Ravens defense has eight sacks, shuts out Jaguars in second half of 20-12 win

The Ravens beat the Jaguars Sunday, but it was ugly.

It went unsaid in the defensive huddle late in the game, when the Ravens were trying to put away a Jacksonville Jaguars team that made things difficult all afternoon, but it certainly was on everybody’s mind.

The wounds from the Ravens’ late loss to the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago still hadn’t healed and the memories of the collapse were still too fresh.

“It’s kind of like … the name that we do not mention,” said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. “That game [stunk]. It just didn’t feel good. It’s kind of like an unspoken understanding, we’re going to put [the game] away, and we did it. Good teams don’t make the same mistake twice, and we did a good job putting them away in the fourth quarter.”

They trailed the two-win Jaguars at halftime, heard some boos from the home crowd early in the third quarter and led by only five late in the fourth when the visitors had driven into Ravens territory. But the Ravens stopped Jacksonville on fourth down and stopped them again a couple minutes later, preserving an ugly, 20-12, victory in front of an announced 70,801 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Joe Flacco’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels about midway through the third quarter salvaged a sloppy and mistake-filled afternoon for the Ravens, who overcame a sluggish offensive effort, two more serious injuries to their secondary and a poor performance by their usually-solid special teams units.

“They are an NFL football team. They’re probably trying to ruin some people’s seasons at this point since they’re not going to be able to go to the playoffs,” Daniels said of the 2-12 Jaguars, who haven’t won a road game all season. “I respect that, I understand that. Obviously, it didn’t go as smooth as we wanted it to go. They pulled out all the stops for us today and we did just enough.”

Hours later, the Ravens, who are 9-5 and clinched the sixth winning season in head coach John Harbaugh’s seven-year tenure, learned that they were officially in playoff position.

The Chargers’ loss to the Denver Broncos allowed the Ravens to move into the second AFC wild-card spot with two games to play: at the Houston Texans (7-7) next Sunday, and at home against the Cleveland Browns (7-7) in the regular-season finale.

The Ravens also remained a half-game behind the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals and tied for second in the division with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams won Sunday.

“It just helps us get closer to where we want to go,” said wide receiver Steve Smith who had five catches for 37 yards. “Obviously, there are some things that we need to clean up, get better at. But I think you can assess yourself like that on a win or a loss. Every week, there’s always something you need to improve on, because those guys get paid, too. Nobody is going to come in here and lay dead. You’re fooling yourself if you expect that from anybody.”

Smith and the rest of the Ravens were extremely complimentary of head coach Gus Bradley’s Jaguars, who played like a team with nothing to lose. The Jaguars attempted – and recovered – an onside kick early in the second quarter. They executed a successful fake punt from their own 27 early in the third quarter. And rather than give Josh Scobee a shot at his fifth field goal when they were trailing 17-12 with 3:29 to go in the game, the Jaguars opted to go for the first down on fourth-and-9.

The final decision didn’t work out, as rookie quarterback Blake Bortles threw an incompletion. After regaining possession, the Ravens got a big first down on a designed run by Flacco that went for 10 yards on third-and-8. Justin Tucker’s 33-yard field goal gave them an eight-point lead with just over a minute to go.

Safety Jeromy Miles then intercepted Bortles on the final possession to seal the game. Bortles was 21 of 37 for 210 yards and was sacked eight times by the Ravens.

“We didn’t play smart all the time,” Harbaugh said. “We had too many mistakes, too many errors that kept us off the field or put our defense back on the field – those kinds of things. But I’ll tell you what, Jacksonville did a great job.”

All week, the Ravens were dismissive of any questions about taking Jacksonville lightly. There was too much on the line and the Jaguars were too young and talented, they said.

There was no evidence that the Ravens overlooked Jacksonville, but they certainly didn’t execute at a high level.

On offense, Flacco was solid, completing 20 of 30 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. He was 5-for-5 for 64 yards and a touchdown on the game’s decisive drive, which ended with back-to-back completions to Daniels: a 29-yarder in the middle of the field and then the 3-yard touchdown off a play fake, giving the Ravens a 17-12 lead.

But the Ravens struggled to get into a rhythm offensively for the rest of the game, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk lost a fumble for the second time in four weeks, leading to a field goal by the Jaguars. The Ravens also gained only 93 rushing yards against the NFL’s 28th-ranked rushing defense.

“We were kind of stagnant at times on offense,” said running back Justin Forsett, who was held to 48 yards on 16 carries, his lowest total since Nov. 2. “I know I have to do a better job. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out what we were doing that wasn’t working, and figure out how we can move on from that.”

On defense, the Ravens allowed field goals on four of the Jaguars’ seven first-half possessions – Scobee also missed one – but they stiffened in the second half, shutting Jacksonville out. They did it despite losing two defensive backs – cornerback Asa Jackson and rookie safety Terrence Brooks – to likely season-ending knee injuries.

And on special teams, the Ravens got a huge play from Darian Stewart, who blocked a punt attempt by Bryan Anger and then watched Kamar Aiken return it 11 yards for a touchdown. It was the Ravens’ first punt return touchdown since Ed Reed did it on Nov. 23, 2003 against the Seattle Seahawks and it was also the only highlight of a brutal day by the Ravens' special teams.

Not only did the Ravens allow a successful fake punt and onside kick, they also committed three special teams penalties. One of those was a delay-of-game before Tucker’s 49-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. Pushed back five yards, Tucker hit the left upright on the field-goal attempt, his second miss of the day.

“They have the ability to keep pounding and keep fighting and not let self-inflicted wounds overcome us, but we had too many that we had to overcome to play the kind of football that we want to play,” Harbaugh said. “Too many long-yard situations, too many penalties, too many special teams penalties, again - things like that, we just have to get cleaned up.”

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Playoff picture

If the season ended today, here’s how the AFC playoffs would look:

Division winners

East: New England, 11-3*

North: Cincinnati, 9-4-1

South: Indianapolis, 10-4*

West: Denver, 11-3*

Wild-card race (top two get in)

5. Pittsburgh, 9-5

6. Ravens, 9-5

7. San Diego, 8-6

8. Kansas City, 8-6

9. Buffalo, 8-6

10. Houston, 7-7

11. Miami, 7-7

12. Cleveland, 7-7

*Clinched division

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