it’s not that way anymore. Jackson completed 24 of 43 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns Sunday, but it wasn’t close to one of his best performances. If he had hit on three or four other long throws, this game might have been a blowout.


But in crunch time, with the Ravens trailing 28-23 with 4:41 left in regulation, Jackson was spectacular in leading the Ravens on a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Zay Flowers, who also caught the 2-point conversion.

That’s the difference compared with previous years. Jackson doesn’t have to carry the offense. The Ravens have Flowers, who had six catches for 60 yards. They’ve got the ancient one, receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who turned back the clock and had four catches for 97 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown in the second quarter. They’ve got an explosive running back in rookie Keaton Mitchell, who they need to use more after gaining 54 yards on nine carries Sunday, and the most clutch kicker in the NFL in Justin Tucker, who converted on field goals of 31, 47 and 33 yards against the Rams.

And here’s another major difference from the previous seasons. The Ravens have a defense. Yes, they gave up 410 yards to the Rams, but this group has been the guiding force.

Now, they just have to put it all together.


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