The Breakdown: Five Thoughts on Ravens' Gutty Win Over Broncos

120422-Breakdown
QB Tyler Huntley

The Ravens secured a gutty 10-9 win over the Denver Broncos after backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, stepping in after Lamar Jackson suffered a knee injury, scored a game-winning touchdown with 28 seconds left.

It was a game Baltimore needed to avoid a second-straight loss and keeps the Ravens (8-4) in first place in the AFC North and solid position to secure a playoff spot.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday's victory:

"Snoop" proves again that he's more than capable of winning games.

This game was reminiscent of Huntley's first career victory last year in Chicago. When Jackson was too ill to play, Huntley found out on the bus ride to Solider Field that he was going to be the starter. The Ravens won, 16-13, with Devonta Freeman scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run with 22 seconds left.

Roquan Smith was on the Bears' sideline that day. Now a Raven, Smith predicted Huntley would lead the Ravens to a win when the offense got the ball with just more than five minutes left to play, needing a touchdown to win.

"On the sideline, even when it was fourth down, I told the guys, 'We're about to get the first down right here, he's about to drive it down the field, [and] we're about to punch it in. Then we're going to go out there with, like, 20 seconds to go, and we're going to seal it,'" Smith said. "It's crazy how that all happened. It was an amazing performance by him, and I'm excited to be his teammate now."

Huntley had even less time to get ready this time, as Jackson exited the game during the break between the first and second quarter after taking a sack. Suddenly he was thrust back into action for the first time this season.

Huntley didn't win another start last year after Jackson went down with an ankle injury that turned out to be season-ending. But Huntley often played well enough to win, as the Ravens nearly upset NFC titans such as the Packers and eventual Super Bowl-champion Rams.

Huntley isn't Jackson, but he's a darn good quarterback that is more than capable of winning games. That's more than can be said for a lot of backup quarterbacks around the league.

Huntley had a tough challenge Sunday, stepping in against the league's No. 3-ranked defense, which had held the Ravens to just 17 net yards in the first quarter before he entered the game. Huntley provided a spark, completing 27 of 32 passes for 187 yards. He also ran 10 times for a team-high 41 yards. And most of all, with the game on the line, he rose to the occasion. He played like a winner.

"Things weren't perfect, but for him to be able to come in – especially that last drive – and do what he did, and have the composure that he had, just shows you how good he really is, how much he's learned," tight end Mark Andrews said. "I'm thinking about Lamar, but you have to tip your hat to 'Snoop,' just how well he played. It's impressive football."

The Ravens offense is more limited, but don't count it out.

The biggest concern when Jackson was ruled out at halftime was that he could be sidelined for an extended period, or even the rest of the season. That bullet was dodged, but according to Head Coach John Harbaugh, it could be days or weeks until he returns.

That means it might be on "Snoop" to lead the Ravens offense down the stretch and into the playoffs. Harbaugh wasn't interested in big-picture narratives after such a gritty win. What matters is winning each game, and the Ravens are in grind-mode now, not beauty season.

With that said, the question this week if Jackson doesn't return is about what should be expected of the offense moving forward. It's playing with yet another hand tied behind its back. The Ravens already lost top wide receiver Rashod Bateman for the year. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed his second straight game.

This offense, even with Jackson on the field, looked stuck in neutral the past two games and for the first quarter of Sunday's game. Now with Huntley, the Ravens offense becomes more limited because, as we all know, there's nobody like Jackson. Jackson's talent always leaves the door open for magic on any play or in any game. With him under center, there's always hope the offense could catch fire.

With Huntley, the Ravens are less dynamic. But Sunday showed you can't stick a fork in them either. Huntley gets the ball out quickly, finding receivers for consistent shorter gains. That left a lot of third and fourth downs that needed to be converted to eventually get to the end zone. And with the Broncos' strong defense cracking down on the run game, it put more on Huntley's arm to move the chains. While he won't convert all the time, Huntley for the most part kept the offense in rhythm.

Huntley threw for eight first downs Sunday. If Baltimore's ground game, which didn't generate much against a tough Broncos defense, can get cranking once again, it's a combination that may not have much sizzle but can get the job done.

Ravens' suffocating defense will have to keep it up.

With as much talent as the Ravens have on defense, they're going into every game thinking they have a chance at a shutout. With the offense struggling for much of Sunday's game, outside linebacker Odafe Oweh said there was chatter on Baltimore's defensive bench that they might have to score a touchdown.

The Broncos offense has scored the fewest points in the league this year, so this wasn't a juggernaut test. But Baltimore's mighty defense handled its business and more, keeping Denver out of the end zone and limiting it to just 272 yards. The Broncos had an 11-play drive to kick off the game and eight-play drive to end the first half. Besides that, no drive lasted more than five plays.

Denver came out thinking it was going to run the ball and finished with just 3.1 yards per carry. Russell Wilson completed 17 of 22 passes, but for just 189 yards (two more than Huntley).

It was fairly clear in recent weeks that Baltimore's defense was probably going to lead the way down the stretch. Now it's even more clear.

"This is really what we were honing ourselves for the whole season, ever since training camp," Oweh said. "We wanted to be a dominant defense. Now we have to be a dominant defense."

Character does count in times like these.

The Ravens could have melted down when Jackson left the game. There could have been agitation when the defense kept forcing punts and the offense kept booting it right back, or worse, turning it over.

There could have been doubt when the Ravens got the ball needing to drive 91 yards for the game-winning score when they hadn't reached the end zone all day.

But you didn't see any of that from Harbaugh's Ravens. On a day that kept getting darker as injuries piled up, the Ravens stayed together and finished.

This was the first time Baltimore entered a fourth quarter trailing. Maybe this team likes having its back against the wall. That would be very Baltimore.

"It says who these guys are," Harbaugh said. "Character gets rewarded in the end. It doesn't always get rewarded when we want it to on our clock, but it gets rewarded eventually. Today, we were blessed enough to have it be rewarded before this game ended. We're very appreciative of that and grateful for it."

Extra Points

  • It was remarkable to see so many different players and wacky plays contributed on the Ravens' game-winning drive. Andrews churned his legs after being initially stopped to move the chains on fourth-and-1. He also drew a key defensive pass interference penalty. Isaiah Likely used some juke moves for a 12-yard catch and run. The best play on the drive was Huntley pulling down what would have been an interception but instead leading Kenyan Drake up the field with a perfect throw to put the Ravens at the 2-yard line. The drive also featured an ineligible player downfield penalty and had a fumble harmlessly roll out of bounds. Not how you draw it up, but the Ravens will take it however it comes.
  • The Ravens are going to need more from their rushing attack outside of quarterback runs if they're going to keep churning out yardage. After grinding out wins against the Browns, Bucs and Saints largely on the ground, Baltimore's running backs have been limited the past three weeks. The running backs had 76 yards against the Panthers, 57 yards against the Jaguars and 43 yards versus the Broncos.
  • As if it wasn't painful enough seeing Jackson go down in the first quarter, Patrick Queen's thigh injury had the makings of a brutal blow to the defense. Luckily, Harbaugh said X-rays came back negative and it is just a thigh bruise. Still, it remains to be seen how quickly Queen can come back from an injury that required him to be carted off the field. An elongated absence would sting.
  • The Ravens felt the absence of Ronnie Stanley, who is still trying to come back from an ankle injury. Both of Baltimore's quarterbacks were under duress for much of the game. Patrick Mekari started, but he suffered a foot injury early. Mekari went to the bench to get checked out, had trainers re-tape him up, and got back out there. Mekari wasn't 100%, but he gutted it out for much of the game working in tandem with rookie Daniel Faalele. Hopefully Stanley can return next week in Pittsburgh.
  • Trailing by six points and in the midst of an 11-play drive, the Ravens dialed up a trick play to James Proche on a reverse option wide receiver pass. The Broncos weren't fooled. Proche threw it into double coverage and Denver safety Justin Simmons easily picked it off. The Ravens were in Justin Tucker's range, so that also likely took three points off the board.
  • Andrews finished the first half with a 16-yard catch over the middle and was held down by Broncos defenders after the play, slowing down the process of a spike that came just after the first half expired. Had it been spiked, Justin Tucker would've had a 62-yard attempt. A penalty, which Andrews adamantly protested for, would've put him a little closer. Also, Tucker got closer on his game-winning 67-yard field goal attempt last week in Jacksonville than Brandon McManus got on his 63-yard game-winning attempt Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
  • Props to the rest of the Ravens' special teams unit. They held the Broncos to 6.3 yards on three punt returns and 10.7 yards on three kick returns. That's impressive.
  • Oweh got his second sack of the season, taking Wilson down in the second half to force a punt. The hope is that could open the flood gates for the second-year outside linebacker, who entered the season with high expectations. His last sack came in Week 4. After the game, Oweh had just one word: "Finally."

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