A few days as an underdog brought out the best in Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens now stand alone with the NFL’s best record after their defence swarmed Brock Purdy and Jackson weaved his way around and through the San Francisco 49ers in a 33-19 Monday night win. Not only did Baltimore prove itself as an obvious Super Bowl contender, but the Ravens also revealed a chip on their shoulder that seemed to fuel them in one of the most anticipated games of the season.
“Not to take away from the 49ers at all, because they’re great all across the board, but we’re going to come to play as well,” Jackson said. “Our record not no fluke. We play ball and we showed that.”
Jackson was peeved over comments by reporter Mike Florio, who had said the 49ers would “kick the (expletive) out of the Ravens” if healthy. He was talking up San Francisco more than he was taking a shot at the Ravens, but it was easy to see why they took exception.
Baltimore (12-3) has been quietly dominant in its own right this season. The Ravens haven’t trailed by more than seven points in any game. Two of their three losses came on the final play, and the other was on a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
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San Francisco earned plenty of attention with blowout wins over Philadelphia, Dallas and Jacksonville, but Baltimore did the same against Detroit and Seattle. After all of the debate about whether Purdy or Christian McCaffrey is the best MVP candidate on the 49ers, it might be a moot point. Jackson is the clear favourite now, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
San Francisco did finish with 429 yards of offence, but four interceptions by Purdy and one by Sam Darnold were too much to overcome.
“We play a brand of football that people don’t want to play,” Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen said. “Everybody wants to be out here cute, playing basketball on grass and stuff and we ain’t with all that.”
Jackson had help from his defence, which gave him a few short fields, and when Baltimore had the ball he was the marvelous. The Ravens’ running game has had better days and dealing with San Francisco’s pass rush wasn’t easy. But Jackson looked comfortable throughout — except when an official fell in front of him in the end zone, causing him to go down and take an intentional grounding penalty for an early safety.
Baltimore scored only three points on its last drive of the first half, but it was a turning point. The offensive line was flagged twice for 25 yards and there also was a sack. Undaunted, Jackson completed six passes on the drive and then produced a 30-yard scramble on third-and-16 that set up an easy field goal for a 16-12 lead.
After San Francisco went three-and-out to start the third quarter, a good punt return and a penalty set the Ravens up in 49ers territory. Three plays later, Baltimore was in the end zone and San Francisco never got within single digits again.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The running game looked a bit less dynamic without injured rookie Keaton Mitchell. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill had 57 yards on 19 carries.
Get ready to hear the name Mike Macdonald a lot this off-season. In his two seasons as co-ordinator, Baltimore’s defence has been excellent and this was quite a showing against a fearsome offence.
Any quarterback-needy team that shrugged its shoulders when Jackson was (sort of) on the free-agent market last off-season. Yes, the Ravens could have matched any offer after putting the non-exclusive franchise tag on him, but in the event they didn’t, another team could have pried him away for two first-round draft picks. That will seem a small price to pay if Jackson wins his second MVP award in his first six seasons.
Safety Kyle Hamilton had another phenomenal game, with two interceptions in the first half, but his knee remains an issue. He missed 22 defensive snaps.
Seven. The Ravens scored on seven consecutive possessions following the safety, coming away with three touchdowns and four field goals.
Baltimore hosts Miami on Sunday in a matchup that could decide the top seed in the AFC. The Ravens lead the Dolphins by a game in the standings, so a victory would clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for Baltimore. The Ravens can clinch the AFC North even earlier if Cleveland loses to the New York Jets on Thursday night.