Late for Work 11/18: NFL’s Best? Ravens Look the Part in Rout of Texans 

111819_LFW

It wasn’t the shootout oddsmakers predicted. It was one-sided.

The Ravens continued their reign as the NFL’s hottest team, winning their sixth straight game in a 41-7 rout of the Houston Texans Sunday afternoon. It’s the Ravens’ longest winning streak since 2000, and 11 weeks in, they have all the making of a Super Bowl contender.

“For the first half of this NFL season, the outcome of the AFC playoffs looked like a foregone conclusion … Then Lamar Jackson and the Ravens intervened.” The Washington Post’s Mark Maske wrote. “And now, as December nears and the regular season enters the stretch run, a case can be made that the Ravens — not the Patriots — are the AFC’s Super Bowl favorite.”

Here are some of pundits’ takeaways from the win:

Peter King: I’d Give the MVP to Lamar Jackson Today

Every week it seems like Lamar Jackson adds another vote to his MVP campaign, and Deshaun Watson wasn’t the only one convinced after Sunday.

NBC Sports’ Peter King said he would give Jackson the MVP today over Russell Wilson “by a whisker.”

“Jackson’s apace to rush for 1,261 yards and to obliterate Michael Vick’s quarterback-rushing record by 222 yards,” King wrote. “He is a weekly highlight factory. ... But he’s not the MVP for being a highlight machine. In head-to-head matches with his midseason MVP competition, Wilson and Watson: Jackson is 2-0, his passer rating is 116.2, he’s rushed for 202 yards, [and] he has zero turnovers.”

Jackson became the first quarterback in franchise history with multiple four-touchdown games and became the fourth quarterback in franchise history with back-to-back three-touchdown games.

On top of that, he provided us with another MVP-type run that was Lamarvelous and Lamarkable.

“This game was crucial in the MVP race,” The Ringer’s Danny Heifetz wrote. “Ten of the last 12 MVPs have gone to a quarterback whose team earned a first-round bye (voters ultimately care about winning). The Texans would have leapfrogged the Ravens for second place in the AFC with a win. Instead, Jackson and the Ravens handed Watson his biggest loss as a starting quarterback since at least high school, and Jackson is now in a top tier for the award along with Russell Wilson, who was on bye this week.”

King acknowledged that there’s still plenty of football left to be played, but he gave credit to Jackson and notably the Ravens’ front office for working trades on draft day to land the star quarterback.

“It’s easy to watch Baltimore now and get seduced by the quarterback and think that’s why the team is so good,” King said. “Surely it’s the biggest reason. But I’ll give you two other reasons. One: They’re smart on draft day. Two: They’ve got stones on draft day.”

General Manager Eric DeCosta told King the Ravens were hoping the phones would ring at pick No. 16 so they could trade back, and that’s exactly what happened.

“We felt like there was a pretty good chance that Lamar might be there later in the first round, early part of the second round,” DeCosta told King. “We were willing, if we could, to trade back, trade back, accumulate capital and then possibly either try to trade back again or in a second round, make a play and get Lamar at that point. But, you know, it was a risk.”

DeCosta said he was nervous the Ravens would lose out on Jackson, and now 17 starts later, they’ve got a dynamic presence under center.

“They didn’t lose Jackson,” King said. “No one jumped them. You take your best shot. You use your best information. What happened here is exactly why the Ravens have been a competitive franchise, and better, since they moved to Baltimore in 1996.”

NFL’s Best? Ravens Look the Part in Rout of Texans

After criticisms that wins over the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals weren’t convincing enough given the level of competition, the Ravens continue to stack up big wins against quality opponents.

They’ve now beaten the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, and Texans – three of the NFL’s top teams this season – each by double digits.

That resume has solidified the Ravens as one of the top teams, and some pundits believe they’re the NFL’s best. Check back for the power rankings later this week.

“This was another Ravens win over another team with legitimate championship dreams, and so it's finally time to say what's become quite obvious: There is no better team playing football in the NFL right now,” NFL.com’s Jeffri Chadiha wrote.

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley said Baltimore “looks like the NFL’s scariest team” after the win.

“The rest of the football world also understands that any championship dreams will involve dealing with Baltimore at some point,” Chadiha added. “They started this season with a lot of brash talk about revolutionizing football with their unique offense. They proved Jackson is a force of nature who might very well be named the league's Most Valuable Player when this season ends. Now their defense is doing what it normally does at this time of year, which is batter opponents and take over games.”

According to The Athletic’s Aaron Reiss, the Ravens were the first team to complete a game against the Texans without punting or turning the ball over. That’s just how dominating of a performance it was, and the stats back it up.

The Ravens outgained the Texans 491-to-232. They shutout Watson and Houston’s offense through three quarters and totaled 36:19 minutes in time of possession.

“The Ravens’ unconventional offense, buoyed by the electric Jackson, makes them arguably the league’s most dangerous team,” The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote. “Their improving defense might just make them the most complete.”

While NFL Network’s Deion Sanders said what the Ravens are doing on both sides of the ball is “incredible,” he still believes the Patriots are still the best team.

“Why? Because they have history,” Sanders said. “Why? Because they have Tom Brady. Why? Because they have Bill Belichick … They have the experience; they’ve been there and done it. They’re not going to flinch under pressure. I can’t say the same about Baltimore.”

Chadiha noted that the tough stretch continues for the Ravens. They play the Los Angeles Rams next Monday night, then face the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills.

But the Ravens have passed almost every test this season with flying colors, and they’re playing their best football in what is considered to be the hardest part of their schedule.

“It does mean that it's foolish to bet against Baltimore right now,” Chadiha wrote. "They're the best team in the NFL today, one that clearly looks like it's about to get even better.”

AFC Postseason Could Run Through Baltimore

The Ravens will head into Week 12 as the No. 2 seed in the AFC and are near locks to win the AFC North, according to ESPN. But pundits believe the path to the Super Bowl in the AFC could run through Baltimore.

The Ravens are one game behind the Patriots but own the head-to-head tiebreaker. If they finish the year with the same record, Baltimore would have home-field advantage through the playoffs.

“With wins against Seattle, New England and Houston in an impressive four-game span, the Ravens (8-2) have positioned themselves for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC,” Press Box’s Bo Smolka wrote. “They now own a three-game lead in the AFC North with six to play, and they and the New England Patriots are the only teams with fewer than four losses.”

The quest for a first-round bye and home-field advantage might not be a two-team race. The Bills are 7-3 with matchups against the Ravens and Patriots still looming. All three teams face difficult schedules down the stretch, but Baltimore has put themselves in a good spot.

“[T]his win gave the Ravens some breathing room in the quest for a playoff bye as one of the top two seeds in the AFC, and strengthened their chances for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs,” Smolka wrote. “Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said last year that one of his major goals was more home playoff games. If his team keeps playing like this, that’s going to happen”

Big Offensive Days for Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram, and Mark Andrews

Jackson led the way with four touchdowns, but several offensive players also had big days against the Texans.

On the ground, Gus Edwards led all rushers 112 yards on 11 carries. He capped the victory with a 63-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and has been the perfect complement to Mark Ingram II this season.

“Edwards is a hammer and provides great relief of Mark Ingram,” Ebony Bird’s Darin McCann wrote. “Today he ran for 112 yards and a touchdown, and it’s good to see the steak-and-potato guys get some headlines.”

Ingram provided his production in a different way than usual, catching two touchdowns of 25 and 12 yards. Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber named Ingram one of his many winners from Sunday.

“After weeks of rushing the football to great success, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman switched gears and found receiving options for the tailback, resulting in 3 catches for 37 yards and two touchdowns,” Barber wrote. “He did add another 48 yards on the ground.”

Andrews continued to be Jackson’s favorite target, racking up 75 yards on four catches, including a 53-yard catch that featured some of his best juke moves.

Debate Over Defensive Pass Interference No-Call

There’s been plenty of conversation this season around the NFL’s new pass interference challenge rule, and a no-call in Sunday’s game garnered even more debate.

On the Texans’ second drive of the game, Watson’s pass intended for DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone fell incomplete, and Houston clamored for a PI call on Marlon Humphrey.

Bill O’Brien challenged the call, but it stood.

It was a crucial moment early on in the game as the Texans turned over the ball on downs.

Hopkins and O’Brien expressed their displeasure. Still, officials haven’t budged much when it comes to overturning PI calls this season unless it’s as obvious as the play in last year’s NFC Championship game.

“At this point we should not be surprised when the NFL refuses to overturn a challenged pass interference call or non-call even when the foul or non-foul seems obvious,” Sporting News’ Tadd Haislop wrote. “The league has made clear it will only overturn what it considers egregious acts.”

Quick Hits

  • John Harbaugh sat down with CBS Sports’ Bill Cowher before yesterday’s game and spoke about how analytics have influenced the Ravens’ aggressive decisions this season. Harbaugh also said there are no obvious flaws with this year’s team, which the Ravens backed up on Sunday.
  • The pass rush racked up a season-high seven sacks, but Smolka said the secondary also deserves credit for their assist: “Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith worked hard to contain All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins … But throughout the game, Watson sent four or five receivers out and couldn’t find anyone to throw to before Judon or Bowser or Patrick Onwuasor (one sack) or Brandon Williams (one sack) or [Jaylon] Ferguson (one sack) was bearing down on him.”
  • Find out how Ravens VP of Broadcasting and Gameday Entertainment Jay O'Brien and the Ravens get feedback from fans on their content on #storyteller.

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