Marlon Humphrey showed why he’s the Ravens’ current and future defensive star.
A lingering groin injury limited Humphrey to 44 snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs and kept him off the practice field Wednesday and Thursday, raising real questions about how much he’d be able to contribute against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ talented receivers.
The second-year NFL cornerback answered that question quickly, delivering a ferocious pop on Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter.
The Ravens drafted Humphrey primarily for his ability to hang step for step with the NFL’s most athletic wide receivers. But the hit on Jones reminded us that he has a little strong safety in him as well.
“A lot of times, I would rather make a big hit like that just as much as making an interception,” he said.
Humphrey did not stop there. In the second half, he showed off the coverage side of his deluxe skills package with an interception and a vital coverage stop on fourth down to cut off the Buccaneers’ final drive.
He was the key player as the Ravens again shut down one of the most productive passing attacks in the NFL, holding the Buccaneers to a season-low 241 yards.
Humphrey’s all-around performance in the face of a painful injury illustrated why he’s already the team’s best cornerback. You can tell how much the Ravens think of Humphrey’s talent, because they’re unwilling to act too impressed when he plays like this.
“Marlon Humphrey played at the level we expected him to play at, which is at the highest level,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Earlier in the season, safety Eric Weddle was not ready to anoint Humphrey one of the league’s elite cornerbacks. He demanded more consistency.
“I’ve been harping on him every day in meetings, after little things that happen in practice,” Weddle said Sunday. “But he’s an amazing guy to be around. He listens, he works extremely hard and he’s as talented as anyone out there. When he’s focused and he’s locked in, not many guys can get by him. And that’s what he’s showed over these last couple weeks, to be guy that we can count on to make plays — big plays.”
Humphrey might not hear his name called when the NFL announces its Pro Bowl selections Tuesday night. He might need another year to build his reputation. But he would be a worthy choice.
For now, we know the positives and negatives of a Lamar Jackson-led offense.
In the big picture, Jackson remains a work-in-progress with a wide spectrum of career possibilities. But in the short term, we know the identity the Ravens have chosen by going with him over Joe Flacco as the team’s starter.
Jackson is good for at least one turnover, often on a botched ball exchange, and several comically bad throws per game. On the other hand, he offers a near-guarantee that the Ravens will rush for at least 200 yards (242 on 49 attempts against the Buccaneers) and control the clock after halftime.
Pair that with the Ravens’ excellent defense and you have a winning formula against the NFL’s large pool of mediocre teams. But will it be enough against the 11-3 Los Angeles Chargers this weekend? Or in the playoffs should the Ravens make it that far?
We don’t know.
Jackson was shaky to start the game, throwing a pass that should have been intercepted on the second drive and generally showing how ill-suited he is for third-and-long situations. In the second quarter, he underthrew an open Mark Andrews to such a degree that the wobbling ball bounced off the Tampa Bay defender’s backside. His ninth fumble of the season, off a mishandled snap, set up the Buccaneers’ only touchdown of the game.
On one play in the two-minute offense, he threaded a confident throw to Willie Snead IV in traffic. The next, he misfired on a wide-open pass to the flat.
You have no idea what you’re going to get when Jackson drops back to pass. Then he rebounds with those long drives, punctuated by runs on which he seems to disapparate from the grasp of oncoming defenders. The Ravens have owned the second half with him at quarterback.
There are fans who believe the team can’t keep winning this way, that it’s simply not a sustainable look for an NFL offense. But the Ravens have chosen their identity for the rest of this season, and they’ve been right (or right enough) so far.
Bradley Bozeman has quietly overdelivered as a sixth-round pick.
As training camp wound down, Bozeman seemed like a candidate for the practice squad — a well-trained player from Alabama who needed to become more physically imposing to carve out a regular role in the NFL.
Instead, he made the team, and the Ravens now plug him into temporary holes in their offensive line with confidence that he’ll handle the job.
He replaced James Hurst at left guard for a stretch against the Buccaneers and acquitted himself well in the team’s power running attack under Jackson. For the season, Pro Football Focus grades him as a far better run blocker than pass blocker. But that’s not surprising for a rookie who played in the middle for the power-oriented Crimson Tide.
Bozeman was primarily a center prospect coming out of college, so it will be interesting to see whether the Ravens pit him against Matt Skura in a job battle for next summer. For now, he’s increased his long-term value by demonstrating competence at guard. He’s exactly the type of the player the Ravens need to rebuild depth on their offensive line.
The Ravens have built an identity around moving on from mistakes.
Every Ravens fan and player at M&T Bank Stadium cringed when Cyrus Jones reached down, futilely, to stop the rolling punt.
The ball brushed past his fingertips and lay there, on the Ravens’ 14-yard-line, for Buccaneers defensive back Josh Shaw to snap it up. The third-quarter mistake felt like a disastrous turn in a game the Ravens had just begun to dominate. And it felt like a cruel twist for a Baltimore native who’d given the team such a lift with his flawless returns over the previous eight games.
The Ravens, however, refused to let the muff become more than an isolated, dispiriting moment. They held the Buccaneers to a field goal and went right back to strangling the rest of the game with their defense and running attack.
Afterward, Harbaugh pointed to his team’s response as a character-defining moment. And he declined to chastise Jones for too long, despite his deep aversion to special-teams turnovers.
“It was so bad — it was such a bad decision, to be honest with you. I don’t even know what to say about it. So let’s put it behind us,” Harbaugh said. “Our defense stepped up and got a stop. I think the credit there — we talked about this in the locker room — that’s really what you have to do. Mistakes are going to get made, but we have to have each others’ backs. … That’s probably what our team has done the best job of — of any team that I’ve been around in some ways — is overcoming those things.”
Resilience might not be enough against the league’s top teams, such as the one the Ravens will face in Los Angeles on Saturday night. They’ll need to avoid handing away points on mistakes such as Jones’ muff and Jackson’s fumble.
But give them this — they’re not a weak-minded team.
The Ravens likely have to win their last two games to earn a playoff berth.
The Ravens handled their business at home against the Buccaneers, but the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts also won convincingly to maintain a three-way logjam at 8-6. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers took a major step toward winning the AFC North by beating the New England Patriots.
Even if the Steelers lose next weekend in New Orleans, they’ll be heavily favored to beat the fading Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 to finish 9-6-1.
The Colts and Titans will both be favored in home games next weekend against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, respectively. They play each other in Nashville on the last Sunday of the season. That means at least one of the two has an excellent chance to finish 10-6.
The Ravens would win a tiebreaker if they also go 10-6. But they caught a bad break when the Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. The victory means the Chargers will be striving against the Ravens for a division title and first-round bye. And they’ll be doing so with three extra days of rest against a team that just made a cross-country trip.
All that before you get to the difficulty of stopping an elite offense led by Most Valuable Player candidate Philip Rivers. It’s a sub-optimal setup to say the least, and the suddenly dangerous Cleveland Browns will come lurking in Baltimore the week after. If the Ravens go 10-6, they’ll be a deserving playoff team.