"It’s a win that we are very, very happy to have. We’ll be very proud of it because it was a fight," said John Harbaugh.
PHILADELPHIA — A win is a win, however it’s earned, and so the Ravens boarded their buses back home Sunday happy to have survived the Philadelphia Eagles, 30-28. A hold-your-breath victory sure beat the alternative. Postseason glory isn’t possible without at least a few nail-biters.
But as the Ravens enter their bye week with one of the NFL’s best records, they remain one of the league’s most frustrating powerhouses. Yes, the Ravens are 5-1, but their best win came more than a month ago against a Cleveland Browns team obliterated Sunday by the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers.
Yes, the Ravens are 5-1, but they seem no closer to fixing some of their nagging problems than they did a week ago, and it almost cost them against a depleted Eagles (1-4-1) team that was rightly booed in the first half.
Yes, the Ravens are 5-1, and the franchise’s only two teams to start with five wins in six games went on to win the Super Bowl. But from week to week, from quarter to quarter, from play to play, they look at times like a team with all the pieces and only a faint idea of how to put them all together.
“I feel like we have to be better than that,” safety DeShon Elliott said after the Ravens nearly blew a 30-14 lead in the fourth quarter. “They never quit, and we have to learn how to finish. But we’re going to get better week to week. We’re going to take a couple days off and get back at it. I just felt like it wasn’t enough; we didn’t do enough. Games can’t be that close if we want to be great. But it’ll all come along. Mistakes were made, but we’re going to get better. It is what it is.”
In a season without an obvious Super Bowl favorite, the Ravens have been among the best of the league’s imperfect contenders. They entered Sunday’s game against the Eagles with the NFL’s best point differential, thanks in large part to big wins against the lowly Houston Texans, Washington Football Team and Cincinnati Bengals. And for all the hand-wringing about quarterback Lamar Jackson’s inaccuracy and iffy knee in a Week 6 win over the Bengals, they’d still won by 24.
Another blowout win seemed inevitable Sunday. The Ravens led 17-0 early in the second quarter. The thousands of Eagles fans allowed in for the first time this season at Lincoln Financial Field had little to cheer. Defensive end Calais Campbell (three sacks total) seemed determined to send Philadelphia into halftime with negative yardage. Jackson didn’t look like the sport’s best player, but he was good enough.
And then it all started to crumble — the lead, the defense, the Ravens' bid for a bye week that wouldn’t feel like pure misery. After a 46-yard field goal by kicker Justin Tucker, one of three from 45-plus yards Sunday, the Ravens led 30-14 with 7:17 remaining. Two Eagles touchdowns and less than six minutes later, the defense was lining up to prevent a game-tying 2-point-conversion attempt.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz had turned a laugher into a cliff-hanger with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes and a quarterback sneak. He also tried to tie the game, keeping the ball on a zone-read play. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon and inside linebacker L.J. Fort wouldn’t let him, sandwiching him short of the line of scrimmage.
When wide receiver James Proche II recovered the subsequent onside kick, the Ravens had their third straight win and ninth straight road victory. Barely.
“It’s a win that we are very, very happy to have,” coach John Harbaugh said after the team’s first-ever win in Philadelphia. “We’ll be very proud of it because it was a fight. I’m proud of our guys for winning the fight in the end. ... Certain things, we’re not going to be happy with, and certain things, we are. I think we’ve got to execute better on both sides. We gave up too many big plays on defense.”
Their next test won’t have Washington’s organizational incompetence or Cincinnati’s inexperience or the Eagles' injury woes. The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0), who routed the Browns, 38-7, in Sunday’s high-profile AFC North matchup, will travel to Baltimore with at least a share of the division lead on Nov. 1.
The Ravens will likely be favored in the first-ever showdown between Jackson and Ben Roethlisberger as starting quarterbacks. They have the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player, a disruptive defense — now up to 19 straight games with a turnover — and the league’s best special teams group. On paper, there are not many better teams.
The trouble has been getting everything synced up, the three units finally pushing the Ravens in the same direction, the team becoming its best self instead of its own worst enemy.
Some of the Ravens' problems are fixable. They had a season-high 12 penalties for 132 yards Sunday — another two flags were declined — and the offensive line was largely at fault. Three players were penalized for holding. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley was twice called for the same illegal-formation penalty. Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. likened the line’s experience to shooting yourself in the foot.
A week of rest should help the banged-up line, which had all five Week 1 starters available for the first time since Week 3. Same goes for a defensive line that missed defensive tackle Brandon Williams (reserve/COVID-19 list) and defensive end Derek Wolfe (neck/concussion). The Ravens sacked Wentz six times and hit him 16 times, but they allowed 194 rushing yards on 18 attempts (10.8 per carry).
“We know we have a lot to work on,” said Campbell, who had a game-high four quarterback hits. “We see what we need to work on, and I know we’re going to get it fixed, especially with this extra week we have. So it’s really just knowing what mistakes we made today, knowing that, ‘OK, well, at least we have time to work on those mistakes,’ whether it was communication or the missed tackles. We’ll be fine. We’ll get it right.”
Said Jackson: “It’s really small things that slows our offense down. Our defense always plays great. We just have to clean up little things and we’ll be there. We’ll be all right.”
It wasn’t until after the Ravens' bye week last year that they looked like the NFL’s best team, rattling off impressive wins over the New England Patriots, Bengals, Texans and Los Angeles Rams.
This November will test the Ravens' bona fides in much the same way. After the Week 8 showdown come back-to-back road games against the Indianapolis Colts (4-2) and New England Patriots (2-3). Then the Tennessee Titans (5-0) await in Baltimore, a rematch of last season’s playoff stunner. A Thanksgiving Day game in Pittsburgh will close out the Ravens' month.
Now, strangely, it’s the offense that will have to show its worth. Despite allowing 24 fourth-quarter points Sunday — more than they’d surrendered in that period all season — the Ravens defense was fast and ferocious for most of the afternoon, almost toying with an offense missing many of its top linemen and wide receivers. The Eagles didn’t get a first down until late in the first half and didn’t convert a third down until late in the third quarter.
That Wentz (21-for-40 for 213 yards, two touchdowns and a fumble) was even in position to lead a comeback was an indictment of the Ravens' attack. Jackson finished 16-for-27 for 186 yards and a touchdown, and he added nine carries for 108 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown that pushed the Ravens' lead to 24-6 midway through the third quarter.
But running backs J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Mark Ingram II, who left the game early with an ankle injury, finished with 28 carries for just 74 yards. The interior offensive line lost far more battles than it won. Receivers again struggled to get open. Jackson’s sidearm delivery wasn’t especially accurate.
Through six games, the Ravens have finished with over 400 yards of offense just once. Last year, they had four such games at this point. They also had one fewer win.
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“Big picture, we’re 5-1,” Elliott said. “Yes, a lot of teams in the league would be excited if they were 5-1 going into the bye week, but we’re not. We expect excellence, we expect greatness, and right now, we’re not being great. I can only speak for the defensive side of the ball, so right now on defense, we’re not being great. We’re not playing sound defensively. All we can do is just get better, and we’re going to work to do that. It is what it is.”