After Being Declared Dead, Ravens Respond With Potential Season-Saving Win
If you didn't declare the Ravens offense and season dead after their last two crippling losses, you had the shovel in hand.
But quarterback Joe Flacco effectively took that shovel and threw it into the Pacific Ocean with his first play of the game. He threw a beautiful pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace on a perfectly-timed go-route for 52 yards.
You knew then that the Ravens came to Oakland on a mission. They controlled the game from that point forward in a 30-17 win that potentially saved a season that appeared to be in a tailspin one week prior.
Look, none of this means the Ravens are going to be Super Bowl champs. Shoot, it doesn't even mean they're going to the playoffs. But there's no denying that a three-game losing streak would have amounted to a massive hit for Baltimore's chances of reaching the postseason.
Instead, coupled with a Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Ravens are now tied for the top spot in the AFC North with a 3-2 record. And if the regular season ended today, they would get the sixth and final wild-card spot.
"The game certainly had a redemptive feel to it for the Ravens," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
But it all means nothing if the Ravens don't follow it up with a win over the Chicago Bears and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Baltimore is 10-0 in the John Harbaugh era when hosting rookie quarterbacks at M&T Bank Stadium.
"If you'd told the Ravens before the season they'd win in Cincinnati and Oakland, they would have been thrilled," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker.
"We don't know whether the Ravens will be a playoff contender. We can't say with any certainty they're a good team. But they've put themselves into position to be in position. Which feels remarkable given the depths they hit against Jacksonville and Pittsburgh."
Most Important Development? Flacco and Offense Redeem Themselves
Some people will point out that this win came against a Derek Carr-less Raiders, and that's a valid point. He was an MVP finalist last year and the $125 million quarterback was the person Oakland could least-afford to lose.
But Carr being absent had nothing to do with perhaps the biggest storyline of the day for the Ravens.
"The more important development Sunday … was the appearance of an offense that moved the ball down the field when points were needed, didn't bog down amid a series of mistakes and found the right pass-run balance under [Offensive Coordinator Marty] Mornhinweg," wrote Zrebiec.
"[It] was the Ravens' best offensive performance all year."
Flacco broke his 10-game streak of throwing at least one interception in a game. Running back Alex Collins wasn't put in the doghouse after two fumbles on 25 carries, and he rewarded the team by not turning the ball over and churning out 55 yards on 12 carries. Javorius Allen posted 73 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens scored on five of their eight full offensive drives, keeping the Raiders off-balance with a strong running attack coupled with big passes down the field. Flacco was 19-of-26 for 222 yards and led an offense that won the time of possession battle by nearly eight minutes.
After just six plays of 20 yards or more in the first four games this season, the deep passing game came alive by hitting three in the first half, including two 50-plus yarders to Wallace. It sure was nice to see the return of Flacco's biiiiiiig arm.
Flacco also came up with one of the more incredible sequences of the game after his foot got stepped on by left guard James Hurst. Flacco fell to the ground, but got back up and was able to get the ball off, while being crunched by two defenders, to receiver Jeremy Maclin for a first down.
"Flabbergasted. I'm totally flabbergasted," wrote Russell Street Report's Adam Bonaccorsi. "The offense showed up, the OL held up, the Flacco consecutive INT streak ended, the running game was given a shot and thrived, Alex Collins didn't lose the ball, Joe finally hit some deep routes, and he wasn't sacked in this game. NO TURNOVERS AND NO SACKS.
"Let that sink in."
Zrebiec thinks the Ravens are too banged up to start expecting an explosive offense week-in and week-out. But he does think the unit proved it can move the ball efficiently, be productive, avoid turnovers and hit a couple deep passes.
"The Ravens can win with this recipe," he wrote.
Added Walker: "It really can't be said enough: Flacco is at his best when he's able to throw play-action passes, set up by a consistent running game. When he's forced to carry the Ravens with his arm, the opposing defense has the advantage. When he's the big left hook coming after the jabs and body punches delivered by the running backs, he can still be an effective quarterback."
Must Give Credit to Banged-Up Offensive Line
You really can't talk enough about the offensive line. It was THE key to Sunday's revived offensive attack.
Flacco said Wednesday that he had to trust his pocket more, and the banged-up unit rewarded him for doing so. The offensive line allowed zero sacks and just two quarterback hits.
"Give the patchwork offensive line credit," wrote Press Box's Bo Smolka."The Ravens' offensive line has taken its share of grief this season, but a group that featured three undrafted starters more than held its own against a Raiders defensive front that featured reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack."
Mack is one of the most dangerous edge defenders in the league, and the Raiders lined him up all over the line to try to get him through to Flacco. But a soft spot couldn't be found, with a lot of credit going to Ravens tackles Ronnie Stanley and Austin Howard.
"It had to be especially satisfying for Howard, who was cut by the Raiders over the summer," wrote Smolka.
It's actually quite astounding. No other group has been hit harder by the injury bug, which is saying something considering the Ravens lead the league with 16 players on injured reserve. Starting guards Marshal Yanda (ankle) and Alex Lewis (shoulder) are both out for the season. Reserve guard and rookie fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa (knee) is out for the season. Guard/center John Urschel retired on the first day of training camp.
And if that wasn't enough, Matt Skura, who was filling in for Yanda, left the game and never returned because of a knee injury.
"Perhaps more impressively, an offensive line that lost starting guard Matt Skura … helped the Ravens mount a scoring drive of more than six minutes in the fourth quarter to put the game away," Smolka wrote.
Alex Collins Isn't Getting Keys to Offense
We were wondering how many snaps running back Alex Collins would get after two fumbles in three games. Well, he wasn't relegated to the dog house, but he also didn't get the most carries, even after starter Terrence West left game with a calf injury.
"The Ravens are not ready to give Alex Collins the keys to the kingdom," wrote Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy.
"It would have been hard to argue prior to week five that Collins was not the best running back on the roster. However, Baltimore did not give him the 'lions share' of the carries against the Raiders. The breakdown of carries were 21 for Javorius Allen (Buck), 12 for Collins and two for Terrance West."
Still, Collins and Allen provided a nice one-two punch throughout the game, especially in the fourth quarter when they drained the clock to put the Raiders away.
Allen averaged 3.5 yards per carry while Collins, who entered the game leading the league in yards per carry, had 4.6 per attempt.
Dean Pees Gets Plenty of Praise With Creativity
One of the highlights on defense was the double safety blitz that Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees called late in the second quarter.
The running back had to choose who to block and went with Eric Weddle, leaving Tony Jefferson on the other side with a clean path to absolutely level Manuel with a hit from behind.
That wasn't the only blitz Pees called on the day. In fact, according to PFF, the Ravens blitzed on 41.9 percent of its defensive snaps. The league average has been 29.8 percent this season.
"Pees used his secondary creatively and achieved excellent results," wrote Walker.
The Ravens secondary also held up well in coverage against two dangerous receivers in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Cooper only caught one pass for 8 yards, but Crabtree did get six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. One big play came against veteran Brandon Carr on a 41-yard touchdown when Manuel eluded a sack and launched the ball deep on a broken play.
The good news is that even when Jimmy Smith left the game (sore Achilles tendon), the defense didn't fall apart like it has in seasons* *past. That is, in large part, because of the presence of first-round pick Marlon Humphrey.
"The key takeaway is that, unlike in past seasons, the Ravens can endure an injury to Smith because they drafted an excellent player in Humphrey," wrote Walker.
Ravens' Top-Five Graders From PFF
Based on the way the offense played, it's not surprising to see four of the top five grades from PFF go to that side of the ball.
T Ronnie Stanley: 83.8 overall grade
C Ryan Jensen: 82.8
WR Mike Wallace: 82.0
QB Joe Flacco: 81.6
OLB Matthew Judon: 81.2
And while he didn't make the top 5, defensive tackle Willie Henry got a strong grade of 80.3 as he continues to fill in for the injured Brandon Williams.
"Henry was an integral part of clogging up the middle for the Ravens defense on Sunday," wrote PFF's analysis team. "Henry made four stops in run defense and had a run defense grade of 78.6. Henry also showed good awareness by knocking down two passes at the line of scrimmage and finished the game as the Ravens second-highest graded defender.
"Judon played one of the best games of his short career so far against the Raiders. Although he wasn't great rushing the passer, with only one hurry, he was great in run defense and in coverage. In coverage, he was targeted twice, allowing no receptions and coming up with a pass defense. In run defense, he came up with two stops and a run defense grade of 83.8."
Ben Roethlisberger's Five Picks Were Surprising, But His Reaction Was More Surprising
The Jacksonville Jaguars have now manhandled the top two teams in the AFC North. After pounding the Ravens 44-7 in London, they clobbered the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 30-9.
It was surprising to see quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throw a whopping five interceptions, the most in a single game during his 14-year career.
Reporters asked if he was doing anything differently under center and Roethlisberger responded, "I don't think so, but maybe I am. Maybe I don't have it anymore. I'm not playing well enough."
Two questions later, Roethlisberger tried to soften his initial comment. He was asked if he was doubting his game, to which he replied, "Nope. If anybody in this room ever has that doubt, they probably aren't here. You know what I'm saying? Professional athletes shouldn't have doubt."
Still, it was the "maybe I don't have it anymore" line that spread through the internet like wildfire. Perhaps that was because the performance and comments came after Roethlisberger said he seriously contemplated retirement in the offseason.
"While we don't expect Roethlisberger to physically quit on the Steelers, who despite the setback are still the runaway favorites to win the AFC North, but it's fair to wonder whether the quarterback's heart is really in this season," wrote NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman. "After all, once you start talking about retirement, you've already retired."