Five thoughts on the Ravens' 26-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium:
Pretty early on, it was clear the Ravens had no business losing this game. Their defense was dominating one of the league's better offenses. Their offense was moving the ball when it wasn't stopping itself. But the offense made things interesting with a sloppy first half that included fumbles, dropped passes and missed opportunities. Then Lamar Jackson missed most of the third quarter while being evaluated for a concussion. Could the Ravens overcome it all? Yes, they could, thanks to an offense that never stopped controlling the clock and a defense that never stopped punishing Atlanta's offense. Quite simply, the Ravens were tougher up front on both sides of the ball, which made all the difference as the Ravens carved out an important road win. Since Jackson took over as the starting quarterback, they've won three games in a row and developed a clear identity. They're going to let a strong defense and relentless running game take them as far as they can go, and with their confidence surging after this rugged performance, well, let's just say things are getting interesting.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Jackson's first road start had its rocky moments. Most came in the first half. The rookie overthrew a wide-open John Brown, missing out on a near-certain touchdown. He fumbled three times, losing one that the Falcons returned for a touchdown. "That turnover got to us a little bit. We had to get back our composure and calm down," Jackson said. But we're learning more about him every week, and one of his most positive attributes is he doesn't let negative plays linger and possibly produce more trouble. At the end of his rocky second quarter, he calmly led the offense on a drive that produced a field goal that tied the game. Then he continued to make plays and move the chains after halftime, and soon enough, the Ravens were in control. Staying calm on the road can be a challenge for a young quarterback, but Jackson acts and plays as if he has been through it all before.
The Falcons are going nowhere in 2018, but their offense, led by quarterback Matt Ryan, is still among the NFL's best. I'm guessing it's been a long time since a defense shut down Ryan and his unit so thoroughly, especially at home. Atlanta managed just 131 yards of offense on 10 possessions. No, that isn't a typo. "Pretty incredible," safety Eric Weddle said. What happened? For starters, the Ravens allowed just 34 yards on 15 rushes as Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams completely dominated inside. Behind them, Baltimore's cornerbacks and safeties played consistently tight coverage, forcing Ryan to try to thread the needle to Julio Jones and his other targets while under constant pressure as Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don (Wink) Martindale dialed up an array of surprising blitzes. Terrell Suggs had a huge game with three quarterback hits, two tackles for losses and a sack, quite a day at age 36. Jimmy Smith also stood out with a team-high six tackles and shutdown coverage. With Smith back on his "A" game alongside Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens are about as solid as any team at cornerback. Just ask the Falcons.
Jackson had just directed a 10-play, 72-yard drive that produced a field goal when he went into the concussion protocol in the third quarter. The Ravens were ahead by three points. There were no assurances Jackson would be able to keep playing. It meant Robert Griffin III would take over at quarterback after having not taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game in 23 months. That sounds precarious, but Griffin has played a lot of football and it showed. He gave the Ravens exactly what any team would want from its No. 2 quarterback. Thrust into the middle of a close, crucial game, he directed a scoring drive so long it lasted 19 minutes in real time, according to CBS. Even with the Falcons immediately shifting to a different defense because Griffin couldn't hurt them on the ground like Jackson, Griffin took more than eight minutes off the clock and produced a field goal, extending Baltimore's lead. Among the various influences that helped steady the Ravens on what was an up-and-down day for a long time, Griffin's stint was among the most important.
Short takes: There have been a lot of changes at running back in the past few weeks, but I think it's clear now what's going to happen going forward. Gus Edwards will be the starter and get the most carries, but Kenneth Dixon and Ty Montgomery will also see the ball. There are enough carries for everyone with the Ravens running the ball so much. … An example of little things making a big difference came in the first quarter when an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on Atlanta gave the Ravens four extra points. They were set to attempt a field goal after falling short of the sticks on third down in the red zone, but the flag gave Baltimore a first down. Jackson ran for a touchdown on the next play. … A week ago, many experts picked the Indianapolis Colts to roll through their "easy" finishing schedule and edge the Ravens for the AFC's No. 6 playoff seed. Whoops. The Colts laid an egg in Jacksonville Sunday, losing to the Jaguars in a shutout. The Ravens still need at least two more wins to grab that No. 6 seed, but the Colts' loss boosts their chances.
Check out the best shots from Sunday's Week 13 game in Atlanta.