Battle-Tested Ravens Handle Adversity Better Than Any Other Team
The majority of Ravens games this season haven't been good for the stress levels of the team's fans, players and coaches, but with each heart-stopping, improbable win, the Ravens become more battle-tested. And that is a good thing.
The first half of the Ravens' season has been defined by resilience, grit and finding a way to win in the face of adversity.
"If there is a team in the NFL that can handle adversity, it's seemingly Baltimore," RJ Ochoa said on “The SB Nation NFL Show.” "I mean they find a way no matter what. When the bullets are flying, when chaos is ensuing, the Ravens seem to know how to handle it better than anybody else."
The Ravens' 34-31 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday was the third time this season the team overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half.
"The Ravens remain an imperfect operation — the defense was pushed around early and late, and the special teams gave up a 98-yard kickoff return for touchdown on the first play of the second half that would have broken a weaker team," NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus wrote. That's not Baltimore, a tough and
resilient squad that enters the season's midpoint atop the AFC North."
Why are the Ravens so good late in games? "Cousin Sal' Iacono attributes some of it to conditioning.
"If I were Head Coach John] Harbaugh, I would take credit,”[Iacono said on “The Bill Simmons Podcast.” "I'd be like, 'My team is in better shape than everyone else. I'm not going to give away my secrets. We're in better shape, that's why we win every fourth quarter. That's why we're taking these teams down.'"
The Ravens' tribulations began before the start of the season with key players suffering season-ending injuries, and the team continues to be hit hard by injuries. Yet Baltimore is 6-2 and currently the second seed in the AFC.
ESPN’s Dan Graziano picked Harbaugh as his midseason coach of the year for how he has kept his team winning.
"This is a tough race, and I thought a lot about Arizona's Kliff Kingsbury and Tennessee's Mike Vrabel, who won impressive games in Week 9 without their respective best players," Graziano wrote. "But going back to training camp, when the Ravens were losing a player (usually a running back) every other day to injured reserve, Harbaugh's ability to hold things together and get this team to believe in itself to the extent that it has just stands out."
There have been plenty of heroes in the Ravens' dramatic victories, but there's no question that Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker have been at the forefront.
One of the narratives Jackson busted this season is that he couldn't lead the Ravens to victory if they fell behind by more than one score.
"It starts with Jackson, the twitchy, charismatic, workaholic quarterback who has developed his game as a passer, without losing any of his lethality as a runner," Russell Street Report’s Darin McCann wrote. "Jackson seems to take perverse pleasure in proving his detractors wrong, and he has shut down narratives about him, and this offense, surrounding his ability to throw downfield, to search for his third and fourth options and, most importantly for this year's team, a perceived inability to pull his team back from deficits because of shortcomings in his passing game."
Tucker's 36-yard field goal in overtime against the Vikings was his second game-winner this season. The first was a record-setting, 66-yarder against the Detroit Lions. He nearly had another one, as his 47-yarder with 37 seconds left in regulation in Week 1 gave the Ravens the lead over the Las Vegas Raiders, but they couldn't hold on and lost in overtime.
"If it gets into overtime, as soon as they're over the 40, it's like, 'Ah, the game's over. Tucker from 57, this is done. It's a wrap," Simmons said.
Simmons said the 2021 Ravens just have a vibe about them.
"They remind me of one of those goofy Patriots teams from the 2000s where it just feels like if it's the fourth quarter and they're around, they can steal the game," Simmons said.
Are Steelers Biggest Threat to Ravens in AFC North?
Every team in the AFC North has a winning record, but the Ravens are the clear favorites to win the division, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
The Ravens have a 59 percent chance to capture the division title based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule.
They're followed by the Cleveland Browns (19.6 percent), Pittsburgh Steelers (12.9) and Cincinnati Bengals (8.4).
The Ravens also were the pick of the majority of league executives, scouts and coaches interviewed by ESPN.
"Teams generally favor Baltimore because it has the best quarterback in the division, more playmakers than it has had in the past and a playoff pedigree," ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote. "One AFC exec called Baltimore's defense 'average at best' right now, though, partly because of injuries."
While the Browns were preseason favorites (along with the Ravens) to win the AFC North and the Bengals riding high in first place two weeks ago, Russell Street Report’s Ron Shields believes the second-place Steelers (5-3) are the biggest threat to the Ravens.
"While the Steelers offense isn't that good, their defense is very good and, much like the Ravens, they are winning games that it looks like they will lose," Shields wrote. "It's no secret as to why either. These are teams that know how to win. They are coached well and not scared of any moment.
"All of these teams have injury issues and tough schedules to close out the season, so I don't think anyone is running away with the division. But I think the Ravens will be fighting Pittsburgh, not Cleveland or Cincinnati, for the division title."
Bold Prediction: Jackson Gets 5,000 Yards Passing and 1,000 Yards Rushing
ESPN asked its beat reporters to make a bold prediction for the team they cover, and Jamison Hensley went with Jackson finishing the season with 5,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.
"Jackson is on pace for 4,694 passing yards and 1,275 yards rushing, so he will have to pick it up through the air. It won't be easy, either," Hensley wrote. "Six of Jackson's final nine games will come against teams that rank in the top half of the league in pass defense. But the Ravens' best playmakers are in the passing game with tight end Mark Andrews and receivers Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown and Rashod Bateman. So when Jackson isn't scrambling for yards, he'll need to throw it to beat the likes of the Rams and Packers down the stretch."
In 2019, Jackson became the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000.
Meanwhile, three of the four members of "Good Morning Football's" crew picked Jackson as the league MVP at this point in the season.
"What he's done this season has been an incredible testament not only to his football skills, but his leadership skills," Peter Schrager said. "We can talk about the yards and the stats and that's great. Can he win from behind was always the question with Lamar. He's not only silenced his doubters, he's silenced them and said, 'I'm the best at coming back this season from double-digit deficits."
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell has Jackson at No. 4 in his current rankings of MVP candidates.
"As good as Jonathan Taylor has been, Jackson has nearly as many rushing yards over expectation (231) as the Colts star, and Jackson has done it on 53 fewer carries," Barnwell wrote. The 2019 MVP has run for 36 first downs, which is 12 more than a typical rusher would have netted in the same situations, the best mark in the league. He has only two touchdowns, but he moves the chains frequently.
"As a passer, Jackson has been more good than great in 2021, although he has been hurt by one of the worst drop rates in football. He's throwing the deepest average passes of anybody, so his drops have been more damaging."