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‘Truss’ the process: How the Ravens turned a strange week into their biggest win of the season

"Coach dialed it up the second half, and if we just keep doing it the same way, we will be fine throughout our games,” said Jackson.

INDIANAPOLIS — At the end of a strange game that marked the end of an exceptionally strange week in a never-been-stranger year, Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon did the most normal thing imaginable.

The Ravens were going to win Sunday; of that, he could be assured. They had followed an inert first half with a dynamic second half, assembling a 24-10 lead over the Indianapolis Colts on the fly with the few cornerstone pieces still at their disposal, a handful of bold chess moves and what general manager Eric DeCosta later said defined their afternoon inside Lucas Oil Stadium: fortitude.

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But on a meaningless play in a meaningful win, Judon ran like the difference between success and failure might as well have been the difference between life and death. With two seconds remaining, Colts quarterback Philip Rivers found wide receiver Zach Pascal on a screen that put a convoy of blockers in front of him. Pascal’s only real obstacle to the end zone was behind him. Judon doubled back from his pass rush, dived at Pascal’s feet and hogtied him.

The game ended there, on the 5-yard line, a capstone play capturing what had driven the Ravens to their most important and impressive win of the season. So much had gone wrong since a gut-punch Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0) that the Ravens (6-2) could’ve been forgiven for a hard-fought loss. They settled instead for a comfortable win that they never wanted to be comfortable with.

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“It was a tough, tough football game, and it took a lot of courage and mental toughness to win that game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There’s a lot to it. There’s a lot of heart and mind that go into winning an NFL football game, and I’m very, very proud of our players for finding a way to win this football game.”

He added: “We’re going to be proud of that win.”

The Ravens' 10th straight road victory, and first-ever triumph in Indianapolis (5-3), was a testament to their process and a reminder of their potential. In their much-criticized collapse against the AFC North-leading Steelers, they’d lost starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season-ending ankle injury and starting right guard Tyre Phillips to a minor ankle injury. On Monday, cornerback Marlon Humphrey announced he’d tested positive for the coronavirus. On Tuesday, seven Ravens were sidelined for “high-risk” close-contact exposure.

But at no point during a week of virtual meetings and COVID-19-related practice protocols did left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. think to himself, “This is weird.” It was, he said, just another day in the NFL, another practice, another battle against teammates he knew to be as committed as he was. “Truss” the Process, as simple as that.

Yes, the Ravens are better off with a healthy Humphrey — but fellow All-Pro Marcus Peters had a pivotal interception and a Humphrey-esque forced fumble that led to their first points. Of course losing two starters along the offensive line hurt — but the Ravens never strayed far from their run-first ethos Sunday. Sure, losing Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell in the first quarter to a seemingly minor calf injury wasn’t ideal — but these Ravens have the depth to handcuff a division leader anyway.

"I think the biggest thing is that we all took it as, ‘Somebody just has to step up,’ " Peters said. “We can’t complain. We understand the situation that we’re dealt with right now. We know that things are going to be up and down throughout this whole year. So we just have to find a way to adapt and overcome these types of situations. … That’s what we need over here; next man up and keep playing Raven football, and we’ll be all right.”

An eyesore of a first half tested their faith. The Ravens entered halftime with just 55 yards of total offense, outgained by 146 total. They’d finished with more punts (five) than first downs (four). Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, one week after combining for 125 rushing yards in the first half against Pittsburgh’s stingy run defense, had 4 total.

But with just a 10-7 deficit, these were not dire straits. Safety Chuck Clark’s 65-yard scoop-and-score touchdown in the first quarter — the Ravens' 21st straight game with a takeaway, the NFL’s longest active such streak — made a comeback possible. Then Jackson made it come true.

He entered the third quarter 9-for-13 for 51 yards, with four carries for 15 yards, the conductor of a dysfunctional offense clanging its way to 2.2 yards per play. Jackson ended the game with 12 straight completions and the Ravens' first win in 21 games when trailing at halftime, the NFL’s longest active streak.

Against a Colts defense that, outside of the AFC North, might be the conference’s best, Jackson was not necessarily elite. He finished 19-for-23 for 170 yards and added 13 rushes for 58 yards. But Jackson was the engine of their second-half comeback, getting them in gear early with a hurry-up opening drive, picking apart Indianapolis' pass defense on their second possession and scoring easily on a naked bootleg on their third.

“Their defense did a pretty good job,” said Jackson, who, in improving to 25-5 as a starter, tied the Miami Dolphins' Dan Marino for the best start by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era. “Coach [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] was calling plays, the guys weren’t open on those plays, and they just did a great job on those. Second half, we just dialed it up, called the plays, found the guys in the right position, and we drove the ball down the field. And we scored touchdowns.”

Harbaugh said the halftime turnaround was a matter of execution, of players doing what they’d been coached to do. It was also a matter of trust, of conviction in beliefs, however wrong-headed they might have seemed.

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Because when Harbaugh dropped a red flag and asked for a review of a potential Peters interception early in the third quarter, it did not seem especially prudent. The officials had ruled that Colts wide receiver Marcus Johnson had kept Peters from securing the catch as he came down with the ball. Then Harbaugh challenged it, and referee Adrian Hill counted Peters' steps with possession in slow motion, and well, Harbaugh was right, as it turned out.

With a short field, the Ravens covered 54 yards in 10 plays and changed the game. On their go-ahead score, they turned once more to Edwards. It didn’t matter that he’d fumbled at the doorstep just minutes earlier. Nor did it matter that the Colts had stopped him from 2 yards out, and then 1 yard out. On third-and-goal, Edwards got the ball and found the end zone. He didn’t celebrate, not really; this was what he expected. It was what the Ravens expected.

“These coaches do a really good job of, basically, understanding football,” Brown said. “Nobody’s going to play perfect, and everyone’s going to make mistakes. That’s just a part of it. That’s just human nature.”

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The Ravens woke up Saturday awaiting their latest COVID-19 test results, not knowing who on defense would even make the trip to Indianapolis. They headed back home Sunday with a feel-good victory keyed by the biggest of names and the most unlikely of contributors.

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There was wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (three catches for 38 yards), holding his ground on a bold fourth-and-3 outside run by Dobbins (12 carries for 30 yards) to end the third quarter. There was defensive tackle Justin Ellis, filling in for Campbell on a defense that held Indianapolis to 37 rushing yards and no points after halftime. There was newly signed cornerback Terrell Bonds, picked on early but stout late.

Nothing about the Ravens' past eight days had been easy — nothing, maybe, except their belief that a win was inevitable. Not believing that would’ve been the strangest part of all.

RAVENS@PATRIOTS

Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Radio: 1090 AM, 97.9 FM

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