Instant analysis: With Lamar Jackson in and out, defense leads Ravens' 26-16 win over Falcons

Behind a dominant defensive effort Sunday, the Ravens overcame an injury scare to quarterback Lamar Jackson and a series of offensive miscues to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 26-16.

With the road victory, the team’s third straight win overall since Jackson took over as starter, the Ravens (7-5) held on to the AFC’s sixth playoff spot.

With Joe Flacco (right hip) nearing a return to action, whether Jackson will start next Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is unclear. The Ravens were just happy he finished the game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Jackson was hurt at the end of the Ravens’ opening drive of the second half. The foot of left tackle Ronnie Stanley appeared to clip Jackson in the face as the quarterback headed to the ground on a rushing play. Jackson walked with a trainer on the sideline after the play before entering the blue medical tent on the sideline for further examination. He later went into the locker room but returned for the start of the fourth quarter.

Jackson finished 12-for-21 for 125 yards, though he was victimized by a few dropped passes, and 17 carries for 75 yards. He avoided throwing an interception for the first time as a starter this season, but his second-quarter fumble led to a 74-yard recovery for a touchdown by linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. and a short-lived Falcons lead.

That was as explosive as Atlanta (4-8) got Sunday. The Falcons entered the game No. 6 in the NFL with 6.2 yards per play, buoyed by quarterback Matt Ryan’s precise passing attack. But Atlanta finished with just 2.9 yards per play and 131 overall. Ryan was 16-for-26 for 131 yards and a touchdown.

Besides a game-opening field-goal drive and a late touchdown march, the Ravens were sound and suffocating on defense, holding . A fourth-quarter strip-sack by linebacker Patrick Onwuasor led to a 12-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by cornerback Tavon Young. It was the second straight week the Ravens returned a fumble for a touchdown.

Justin Tucker was 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts, converting from 41, 21, 45 and 47 yards. His first field goal tied the game at 10 with six seconds left in the first half, and his fourth extended the Ravens’ lead to 19-10 by the middle of the fourth quarter.

Jonas Shaffer, reporter: The topic du jour this week will be the quarterback situation, but the Ravens defense was lights-out today. It’s tough to bottle up Atlanta, especially at home. A defense like that can lift any quarterback.

So will it be Lamar Jackson or Joe Flacco next week in Kansas City?

Childs Walker, reporter: This was Lamar Jackson’s sloppiest performance as an NFL starter, but the Ravens have found a winning identity with the rookie at quarterback. Their ability to inhale the clock in the second half sets them apart in the modern NFL. It’s hard to see them going back to Joe Flacco against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense delivered one of its best performances of the season, smothering a top-shelf passing offense with excellent coverage and resurgent performances from veteran linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. Tavon Young’s defensive touchdown offered a fitting cap.

This win was essential in setting up the rest of the Ravens’ season, because now they can treat their trip to Kansas City as a nothing-to-lose shot at glory. The news only got better for them when the Indianapolis Colts, their strongest wild-card competitor, lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Peter Schmuck, columnist: The Ravens had to have this road game to remain in decent position in the playoff hunt and they were able to grind it out with another muscular running game and some opportunistic defense. They got a scare when Lamar Jackson went into the blue tent for a concussion test, but all's apparently well that ends well.

Jackson came back to finish the game, but Robert Griffin III proved during one long third-quarter possession that the newly diverse Ravens running game can still move the offense down the field without Jackson's speed and elusiveness providing cover for it. Throw some more love at the O-line for that making it all possible.

The bigger test comes next week in Kansas City, but the Ravens needed very badly to take advantage of a Falcons team that has dropped off the map this season. They did it by holding quarterback Matt Ryan to a marginal performance and winning at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

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