Five thoughts on the Ravens' 34-31 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Just another game with a million twists and turns. At first, it appeared the Ravens wouldn't just lose, but get blown out. Then, after another epic comeback, it appeared they had a win in hand. Only they didn't, which meant overtime, yup, for the third time in eight games in 2021. But while the scenario that keeps playing out is wild and unpredictable and not for the faint of heart, the Ravens, we're learning, don't mind the turbulence. They've grown accustomed to it, don't blink at it, and dare I say, even relish it. OK, maybe not the latter. "I don't want to be behind," Lamar Jackson said. When he is, though, as he was in this game (by 14 points twice), he remains a powerful, positive force, which infects those around him with the belief that they still can prevail, regardless of how bad things look. "He's poised. Doesn't get flustered. Sees the field so well. He's just good. He's really good," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. I love the simplicity of that. The Vikings made plenty of plays, enough to win, but in the end, they were the team that didn't have Jackson, and that was the difference in a huge win that adds to the Ravens' cushion in the AFC playoff race.
You can't give the Ravens' defense an "A." It allowed huge plays on two touchdown drives to start the day. It allowed Minnesota's Dalvin Cook to rush for more than 100 yards. It couldn't protect a late lead after the Ravens scored 21 straight points to seemingly win the game. That's not "A" defense. But the thing is, beyond all that rough stuff, the defense played well. Quite well. The tackling, a huge point of emphasis coming in, was sounder across the board. The interior stopped the run. The edges brought consistent pressure that forced a run of third-down incompletions. The defense allowed just one first down over a 39-minute stretch, and biggest of all, forced a three-and-out on Minnesota's only possession in overtime, setting up the winning drive. Josh Bynes was a standout with eight solo tackles and Justin Houston had three of the team's six quarterback hits, but overall, it took a multitude of solid efforts for the defense to make the stops that gave the offense a chance to engineer the comeback. "We got a lot of stuff cleaned up," linebacker Patrick Queen said.
Given how the game ended, with the Ravens' offense flying downfield every time it touched the ball, it's hard to believe Jackson and his unit experienced such struggles early. But oh, they did. A few, faint boos even sounded after they produced just three points on five possessions to start the game. What changed? Jackson was trying so hard to make things happen at first – probably too hard. With the Vikings' defense laying back so as not to allow big passing plays, Jackson often tucked the ball in and either ran or passed on all but five of the Ravens' offensive snaps in the first half. At halftime, the coaches suggested he start taking what the defense was giving him. He took the advice. He started settling for short and intermediate completions, several of which turned into big gains with Marquise Brown's yards-after-catch talents. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Le'Veon Bell steadily made gains on the ground. Devin Duvernay made a circus catch for a touchdown. Bottom line, Jackson let some of the other guys in the huddle do their various things, and they helped him.
Patrick Ricard has held several jobs in his time with the Ravens. Early on, he was a two-way player, primarily a defensive lineman. But he was so effective on the other side of the ball, as a fullback, that he became a full-time offensive contributor. Since Nick Boyle went out with an injury last season, Ricard also has filled the role of the blocking tight end on running plays and the extra lineman on passing plays. It's a whole lot of looks, and the 311-pound Ricard added another to his repertoire Sunday when he became, in effect, a wide receiver for a few minutes – at a key juncture in the game. The Ravens were down by 14 points. In trouble. Facing second-and-20 as they tried to start a comeback, Jackson flipped a pass to Ricard, who rumbled for 12 yards. After the Ravens picked up the first down, Ricard reeled in another pass and steamed 22 yards down the sideline dragging several defenders. A few plays later, on fourth-and-goal at the 1, he raced wide and caught Jackson's toss for a touchdown. The rally was underway. Those three catches for 35 yards were it for him as far as receptions, but they were huge. And the rest of the time, Ricard, as always, hurled his body into the line to open holes for ball carriers or keep pass rushers away from Jackson. He won't get any votes for the Ravens' offensive MVP, but wow, is he vital to everything they do. "Pat Ricard was responsible for one drive all himself, basically – in the passing game," Harbaugh said.
Short takes: No day is complete in 2021 without another injury, it seems, and Sunday brought a bad one: safety DeShon Elliott likely is lost for the season with a torn biceps/pectoral injury. A hard-hitting energizer, Elliott will be missed. … You want crazy? The Ravens had massive advantages in first downs (36-13) and time of possession (46 minutes and change to 23 minutes and change), and yet, the game was decided in overtime … The Ravens have now won games in which they trailed by 11 points (Chiefs), 19 points (Colts) and 14 points (Vikings) … The running backs were nearly invisible early, totaling just three carries on the Ravens' first 22 offensive snaps. By the end of the game, though, Freeman had 15 touches (13 carries, two catches) and Bell had 11 touches, all carries. They generated 131 yards on their 26 touches, solid stuff that bodes well going forward … The Ravens' next game, against the Dolphins Thursday night in Miami, will be their first road game since Week 4. After going 3-1 on a four-game homestand, they now play four of their next five games on the road.