JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — One of these days, this pattern of play the Ravens seem to specialize in figures to cost them. There will be no blocked kick to shift the momentum in the Ravens' favor. The Ravens won't have the luxury of putting the game on the reliable right foot of Justin Tucker. The defense won't be able to close the deal by making a late-game turnover.
One of these days, the talk in their post-game locker room will be about a game that got away and the mistakes that doomed them. The Ravens surely know that in tempting fate over the first three weeks, they are opening themselves up to a reversal. They just don't seem to care, and after a season in which they lost nine games by one possession, why should they?
The Ravens make winning look awfully hard at times, yet as they departed EverBank Field late Sunday afternoon following a pulsating 19-17 victory over the still-winless Jacksonville Jaguars, they were 3-0 for the third time in franchise history and in sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
"We're 3-0. Hey, we're not going to apologize for that," Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda said. "Our defense played their tails off today. They played lights out."
Justin Tucker provided the winning points by splitting the uprights on a 54-yard field goal that might have threatened from 65 yards. Weak-side linebacker Zachary Orr then secured the victory by intercepting Blake Bortles near midfield with 25 seconds to play.
"All I can say is that's amazing," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh who worked the locker room following the game, stopping to speak with as many players as he could possibly reach. "That's awesome, incredible. For us, it's a fabulous victory and I'm excited we won the football game."
This one, played in front of an announced 60,127, was zany even by the Ravens standards. And we're talking about a team that won a game against the Cleveland Browns last season on a touchdown return of a blocked field-goal attempt with no time on the clock and lost a game to these same Jaguars when an officiating error gave Jacksonville an untimed down and a chance at a game-winning field goal.
In the last nine plus minutes Sunday, the Ravens' Devin Hester, arguably the greatest returner of all time, muffed a punt that led to the Jaguars kicking the go-ahead field goal. Joe Flacco, who set a team-record by competing 21 consecutive pass attempts, threw two seemingly back-breaking interceptions in a span of three plays.
The Jaguars' Bortles threw two interceptions in the final four-plus minutes and Jason Myers, who dealt the Ravens a gut punch last year with a game-winning, 53-yard field goal with no time on the clock, had his attempt from 52 yards blocked by Brent Urban. Orr recovered the ball and advanced it to the Ravens' 43-yard line.
Flacco found Steve Smith Sr. for five yards on 4th-and-2. Four plays later, Tucker was lining up the game-winning field goal.
"While we would like to blow everybody out and beat the brakes off everybody we play, we know realistically, we're the Baltimore Ravens [who] play AFC North, black-and-blue division football," Tucker said. "We just have to be ready to end the close games and put the dagger in them ourselves."
The Ravens' might not be the NFL's most unlikely 3-0 team. The combined record of their three opponents so far is 1-8, after all. But they certainly look like the hardest 3-0 team to figure out.
Their mistake-filled performance Sunday – they were called for eight penalties and turned the ball over three times – is a case study. From the latter stages of the first quarter to the early part of the third, Flacco appeared to be in complete control. He completed 18 of 22 pass attempts in the first half and scored the visitors' only touchdown on a 7-yard scramble. But for much of the second half, he failed to connect with his receivers and consistently put the ball in harm's way.
"We have to play a little bit cleaner, and on offense, we have to find ways to get more points," said Flacco who finished 29-of-40 for 214 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. "We played a solid three quarters of football, but we're not scoring."
Defensively, the Ravens' pass rush was nonexistent for three quarters despite the Jaguars missing two starters on the offensive line. In the fourth quarter, the Ravens sacked Bortles four times with Terrell Suggs getting two of them.
"Our defense stepped up to get the sacks, to get the interceptions, to block the field goal, all of the things that led to winning in the fourth quarter, doing the things we had to win in the game in the end," Harbaugh said. "That's the story. I do believe we're a better defense."
Even the Ravens' normally solid special teams group played its part in the Ravens failing to widen an early 10-0 edge, and ultimately losing a 16-7 third-quarter lead. The Ravens were called for three penalties on special teams, and they also allowed a 42-yard punt return in the second quarter that set up the Jaguars' first touchdown. There was also the Hester muff.
But when the game was in the balance, the Ravens got a blocked kick for the second straight week and the Tucker late field goal.
"We know when it's close, we have the talent and resilience to come back and win the game," Urban said. "Any way possible, we're looking at it. I think we have a lot more confidence late in the game now. It shows by a win like this."
The Ravens know the questions aren't going away. They again weren't able to run the ball consistently, gaining 84 yards on 22 carries. The passing game has been maddeningly inconsistent, as targets such as Kamar Aiken, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams struggle to get involved. The pass rush has been spotty, and cornerback Shareece Wright has been picked on the past two games, with Allen Robinson catching two touchdowns on him Sunday.
None of those things mattered much to the Ravens late Sunday as they again found a way to win. They've had plenty of blemishes on their play, yet none on their record.
"This was a game that did go the other way last year," Smith said.