The Ravens needed a win like this.
Baltimore had flip-flopped wins and losses all season to this point. Lamar Jackson and the offense were frustrated. The Ravens survived last week but hadn't stomped on anyone's throat.
Thursday Night in Tampa Bay, the Ravens squeezed the life out of the Buccaneers and breathed new life into their own season. The 27-22 victory moves Baltimore to 5-3 and pole position in the AFC North, but it carries just as much, if not more, emotional weight.
It was another painstaking first half, literally and figuratively, with Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman going down with injuries and Baltimore trailing, 10-3, at the break. Then Baltimore dominated in the second half.
Tampa Bay's defense was left gassed. The GOAT, 45-year-old Tom Brady, was left grumbling. The Ravens executed down the stretch on both sides of the ball, and for the first time, the Ravens Flock could chant and dance in the waning seconds.
Losers of two straight, the Buccaneers (3-5) were desperate for a victory to show the might of their talented roster. They were at home, on a short week. This seemed like a potential get-right game for them. It ended up being just that for the Ravens after they passed a tough assignment with conviction.
This was the win the Ravens needed, one that will soothe the aches that have bothered Baltimore during what's been a mostly winning, but frustrating, first half of the season. With one game in the next 23 days and a very winnable stretch of games upcoming, it could also be a launching pad.
Halftime "adjustments" for the win.
Lamar Jackson threw the ball 30 times in the first half. He threw it just eight times in the second half, as Baltimore's ground game piled up 204 rushing yards in the second half alone.
The Ravens' halftime "adjustments" got the credit from analysts after the game. "The Ravens got back to who they are," they said (or something like that). But hold up a second. While that's the easy narrative, it's apparently not the correct one.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens' very skewed pass-run ratio from first half to second half was planned all along. Thursday Night Football is its own beast and it seems the Ravens' offensive strategy for it was to make the Buccaneers defense chase them all over the field in the passing game in the first half to wear them out, then run them over with the ground game in the second half.
Sure, the first half strategy didn't work out as well as they wanted. They only got three points out of it after stubbing their toe in the red zone twice again. But the first half still set the table, offensively, for the second half beatdown. The Ravens wore the Buccaneers down, imposed their will on them down the stretch. There are few feelings better than that in football.
More answers stepped up.
In this same column last week, I wrote that more answers had to step up if Andrews was taken away. This week, Andrews was taken out by a shoulder injury in the first half. Then Rashod Bateman tweaked his previous foot injury. Then Gus Edwards went down with a hamstring injury. Suddenly, Baltimore and Jackson were without their top two pass catchers and top running back.
Cue the rescue music, because Baltimore's backups swooped in to help Jackson get the offense going in the second half. Jackson started it all with his legs, as his bobbing and weaving 25-yard run on the Ravens' first offensive play from scrimmage seemed to light the torch.
Then Gus "The Bus" Edwards (11 carries, 65 yards) got cranked up, followed by Devin Duvernay (64 total yards and a TD), Kenyan Drake (62 rushing yards and a TD), Isaiah Likely (77 receiving yards and a TD) and Justice Hill. The Ravens scored touchdowns on three straight drives in the second half, then kicked a field goal to essentially put the game out of reach.
Gone were the red-zone issues that had plagued Baltimore in recent weeks. Gone were the concerns about the ability of the other weapons to step up. "The whole offense was hungry. … They showed off," said Jackson, who did a masterful job running (as always) and made big-time throws to his other weapons when needed.
After the game, Harbaugh said Andrews and Bateman's injuries aren't considered to be too serious. With extra rest coming, they should be able to heal up. But even if they need a little break, it's good to know other options can fill the void.
Brady's likely final tilt with Ravens ends with a whimper.
Unless Brady switches teams again, this is likely to be the final matchup between he and the Ravens. There's not the same animosity now with Brady out of New England, but it still feels good to take down the GOAT one last time. Brady's final numbers weren't bad – 26-of-44 for 325 yards and a touchdown – but they weren't indicative of his night either.
The Bucs charged out of the gates, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive and then marching 50 yards for a field goal on their second. After that, however, the Ravens forced five straight punts. They allowed just 59 yards combined on those five drives.
Baltimore's defense nearly had multiple interceptions. The Ravens sacked Brady three times, making him the most sacked quarterback of all time. They swatted multiple passes back into his face. On the Bucs' final offensive drive, third-year Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike crunched Brady into the turf (he did get flagged for it but, hey, the Ravens still won).
Brady was left exasperated, shaking his head at teammates and hanging his head on the bench. Numerous Ravens players, particularly the young ones, talked about their excitement to face off against the seven-time Super Bowl champion before he retired. They made the most of it on a night to remember.
The Ravens didn't wait to get Andrews involved. Jackson hit him with passes on the Ravens' first two plays of the game. But then Jackson seemed to lock into Andrews perhaps a little too much. He was double covered on a pair of third-down incompletions on the Ravens' first two offensive drives, including one deep in the red zone. Maybe Andrews' second-half absence will be a good thing in the long run (so long as the shoulder injury doesn't linger) because it built more trust between Jackson and his other weapons.
Likely showed what Ravens fans have been waiting with bated breath for since the preseason. The rookie tight end is a smooth receiver with power after the catch. His first career touchdown tiptoeing across the back of the end zone was a thing of beauty. Likely made his name known in a primetime preseason game, but six grabs for 77 yards and a touchdown on Thursday Night Football is a true welcome-to-the-NFL moment.
Sure, rookie center Tyler Linderbaum gives up some size and strength to Bucs monster defensive tackle Vita Vea, and it showed during a first half sack. But let Linderbaum pick on somebody closer to his own size and he'll eat their lunch. Linderbaum pushed around Pro Bowl Bucs linebacker Devin White in the second half, helping to get the Ravens' rushing attack rolling. Linderbaum's movement skills were particularly on display on outside stretch runs, as he climbed to the second level with ease and punished people. The rookie is off to a fantastic start in his career.
Frustrated with the lack of red-zone touchdowns, Jackson waived Justin Tucker off the field on a fourth-and-2 in the second quarter. Jackson wanted it badly and Harbaugh gave it to him. It didn't work out, however, as Jackson's pass to Demarcus Robinson was a little behind him and broken up. Even though Jackson said after the game that he was frustrated that they didn't execute, he appreciated his head coach giving him the chance. Still, the Ravens need to start hitting on some of those calls.
It wasn't just offensive role players who stepped up. Some of the defense's top contributors against the Bucs were also not starters when the season began. Geno Stone (team-high six tackles), has filled in well for Marcus Williams. Pepe Williams (five tackles) had one of his best games yet. A.J. Klein had four tackles, including one for loss, with Josh Bynes out. Broderick Washington played well with Calais Campbell sidelined by illness.
In the battle of ageless ones, Justin Houston beat Brady. Houston now has registered two sacks in back-to-back games and leads the Ravens with six this season despite missing three games to a groin injury. Houston is bringing it. We keep saying this, but just wait till Tyus Bowers and David Ojabo are back on the field. The Ravens' pass rush could get scary.