Cornerback Anthony Averett was just doing his job when, on a third-and-1 pass from the Ravens’ 5-yard line with 10 seconds remaining, he beat Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton to an end-zone jump ball. Averett secured the interception, celebrated with teammates and jogged over to the sideline. Three seconds separated the Ravens from a third straight win.
Then the offense took the field, and quarterback Lamar Jackson was not in victory formation, but in the shotgun. The Ravens were 3 rushing yards away from 100 for the game.
“When we actually ran the 3 yards, I was like, ‘Why did we do that?’” Averett said Friday. “Then, eventually, I caught on at the end.”
On Monday night, the Ravens could break a long-standing record that, only a couple of weeks ago, few besides NFL historians seemed to care much about. Jackson’s carry as time expired in Sunday’s 23-7 win pushed the Ravens to 102 rushing yards, their 43rd consecutive game with 100-plus total, matching the 1974-77 Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in league history.
How much it all really matters — the streak itself, the record-tying carry, the media attention heading into a Week 5 game against the Indianapolis Colts — depends on whom you ask. In Denver, Broncos coach Vic Fangio, who coached under Harbaugh with the Ravens, considered the last-second run a violation of football’s unwritten rules. The Elias Sports Bureau could not find another instance in the past 25 years of a team gaining yards on a play that began in the final five seconds while leading by at least 10 points.
“I thought it was kind of bulls---, but I expected it from them,” Fangio told Denver reporters on Monday. “I have 37 years in pro ball. I’ve never seen anything like that. But it was to be expected, and we expected it.”
Broncos players, meanwhile, didn’t seem to care much.
“Honestly, I don’t give a s--- about that last play, more so care about the plays through the game,’’ safety Kareem Jackson said Monday. “Being it’s our job to stop them, they ran it to get their 100 yards or whatever they were trying to do.”
“I wasn’t really offended by it; it just kind of seemed like, obviously, the statistical things are important to them,” tight end Noah Fant said. “If it was me, I’m getting a win and getting out of there. To each his own.”
In Baltimore, Harbaugh has not been bashful about his pursuit of history. He said after Sunday’s game that the run play was “100% my call.” He recalled learning of the Ravens’ 100-yard streak earlier this year and said the Steelers’ mark was a “meaningful” record.
“It’s one of those things that, I think, as a head coach, you have to be mindful of your team, your players and your coaches and what it means to them,” he said. “It’s a very tough record to accomplish and it’s a long-term record. I’m not going to say it’s more important than winning the game. As a head coach, I think you do that for your players and you do that for your coaches, which is something that they’ll have for the rest of our lives.”
Harbaugh also wondered why Fangio, who’d used all three of his timeouts on Denver’s final drive, was throwing into the end zone so late in the game. “I don’t know that there’s a 16-point touchdown that’s going to be possible right there,” he said. “That didn’t have anything to do with winning the game.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Friday that the Ravens’ late-game run call was a “no-brainer.” The Ravens’ streak started in November 2018, when, as assistant head coach, he was helping to mastermind the offense’s revamped running game under Jackson.
In Jackson’s first career start, the Ravens ran for a then-season-high 267 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals — and so began the streak. Jackson said Sunday that quarterbacks coach James Urban told him after Averett’s interception that the offense wouldn’t be kneeling. Harbaugh wanted to “keep the record going,” Jackson said, “and that’s what he did.”
Jackson said Thursday that he didn’t know of the record until “you guys told me in the media.”
“I’m not looking up the records and saying, ‘Dang, what record should we break this week?’” Jackson joked. “It just happened to happen. We’ve been working hard. We’re trying to get yards on the field, trying to score touchdowns, and we end up breaking records doing that.”
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey said his only clue of how close the Ravens were to tying the Steelers’ streak was on Denver’s video board, which lists rushing yards. He recalled Thursday that some teammates were skeptical late in Sunday’s game that the Ravens would reach the century mark. Humphrey was hopeful that they would.
“I know it was controversial and whatever, but I was super excited that we went for it,” he said. “I actually thought we didn’t get it. After we got the interception, I thought the game was over, and then I was like, ‘Man, we didn’t get it,’ and they were like, ‘No, we got it.’ It was really cool.”
Humphrey’s not sure how he’ll keep track Monday night. “Maybe I should be more focused on the game,” he joked.
After this past week, the rest of the NFL will be watching a little more closely.