GREEN BAY, WIS. — They hit Brett Hundley repeatedly. They corralled interceptions and gobbled up fumbles. They got fourth-down stops. And then they celebrated with choreographed dance routines and leaps into the crowd, the Ravens making themselves at home in this venerable football stadium.
The scene seemingly played out on an endless loop at Lambeau Field as the Ravens overwhelmed the Green Bay Packers and their overmatched backup quarterback, and showed again that they are legitimate AFC wild-card contenders, regardless of how the offense plays, if the defense continues to perform in a dominant manner.
A much-needed 23-0 Ravens victory in front of an announced 77,945 at frigid Lambeau Field included five forced turnovers, six sacks and three fourth-down stops. It had been 11 years since the Packers were shut out, but it’s become a familiar feeling for this Ravens defense, which has three shutouts through 10 games.
The only Ravens defense with more was the 2000 unit, which held four opponents scoreless.
“Defense, obviously, was off the charts,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the 100th victory in his career. “That’s about as good as you can play on defense.”
As a result, the Ravens are 5-5 and in decent playoff footing with the Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins losing Sunday. The Ravens can better their position with a victory next Monday night over the Houston Texans, who, like the Packers, will bring a backup quarterback into a game against a havoc-wreaking defense.
“It’s hard to put into words because we’re in the moment right now. I’m already thinking of Houston. It’s kind of hard to sit back and enjoy what you just did,” said Ravens safety Eric Weddle who had one of the Ravens’ three interceptions, giving them a league-high 16 this season. “Where we’re at in our season, there’s no time to rest on what we just did. We got to get ready for Houston. If we lose that game, it means nothing. But when you sit back and look at what we accomplished today, it was just a total dominant effort and timely plays.”
The bye week didn’t cure all the offense’s problems as the Ravens struggled through the first half, scoring just six points despite three Packers turnovers in the first two quarters. However, on the Ravens’ first drive of the third quarter, quarterback Joe Flacco connected with Mike Wallace, who made a nifty 21-yard touchdown grab with cornerback Damarious Randall draped all over him to give the visitors a 13-0 lead.
With Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers watching the game on the sideline in sweats as he continues his recovery from a broken collarbone and Hundley looking very much like a guy making his fourth career start, there was no way Green Bay was going to be able to do enough offensively to overcome a two-possession deficit.
The Packers’ eight second-half possessions went: turnover on downs, punt, turnover on downs, punt, Hundley fumble on a strip sack by Terrell Suggs, turnover on downs, interception by rookie Marlon Humphrey and punt.
Humphrey’s first NFL interception set up Alex Collins’ 3-yard touchdown run that gave the Ravens the 23-0 lead. For much of the second half, the only question was whether the Ravens were going to be able to pitch the shutout. Defensive players swarmed around for much of the fourth quarter as they clearly wanted a shutout to take home from many of the players’ first trip to Lambeau Field.
“When you’ve got one going, it’s like a no-hitter,” Suggs said. “When you’ve got one going, you want to keep it. You want to play dominant defense. This is the Ravens. This is a team that’s built upon defense, so it’s good to have shutouts. But like I said, we’ve got to compile the wins. As long as we are winning, we can enjoy these. We can’t have a shutout one week and then come back and drop one and still try to hope to get in.”
Green Bay finished with just 265 yards on 67 plays. The Packers went 5-for-17 on third and fourth downs. Hundley went 21-for-36 for 239 yards, but those numbers don’t even begin to tell the story of how inept he was for much of the game. He held on to the ball too long and didn’t come close to feeling pressure. He didn’t appear to know when to run or just throw the ball away. At other points, he just threw the ball up for grabs.
Humphrey, Weddle and Jimmy Smith had interceptions, and Suggs, Willie Henry and Matthew Judon had two sacks each. Judon also forced a first-half fumble on running back Devante Mays.
“We go out there and play like Ravens, the sky is the limit,” Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams said. “We dominate people.”
When the game began, it didn’t look like it would be one of those days for the Ravens defense. Hundley and the Packers needed just three plays — a 17-yard catch by Jordy Nelson, an 8-yard run by rookie Jamaal Williams and a 33-yard catch by Davante Adams, who beat Brandon Carr — to set up a first-and-goal. However, Smith baited Hundley into a bad throw. He got his third interception of the season and the Ravens were rarely tested from there.
“Six points changes the game. Either way, you get a takeaway in that area, especially the first drive of the game. We killed it and ended up getting a shutout. It was huge,” Smith said. “To get the shutout in a hostile stadium had all the right ingredients for this playoff push we’re trying to make.”
The Ravens’ performance on offense surely won’t quiet the season-long concerns about that group. Flacco mostly did well managing the game, completing 22 of 28 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He finished with a quarterback rating of 90.9.
His worst decision was when he tried to force the ball into running back Danny Woodhead right outside the end zone and he was intercepted by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The second-quarter interception took points off the board and capped a frustrating first-half offensively.
Without left tackle Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens struggled to protect Flacco and open holes in the run game. They finished with just 58 rushing yards on 26 carries, 2.2 yards per attempt. But a dominant defensive effort made all those things moot.
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“These games are always tough when you are in the middle of it,” Flacco said. “It would have been a tough one to squander for sure, so it is definitely good looking up at the scoreboard after the game is over and knowing that you are probably going to walk away with this one.”