It’s hard to pinpoint when the Ravens became underrated, but it’s definitely felt like that this season. I think it’s a mix of the rampant criticism of Lamar Jackson, paired with genuine concerns about their receiving corps that probably did it. I mean, here we have a team that’s been to the playoffs for three consecutive years, won their division twice over this time — but when it comes to the grand narrative of the 2021 season everyone has been talking “Bills or bust” in the AFC, especially considering the early struggles of the Chiefs.
Losing in Week 1 to the Raiders firmly placed Baltimore in the recesses of a lot of peoples’ minds, and it might just be the best thing to happen to them. Without watching eyes picking them apart, the Ravens have gone on a five game tear, and now find themselves at 5-1, entering the midpoint of their season with a very real possibility they could move to double-digit wins before another loss. Oddly enough the Bengals look like the only real competition Baltimore could face in the next six weeks.
Sunday was very much the moment the Ravens made a statement. The narrow wins, the seeming air of “struggling,” all a facade covering a dominant team that’s always been laying dormant. Baltimore absolutely beat the brakes off the Chargers in Week 6, there’s no other way to say it — and that was a team that legitimately looked like it could be a challenger for the AFC crown. Heck, I bought into it, so did a lot of other people, but Baltimore reminded us that if you want to hang with the big dogs in the conference, you gotta beat one of them, and the Ravens weren’t ready to roll over.
It’s not just that the Ravens won, it’s how they won. Absolutely dominant in all three phases, the stout defense made Justin Herbert’s life a living hell, forcing him into his worst game of the season. Holding Los Angeles to 208 yards of offense and only 28 rushing yards put too much pressure on Herbert to deliver from the pocket, especially when the Chargers fell behind and had to throw to get back into the game. It’s here the once-questionable Baltimore secondary thrived, showing off the talent the team has quietly been building to blanket the field with coverage and allow the second-year quarterback to only gain 5.0 yards-per-attempt.
On offense perhaps the greatest compliment you can give the team is that they thrived on an afternoon Lamar Jackson was just okay. It just wasn’t great game from the 2019 MVP, who threw two interceptions, and was effective, but not transcendent on the ground. Instead Baltimore relied on its truly ridiculous stable of running backs, with Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray and LeVeon Bell each scoring a touchdown en route to a 34-6 beatdown. Too often there’s been this sense with Baltimore that unless Jackson is lights out, the team doesn’t have a chance on offense. Perhaps that’s unfair, but if we continue to see more players pick up the slack when he’s not at his best, well, we could be in for something special.
I really don’t know what to think of the Ravens this season. Obviously they’re really, really good — but it goes against modern NFL thinking to see a team with a top-tier run offense and middling passing offense and imagine they can hang with the likes of the Bills (and the Chiefs if they can get a defense). I know it’s dumb falling into archetypes like this, but it’s like there’s a block in my brain that tells me a team can’t win it all that way — but I’m totally aware this requires me to re-shape my thinking.
Baltimore is a damn good team that has been flying under the radar for too long this season. I expect this to continue, at everyone else’s peril.
A quick note …
Before we start digging into the rest of the week I want to offer well wishes to Seattle pass rusher Darrell Taylor, who suffered a very scary neck injury on Sunday Night Football. At the time of writing it was reported that he was moving his extremities, which is obviously wonderful news, but the injury itself sapped any interest I had in the game so it will not be included here.
Get well soon to Taylor, and I hope those initial reports are accurate.
Winner: THE JAGUARS, WHO ACTUALLY WON A GAME!!!
Should anyone celebrate a three point win over the Dolphins in London? No.
Are the Jaguars “anyone”? Also no.
Sometimes you have to celebrate the little victories, and ending Jacksonville’s horrendous losing streak deserves some recognition. Every bit of credit to the players, because I’m not giving anything to Urban Meyer.
This was a monumental occasion for Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars, who have been dying to win a game, and it’s cosmically hilarious that the win came in London and not Duval. I’m not attaching any stupid “relocation” joke, because that was so NFL Twitter circa 2015, but it’s just really funny. We also now have a chance to extend the streak and work on when their next win in Jacksonville happens. For now we’re just going to let the team appreciate the moment.
So kudos Jaguars fans, y’all have earned your … chocolate chip cookies and mimosas?
So weird, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Winner: My buddy Justin
It’s always a special occasion when the Panthers and Vikings meet, because my friend Justin and I get an opportunity not to talk smack to one another, but compete over whose team will screw up the game more.
For a long time on Sunday it appeared this rite of passage would come to a close, because at the end of the third quarter with the Vikings up big, and Carolina looking like ass I sent him a message that said “that’s ballgame.” His reply, BEFORE THE FOURTH QUARTER HAD EVEN STARTED said it all …
Minnesota would go on to give up 11 points in the fourth quarter, and miss the game-winning field goal. Sure, the Vikings won in overtime, as they should have — but I gotta give him a shout out for knowing his team would do their best to botch it.
Winner: The 6-0 friggin’ Arizona Cardinals
They’ll keep getting recognized until they no longer deserve it. This week was a really convincing win over the Browns, a 2020 playoff team that’s struggled this season — but still inherently dangerous.
I’m still waiting for the big, marquee “this is it” win — but I’m not really sure that will come at all during the regular season. The only team that could give Arizona a real run for their money are the Packers and a second game against the Rams, but outside of that I’m not seeing a game this team shouldn’t win.
I don’t know if that’s a good thing, or absolutely terrifying.
Loser: Sam Darnold
It was an awful, horrible, bad, no good day for Darnold in Carolina as he struggled to throw for 207 yards on an abysmal 41 attempts. Die-hard Darnold stans (if that’s something that actually exist) will point out the horrid protection the Panthers gave him, as well as numerous costly mistakes by his receivers — but this now marks the second really flat game for the QB in a row.
The honeymoon is coming to a close after a whirlwind romance, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can turn it around when Christian McCaffrey is back in the fold.
Winner: The Las Vegas Raiders
It was unfair last week when the Raiders were forced to defend Jon Gruden before and after their flat loss to the Bears, but this week had to have been ludicrously tough.
Somehow the players and remaining coaches navigated the choppy waters to beat the Broncos 34-24. This whole Gruden thing is so disgusting, and the unfair byproduct of it all is seeing Las Vegas have to deal with it when the team finally turned the corner and looked solid.
I don’t know if this is something the team can truly move past and get back to their form before all this crap began, but I really hope for the players they can. I’m rooting for them.
Loser: Daniel Jones
The Daniel Jones “prove it” year has been mediocre, but Sunday was an abject disaster. The Giants were embarrassed in the loss to the Rams, and it took 51 attempts for Jones to throw for 242 yards — he also had three interceptions.
This was supposed to be the year he really showed everyone. New York spent big in free agency to give Jones weapons, and while I don’t think anyone expected the Giants to beat Los Angeles — they expected a hell of a lot more than this.
As it stands here’s Jones’ projected 2021 stats:
368 for 589 (62 percent), 4,318 yards, 11 TD, 11 INT — 82.43 passer rating
That’s essentially on par with Taylor Heinicke. That’s bad.
Losers: Everyone involved in this
Y’all are fighting after a game that took both teams to a 3-3 record and was a garbage game. Idiots.