Lamar Jackson giveth and he taketh away. The Ravens quarterback tried to make something out of nothing when he picked up an errant snap late in the fourth quarter and heaved the ball toward fullback Patrick Ricard, but the resulting interception proved to be the costliest of many mistakes in an ugly 24-20 loss to the New York Giants.
The Ravens have been in charge of every game they’ve played this season, but they’re 3-3 and grasping for answers after they left the door wide-open against a scrappy opponent. Here are five things we learned from their latest collapse:
The Ravens have underachieved.
The Ravens have jumped to a lead in every game they’ve played this season and have led in the fourth quarter in five of six. The best analytics say they’re one of the league’s top teams on a per-play basis. We have yet to watch an opponent cleanly outplay them. They are 3-3.
If that math does not compute for you, know that it does not compute for the players and coaches either. They look in the mirror and see a contender. Their record says otherwise, which is a problem.
Blame has to fall at the feet of the most important people in the locker room.
Jackson is a wonder, and the Ravens would be an ordinary team without his bewitching runs and daring throws. But he let his creativity get the better of him against the Giants when he tried to pluck a skidding snap from rookie Tyler Linderbaum off the turf and find Ricard in traffic with the game hanging in the balance. Safety Julian Love’s interception put the Giants a mere 13 yards from the touchdown that would send the Ravens home in misery.
Great as he was over the first three weeks of the season, Jackson has been less so over the last three, averaging 176 passing yards per game with three touchdowns and four interceptions in that span. He misses the big-play upside of wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who hurt his foot in Week 4 and has not practiced since. For all the terrific plays we’ve seen from Devin Duvernay and for all of Mark Andrews’ steady excellence, we have to fault the Ravens’ front office for not bringing in another productive pass catcher to round out an undermanned corps.
We also have to ask John Harbaugh and his staff why the Ravens hamstrung themselves with presnap penalties from the first quarter to the fourth? How could they line up incorrectly on a simple quarterback keeper that would have given them a first down the play before Jackson threw his misbegotten interception? The mental errors seem to come from different places each time; recall the fatal miscommunication in the secondary against the Miami Dolphins or the missed blocks that left Jackson unprotected on that decisive fourth-down play against the Buffalo Bills. But the overarching question is the same: where is this team’s precision when it’s time to put a game away?
The Ravens did many things well against the Giants, just as they have done many things well all season. Their ground game is humming again, with a peppy Kenyan Drake suddenly in the picture and the offensive line finding its footing with Ronnie Stanley back at left tackle. Their defense will catch hell for surrendering two touchdowns in the fourth quarter but did an excellent job limiting Saquon Barkley and did not give up a play longer than 18 yards all afternoon.
The components of a winner are in place, but the Ravens are not playing winning football on third downs and late-game possessions. The team that led the league in scoring margin in 2019 and 2020 is nowhere to be found. Peril lurks around every corner, even when they’re cruising down the field with a lead in their pockets.
“It feels like we’re beating ourselves,” Jackson said.
Yes, it does, and for now, the Ravens don’t seem to know why.
The Ravens tossed away too many points thanks to sloppy execution on key downs.
We can’t say the offense struggled. In fact, the Ravens put together drives more consistently than they had in any previous game, piling up 406 yards, including a season-high 211 on the ground. They averaged seven yards per play compared to 3.8 for the Giants.
But they left so many points on the table because of poor execution on third down, a trend that started well before the disastrous penalty-interception couplet that cost them their lead at the end.
On the Ravens’ opening drive, Jackson fell down for a 6-yard loss on third down after the Giants clogged his escape lanes. The lost yardage knocked the Ravens out of field-goal range.
They backed themselves into trouble again on their next drive, when a false-start penalty (their third of the game), a 1-yard loss by J.K. Dobbins and an errant swing pass from Jackson forced Justin Tucker to attempt a 56-yard field goal, which he clanked off the left upright.
The Ravens outgained the Giants 94-22 and controlled the ball for almost 11 minutes of the first quarter but had nothing to show for it. They led by just three at halftime after accumulating 256 yards of offense and holding Barkley in check. They might as well have waived a sign at their underdog opponent: “We’re giving you life.”
The Ravens rumbled down the field again the first time they had the ball in the second half, moving to first-and-goal from the Giants’ 5-yard line. They had killed the Giants on the ground all afternoon but attempted three passes, none of which found its mark. Andrews had the best shot at a touchdown but could not adjust to pull in a tipped ball.
The Ravens led by 10 after Andrews caught a touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but that margin could easily have been 17 or 20.
Jackson will spend the week stewing on his turnovers and offline throws while his blockers will lament a string of presnap penalties that continually set the Ravens back. The offense had every chance to put this game away and could not.
The future is bright for a defensive front led by Justin Madubuike and Travis Jones.
It was not difficult to find fans carping on social media about coordinator Mike Macdonald’s defense. Macdonald was in the spotlight with his predecessor, Don “Wink” Martindale, on the other sideline, and his crew did allow the Giants to drive 12 plays for 75 yards to cut the lead to 20-17. But let’s keep this in perspective: the Ravens defended well enough to win the game.
Their chief mission was to keep Barkley from running wild and they did it, limiting him to 3.8 yards per carry with a longest gain of 8. Their secondary mission was to keep Daniel Jones from escaping the pocket. He gained just 6 yards on six carries and did not complete a pass longer than 18 yards. Yes, the Ravens would like to have back a few of those third-and-longs on which Jones found an open receiver. But their run defense had been a problem through five weeks and it held up admirably against one of the league’s most efficient ground attacks. They maintained a solid wall at the line of scrimmage and did not let Barkley and Jones run through tackles.
Their young interior playmakers, Madubuike and Travis Jones, excelled at the tip of the spear along with elder statesman Calais Campbell. The trio combined for 13 tackles, three sacks and five quarterback hits — stellar production by any measure.
The Ravens’ pass rush bothered Jones early as he faced third-and-long on each of the Giants’ first two series. Travis Jones bulled up the middle for his first professional sack, a promising sign for a team that has struggled to mount inside pressure in recent seasons.
On the first drive of the second half, Madubuike dropped Jones in the open field for a sack as the Ravens sent the Giants off the field three-and-out. We spent two years wondering when the 2020 third-round pick would flash his eye-popping explosiveness more than occasionally. In his third season, Madubuike seems to hit the stat sheet with a meaningful play every week.
In a week sure to be full of soul-searching, the Ravens should take some solace from the fact their defense has not repeated its disastrous performance from that Week 2 collapse against the Dolphins.
Andrews’ ability to produce when he’s Jackson’s only scary target is something to see.
The Giants knew Andrews was Jackson’s likely first option on every third down and red-zone snap, but their linebackers and defensive backs had little hope of keeping the All-Pro tight end from another stellar stat line — seven catches on 11 targets for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Andrews did not even play his best game. He probably felt he should have caught another touchdown pass on that deflected ball, which changed trajectory on him at the last second. But he was Jackson’s only consistent downfield target and his best bet to make a contested catch, just like he was the week before in a razor-thin 19-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Andrews is more than 30 targets, 20 catches and 200 yards ahead of any other pass catcher on the team. He’s right up there with Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams when it comes to being the singular focus of his team’s passing offense. Still, he finds a way to get through contact at the line of scrimmage, glide into open patches and snatch the ball in front of overpowered defenders. He and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce reside in their own golden neighborhood above the rest of the league’s tight ends.
The Ravens’ uneven results weigh on Andrews as much as anyone. We see it in his flinty expression as he gives curt answers about how they must finish off opponents. But we should not let the broader frustrations of the team obscure what we’re seeing from No. 89, one of the greatest players in franchise history in his prime.
For all their missed opportunities, the Ravens are still in fine position.
They could have put an early stranglehold on the AFC North, and they’re surely aggravated that their divisional margin vanished just a week after they outlasted the defending champion Bengals. But if they’re going to start 3-3, they might as well do it in mediocre company. And that’s what the AFC North is right now: mediocre.
The Bengals pulled out a victory in New Orleans on a 60-yard pass from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase, and the Pittsburgh Steelers upset the suddenly ordinary Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the New England Patriots mauled the Browns in Cleveland, and it seems no AFC North team can maintain traction from one week to the next.
The Ravens hold a win over Cincinnati, the other 3-3 team in the bunch, and they face by far the easiest schedule going forward, according to Football Outsiders. They’re expecting to get a raft of key players back over the next month, from Bateman to running back Gus Edwards to outside linebackers Tyus Bowser, Justin Houston and David Ojabo. Stanley has played well since returning from the ankle injury that sidelined him for nearly two years, and the Ravens dodged a bullet Sunday when right tackle Morgan Moses’ heel injury was not serious. They no longer feel like the most injury-scarred team in football.
None of this is to say the Ravens should shrug off their fourth-quarter woes or, heck, their inability to win two games in arrow. They are enmeshed in an identity crisis as they grasp for answers to what ails them. But none of their big goals are out the window. We’re in for a long, anxious season.
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Line: Ravens by 6