The Ravens pulled off another improbable comeback against the Colts, beating Indianapolis 31-25 in overtime as Lamar Jackson put up the greatest passing performance of his career. Here are five things we learned Monday night:
The Ravens are, of all things, a passing team.
They said he could not throw. They said it before the draft and during his first training camp. They said it again, a little louder, each time he lost a playoff game.
Everyone knew the formula for derailing the Ravens: force Lamar Jackson to win it with his arm.
“Well, you can’t say that anymore,” Mark Andrews retorted with a wide grin as he processed the events of Monday night.
The numbers — 37 of 43, 442 yards, four touchdowns — were splendid. We found out afterward that no quarterback had ever been so accurate and so prolific in the same game. But huge passing days are a dime a dozen in the modern NFL. Two factors put Jackson’s performance against the Colts on another level.
One was the context of his career; so many critics had written and blabbed so many words about his limitations. They seemed so certain that for all his sorcery as a runner, he would never be a John Elway or a Tom Brady, crafting a comeback out of thin air with dart after beautiful dart.
The other was the simple fact that every yard counted. The Ravens fell behind by 19 after Jackson’s fumble near the goal line set up a long Colts touchdown drive in the third quarter. Little had gone right for the Ravens to that point. They had just three points until Jackson found Marquise “Hollywood” Brown with a perfectly arced touchdown heave in the waning seconds of the penultimate quarter. They had to score a touchdown every time they had the ball from then on. They had to convert a pair of two-point attempts. With their vaunted running game gone dormant, there was only one way for them to do any of this. Jackson had to act quickly, and he had to throw almost flawlessly. He did.
“It was an amazing thing to be a part of,” Brown said.
“One of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen,” Harbaugh said. “And it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t like we just came out and went up and down the field.”
“Damn!” Jackson said in a rare moment of self-appreciation after he was informed he had completed more than 85% of his passes.
A transcendent athlete will find a way to make the night his even when the story seems headed in a different direction. That’s what Jackson did at M&T Bank Stadium with a national audience watching on ESPN.
This was a game the Ravens were supposed to win comfortably. Instead, the Colts seized the initiative and seemed determined to humiliate their hosts underneath the Monday night lights. By all rights, they should have flown home with a victory. Jackson did not see it that way, and he bent reality to his will using tools many people did not think he possessed.
This is all we ask for from our great athletes. It’s why we watch.
The Ravens never found their footing in a puzzling defensive performance.
The first time the Colts had the ball, running back Jonathan Taylor took a screen pass 76 yards on third-and-15. No Raven got close enough to Taylor to miss a tackle.
It would have been one thing if that touchdown turned out to be an anomaly, but the Colts kept the Ravens defense on a string for much of the game. Interior defenders couldn’t find the right gaps to plug; the Colts would end up with 123 rushing yards on 26 attempts. Colts quarterback Carson Wentz lured linebackers and defensive backs into no man’s land. Only a strip-sack by Odafe Oweh, on which the rookie outside linebacker appeared to be moving before the snap, kept Wentz from digging a deeper grave for the Ravens in the first quarter.
“They had a great game plan,” Harbaugh said. “Frank Reich is a great coach. Carson Wentz, for all the criticism he takes, he’s a great quarterback. He was on rhythm. They kept us off balance with screens, with inside runs, with outside runs [and] controlled passes. They did a good job of attacking what we were in when we were in it. When we had single coverage, they attacked it. And quite frankly, they executed better than us.”
Wentz picked on cornerback Anthony Averett, who had been such a stalwart filling in for Marcus Peters through the first four games. He threw at Averett six times in the first half and completed five of those for 64 yards, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Most were on one-on-one routes along the sidelines. Averett could only hang his head as he walked off the field after Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. ripped the ball away from him for a 42-yard touchdown on the first drive of the second half. He allowed 10 first downs for the game, according to Pro Football Focus.
In five games, the Ravens have allowed huge passing performances from Wentz, Derek Carr and Patrick Mahomes. They have not cleaned up their tackling or their defense against screens and other quick strikes. They allowed 37 more rushing yards than they gained against the Colts. These are sobering realities as they look ahead to a schedule that will pit them against multiple top-10 offenses.
The Ravens can’t count on their running game like it’s 2019.
The Colts defensive front seemed to push the Ravens line backward on every running play. It was difficult to rate the performance of backs Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Ty’Son Williams because they were hit before they could build momentum. They combined for 24 yards on 11 carries, unthinkable totals for a Ravens backfield under the direction of offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
The Colts also smothered the Ravens’ counters, even those on which Jackson carried. His scrambling (14 carries for 62 yards) gave the Ravens their only semblance of a running attack as they finished 14 yards short of their 44th straight 100-yard performance.
We’ve seen this trend accelerate ever since the Ravens gashed the Kansas City Chiefs for 251 yards in Week 2. They have never struggled on the ground like this with Jackson at quarterback. Some of it is the absence of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Some of it is the emphasis opponents have placed on swarming the line of scrimmage. Some of it is subpar blocking.
It’s easy to shrug off these struggles in the glow of Jackson’s passing heroics, but the Ravens will need their ground-and-pound, possibly as soon as Sunday, when they’ll face a Los Angeles Chargers defense that could not handle the Cleveland Browns’ running backs in Week 5.
The Ravens are developing an aura built on heart-attack finishes, but they’d rather make it easier on themselves.
In the winning locker room, Harbaugh asked his players to rate their ridiculous finishes from the last month. Was Justin Tucker’s 66-yard field goal in Detroit better than their fourth-quarter rally over the Chiefs, who had been such a nemesis? Did this bigger comeback against the Colts, dependent on a blocked field goal by Calais Campbell and a missed field goal at the end of regulation, trump both?
They came up with another answer: the next one. Does that suggest they plan to keep putting us through these whiplash evenings?
The Ravens have begun to believe in their ability to transcend outlandish circumstances. When they went down 22-3 against the Colts, they gathered around Jackson and calculated how they would come back, not if it was possible. There’s power in such thinking.
“Football is such a momentum-based game, and you start to believe, just create that character, and really, it reveals character — just who we are,” Campbell said.
Andrews used the word “believe” over and over as he processed his 11-catch, 147-yard performance, dedicated to his grandmother, who loved him and the Ravens until the day she died last week.
Jackson is the primary reason for their faith, and he shares it. At the same time, he gave a more measured response when asked if these wild victories could create an aura around the 2021 Ravens. “It can,” he said, “but we don’t want to be in games like this.”
He’s right, of course. Great teams blow out their opponents. They don’t count on pulling out one-score wins. The Ravens came off the field glowing, but they also came off knowing they have much room to improve.
The last thing the Ravens need next weekend is a visit from the Los Angeles Chargers.
A four-game homestand that smacked of opportunity suddenly feels a little scarier.
The Colts offense that shredded the Ravens came in 28th in passing and 27th in yards per attempt. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, meanwhile, just hung 398 passing yards and 47 points on a Browns defense that had been outstanding through four weeks.
The Chargers have a terrific pass catcher out of the backfield in Austin Ekeler (23 catches on 25 targets, 194 yards), the ultimate midrange technician in Keenan Allen (34 catches on 53 targets), the league’s touchdown receptions leader in Mike Williams (31 catches on 51 targets, 471 yards, six touchdowns) and a productive tight end in Jared Cook. These are the exact types of players who have tortured the Baltimore defense through five weeks.
If the Ravens play like they did through three quarters against the Colts, they might face a deficit even Jackson cannot overcome.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 3