Ravens Prove Dismissal as Super Bowl Contenders Was Premature
The question posed by some pundits coming out of the Ravens' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 1 was whether they should still be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
After Baltimore's resilient, 24-10 win over the Colts in Indianapolis on Sunday, the narrative has changed.
"The Ravens cannot be dismissed as a top contender after they made the best of their worst possible week," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote.
That week included All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley suffering a season-ending ankle injury, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey testing positive for COVID-19, and several key defensive players missing practice practically all week. Things got even gloomier Sunday when All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell exited the game with a calf injury during the first series, and the offense was stifled in the first half.
The Ravens seized control of the game in the second half, however, winning the battle on both sides of the ball and reaffirming their status as one of the league's top teams.
"Many pundits seemed to write off the Ravens' chances in the AFC North after they faltered at home against the undefeated Steelers," Walker wrote. "That loss, combined with their sudden rash of high-profile injuries and [Lamar] Jackson's uneven performance, marked them as a falling star.
"After the Colts victory, which put the Ravens on a 12-win pace halfway through their schedule, the pessimism feels like an overreaction. By metrics such as point differential and Football Outsiders' DVOA, they never stopped being one of the league's best."
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal wrote: "Outside of the defending champions, there still isn't a team in either conference I trust more."
One of the main reasons Rosenthal is bullish on the Ravens is their defense.
"I believe this group of Ravens defenders, ranked first in points allowed, is their best since Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed roamed the land," Rosenthal wrote. "The addition of Yannick Ngakoue gives Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale even more options when it comes to deploying his creative blitzes and excellent man-coverage secondary.
"Baltimore's defense suffocated AFC contenders Pittsburgh and Indianapolis in successive weeks, with Jackson's turnovers against the Steelers being the only reason there isn't full-throated 'The Ravens are back!' talk after their win over the Colts."
The Ravens have not performed at the elite level on offense they did last season, but they have scored 20-plus points for an NFL-record 31 consecutive games. If the offense can pick up where it left off in the second half against the Colts, the Ravens will be tough to beat. Actually, they'll be tough to beat regardless, Walker wrote.
"We've learned the Ravens are built to win even when their offense isn't clicking," Walker wrote. "Their DVOA ranking (third overall coming into the weekend) reflects their top-shelf defense and league-best special teams — in other words, the same model they won with long before Jackson came to town. The scary possibility for the rest of the league? [Greg] Roman's offense could still find its stride over the next eight games.
"Now, you might say this all sounds terribly optimistic for a team that looked dead in the water at halftime in Indianapolis. Consider it an intentional counterpoint to the gloom so many felt after the Steelers loss, a reminder that the Ravens' path to fulfilling those lofty preseason expectations is not closed."
Marlon Humphrey, Patrick Queen Among Top Choices for ESPN's Midseason Awards
One of the main reasons the Ravens defense has been so good this season is the play of Humphrey. The unofficial team MVP on defense should be in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, ESPN's Bill Barnwell wrote.
In Barnwell's midseason awards, he ranked Humphrey third for DPOY behind Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
"Before Week 9, [Humphrey] had been arguably the best player on one of the league's best defenses," Barnwell wrote. "The fourth-year corner has allowed a passer rating of 76.5 in coverage while helping to erase star wideouts such as Will Fuller from games. Humphrey just has a lone pick over the first two months, but he has racked up 2.5 sacks as a blitzer and forced four fumbles. Charles Tillman can't even say he forced four fumbles over the first seven games of a season."
Another Ravens defensive player receiving recognition from Barnwell was inside linebacker Patrick Queen, who came in at No. 2 for Defensive Rookie of the Year behind Tampa Bay Bucs safety Antoine Winfield.
"The Ravens weren't exactly lacking defensive playmakers with the likes of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters in their secondary, but Queen has stepped in and become yet another difference-maker on one of the league's best defenses," Barnwell wrote. " … There are plays in which Queen still looks like a player learning his craft. He can be susceptible to play fakes as a coverage defender or misdirection against the run, which is true of just about every rookie linebacker. The difference is that Queen has the athleticism to catch up and cover for his few mistakes."
Joe Flacco Moves Past Joe Montana Into 20th Place for Career Passing Yards
Former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco moved past Hall of Famer Joe Montana into 20th place on the career passing yards list during last night's game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots. Flacco, making his third start of the season for the Jets, now has 40,726 yards.
He passed Montana with a 50-yard touchdown throw to former Ravens No. 1 draft pick Breshad Perriman in the second quarter of the Jets' 30-27 loss.
Flacco finished the game with three touchdown passes, including two to Perriman, who had five catches for 101 yards.
Terrell Bonds Stepped Up in Humphrey's Absence
Terrell Bonds was one of the Ravens' unsung heroes against the Colts. In Humphrey's absence, Bonds took over slot cornerback duties and played 59 of a possible 68 snaps.
Undrafted out of Tennessee State in 2018, Bonds spent last season on the Ravens' practice squad. He didn't practice all week due to being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but held his own Sunday in just his third NFL game.
"Terrell Bonds, look at the game he played," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "They went after him early and got a couple completions, but he didn't flinch. He just kept fighting."
Bonds' significant amount of playing time shows the Ravens are comfortable with him in the game, Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote.
"At this point, it's worth wondering whether Bonds will still have a place in the defensive game plan after Humphrey returns," Kasinitz wrote.