As he does each week, Childs Walker shares his five biggest takeaways from the Ravens' 20-12 victory Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
1. Just take the win and don't think about the how.
The Ravens have to review film of their toxic waste dump of a win over the 2-12 Jaguars. It's their job. But you, dear reader? Think on it no further.
I kept waiting for the Ravens to snap out of their funk as they had in a similarly uninspiring home victory over Tennessee earlier in the season. Never really happened, though.
Aside from a pass rush that ate Jacksonville alive, especially in the second half, the Ravens could not escape this saga of misfortune and boneheaded play.
Pick your poison. Were you most disheartened by another spate of injuries to the secondary or the Ravens falling for both a surprise onside kick and a fake punt? Were you more frustrated by Justin Tucker misfiring on two field goals (both 54-yard attempts, to be fair) or by the delay-of-game penalty that pushed him five yards back on his second miss? Were you more concerned about the inexplicably shoddy run blocking or Kyle Juszczyk's second fumble in four weeks?
So many iterations of miserable play, so little time.
But you know what? It really doesn't matter. The Ravens won, and if they can do it twice more — against a Houston team that isn't terribly frightening beyond J.J. Watt and a Cleveland team that seems to be unraveling — they'll be back in the playoffs.
Their position wouldn't be any better if they'd won 40-12, run for 200 yards and racked up zero penalties. I say that's the only sane way to look at it.
2. The Ravens' pass rush saved them, and not for the first time.
We all thought the Ravens had set up perhaps the scariest sack force in team history when they signed Elvis Dumervil to pair with Terrell Suggs. But by the end of 2013, fans were left wondering if the duo was too long in the tooth for that dream to be realized.
With their remarkable eight-sack outing against Jacksonville, the Ravens cruised past their total for all of last season. They actually allowed eight sacks more than they recorded in 2013. They're now +29 in 2014.
They key seems to be the depth Dean Pees has to play with. Sure, Suggs and Dumervil have been sensational streaking off the edges. But Pernell McPhee has fully come into his own as a rusher who can attack from any point in the line. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan generates tremendous push coming up the middle. If anything, he might be quicker than the suspended Haloti Ngata. Even rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley has emerged as a force on his selective blitzes.
All of these guys hit Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles on Sunday, repeatedly mitigating damage from the Ravens' mistakes in other areas. The front seven smothered Jacksonville in the second half after the Jaguars moved the ball too easily for anyone's comfort in the first.
With the onus on them like never before because of injuries in the secondary, these linebackers and linemen have played their two best games of the season the last two weeks. They have become the signature element of the 2014 team.
3. The Ravens' offensive line played inexplicably poorly.
Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have produced terrific seasons, especially as run blockers, and the Ravens' line figured to push around a Jacksonville front that hadn't exactly dominated the line of scrimmage.
Instead, the dynamic was just the opposite, particularly in the first half, when the Ravens rushed for just 13 yards on 9 attempts. Even in the fourth quarter, when the interior linemen have usually worn opponents down, they couldn't get any push on a failed third-and-one sneak attempt by quarterback Joe Flacco.
Without the customary gaps to shoot, a gimpy Justin Forsett struggled to one of his weakest outings of the season — 48 yards on 16 carries. Only a 28-yard burst by Bernard Pierce on the Ravens' last drive put any kind of positive sheen on the performance.
As we've seen all season, this offense becomes significantly less threatening when the burden falls too heavily on Flacco. He played a fine game against the Jaguars, staying within himself despite the running struggles.
We just can't count on that dynamic working against the better defenses lying in wait.
This offensive line and Forsett have earned the benefit of the doubt with an exceptional overall season. So no reason to worry too much. Not yet anyway.
4. We need to find the guy with the Ravens secondary voodoo dolls.
In other words, we're past the point of rational explanation for the plagues that have beset the Ravens' defensive backs.
Just when the unit appeared to have dodged another travesty with cornerback Anthony Levine's return from a first-half injury, Asa Jackson limped off after landing hard on his right knee
That left the Ravens with only three active cornerbacks.
Remember, Jackson had already missed seven games earlier in the season with a toe injury. He went back on the shelf a week after Danny Gorrer suffered a season-ending injury. And Gorrer was only playing because the Ravens' one top-shelf corner, Jimmy Smith, had already lost his season to a foot injury.
On the plus side, such as it is, rookie Rashaan Melvin made some nice plays in his first action for the Ravens.
The safeties are a little better off but just a little. Rookie Terrence Brooks left the game early with a sprained right knee, which turned out to be another season ender. And 2013 No. 1 pick Matt Elam set off another round of fan lamentations with his 13th missed tackle of the season.
Really, this is about as tortured a unit as you'll ever find on a strong playoff contender. The situation defies analysis. The Ravens have scrambled to start a competent secondary for weeks and will continue to do so as long as their season lasts.
5. Timmy Jernigan is fast becoming one of the most fun Ravens to watch.
It's hard to be as entertaining as a 340-pound guy who semi-routinely turns batted passes into interceptions. That force of nature, Haloti Ngata, long ago secured a spot as one of those Ravens you'll tell the grandkids about.
But with Ngata suspended, Jernigan sure is making a respectable run at seizing fan affections.
Where Ngata tends to come off as a stoic force on the field, Jernigan looks like he escaped from middle school recess. His ample posterior always seems to be spilling from his pants. He plays with a big grin and celebrates important plays with goofy gestures. The guy is an absolute hoot who's obviously loving his shot at the biggest stage in American sport.
Don't let any of that obscure the fact he's also emerged as one of the biggest steals of the 2014 draft. Jernigan went from first-round prospect to question mark because of a diluted drug-test sample. Some analysts thought the Ravens made a mistake even taking him in the second round. So all credit to them for focusing on the talent rather than the surrounding chatter.
Jernigan is exactly what you want in an NFL defensive tackle — a guy powerful enough to plug running gaps but explosive enough to rush up the middle. He has been so good that the Ravens haven't missed the great Ngata for two weeks.
No Ravens draft pair will surpass Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis. But man, if we were redoing the 2014 draft this week, most teams would kill to come away with Mosley and Jernigan.