The Ravens are going to the playoffs.
Punching their ticket to the postseason with a tough win, the Ravens defeated the Jaguars, 23-7, on "Sunday Night Football" and became the first AFC team to qualify for the postseason.
Here are my thoughts on an important victory in Baltimore's quest to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC:
This Postseason Trip is Well-Deserved
Baltimorebecame the first AFC team to earn a playoff berth, doing it with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
Sunday night's victory was the Ravens' eighth win in their last nine games and they've been the most resourceful team in the AFC this season. They make game-winning plays on offense, defense, and special teams, they've overcome injuries to key players, and they don't flinch when momentum shifts against them.
This wasn't an easy assignment for the Ravens – a primetime road game against a talented Jacksonville team that is also fighting for a playoff spot. But for the second straight week, the Ravens won a nail-biting game that had a playoff-type feel.
Early this season, the Ravens had trouble holding onto late leads and it cost them. But now the Ravens are closing teams out, and they should be a tough out for anyone they face in the playoffs.
"We're just getting started," quarterback Lamar Jackson said.
Lamar's MVP Stock Is Rising
Nobody plays quarterback quite like Jackson, and this sparkling performance (14 for 24, 171 yards passing, 97 yards rushing) was another example.
"I believe he's the best quarterback in the National Football League," Harbaugh said.
"Some of the things that he does, he's the only one that's doing it," Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith said.
You can't measure Jackson's impact just by his stats. On numerous occasions in this game, he used his uncanny mobility to extend plays in the pocket, or to take off and run for key yards. Jaguars defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot looked amazed that Jackson had escaped.
Jackson's impact isn't just on the field. He's leading by example, and he has taken control of a new offensive system, showing that his game is still trending up as a pocket passer and a playmaker. The window to win a championship for Jackson is clearly open, and he is eager to burst through it.
Jackson's case to win his second MVP award became stronger in this game. 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott are generally considered the other frontrunners, but if the Ravens beat the 49ers next week and Jackson has a big game, it will only strengthen the buzz around Jackson.
He'd rather win a Super Bowl than win another MVP. But who knows? Maybe this time, Jackson wins both.
Isaiah Likely Is Ready for Prime Time
Likely made a spectacular catch late in the third quarter that set up Baltimore's second touchdown, soaring high in the air to snag Jackson's pass between two Jaguars defenders. After Jackson made like a magician to escape a potential sack, he floated a pass to Likely, who made a Michael Jordan-type leap to snare the ball.
It was part of a huge game for Likely (five catches, 70 yards, one touchdown), who has stepped up big-time since the loss of Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews (ankle). In three starts since Andrews' injury, Likely has made 14 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
Likely said on "The Lounge" podcast that he has been speaking to Andrews three or four times a week and is receiving tips from the veteran on how Jackson likes certain routes to be run. Likely is clearly heeding Andrews' advice. Jackson and Andrews have a special connection, but Jackson to Likely was special in this game.
"Mark and Likely are two different players, but both bring greatness to the game," Jackson said.
Keaton Mitchell's Injury Is*a*Tough Blow
Head Coach John Harbaugh announced that rookie running back Keaton Mitchell is lost for the season after suffering a "significant" knee injury.
Mitchell (nine carries, 73 yards) had come into his own in the second half of the season, the team's fastest running back who was a threat as a homerun hitter. Harbaugh said veteran running back Melvin Gordon III would be elevated from the practice squad to join Gus Edwards and Justice Hill in the running back rotation, but Mitchell's speed element will be hard to replace.
The Ravens entered this game in relatively good health but didn't leave it that way. In addition to Mitchell's injury, Marcus Williams (groin), Ronnie Stanley (concussion protocol) and Jalyn Armour-Davis (concussion protocol) didn't finish the game.
Harbaugh said Williams' injury was day-to-day, but Baltimore's depth will be tested again. Stanley has been struggling with a knee injury, and both he and right tackle Morgan Moses have been given some series off the past two games, with Patrick Mekari (left tackle) and Daniel Faalele (right tackle) rotating into the game.
It will be important for Baltimore's offensive line to head into the playoffs as healthy as possible, to protect Jackson and to ignite the running game. The injuries were a reminder of why the Ravens want that first-round bye, giving them an extra week to rest before the playoffs, and one less game on their path to a potential Super Bowl.
- The Ravens were stingy giving up points, even when they gave up yards. The Jaguars had several mishaps in the red zone, including a fumble by Trevor Lawrence, and letting the clock expire at the end of the first half when they were in field goal range. However, the Ravens held an opponent to fewer than 10 points for the fifth time this year.
- Baltimore's defense shutdown Jaguars running back Travis Etienne (10 carries, 31 yards), who entered the game fifth in the league in rushing.
- Kyle Hamilton (seven tackles) had a huge game and played through the knee injury suffered last week. Linebacker Roquan Smith said Hamilton earned major respect for playing.
- Rashod Bateman (three catches, 39 yards) helped jumpstart the offense early.
- The Ravens rushed for 251 yards, including over 200 yards in the second half.