The Ravens pitched the third shutout of the season in Green Bay, bringing their record even at 5-5. There was a whoooole lot that went Baltimore’s way.
Here are six reasons Week 11 couldn’t have gotten any better.
1) The Ravens are now squarely in the playoffs driver’s seat.
It’s amazing how so much can change in one week.
The Ravens’ shutout win, combined with four losses to other wild-card contenders, would put Baltimore in the postseason if the playoffs started today.
“The Ravens currently hold onto the No. 6 and final playoff spot in the AFC because Sunday couldn't have gone any better for them,” wrote ESPN.
The Tennessee Titans (6-4), Buffalo Bills (5-5), Oakland Raiders (4-6) and Miami Dolphins (4-6) all got blown away by a combined score of 157-69. The latter three losses are what helped the Ravens take control of the sixth seed, and the Titans’ defeat gives the Ravens a realistic shot at even winning the fifth seed.
Baltimore and Buffalo have the same .500 record, but the Ravens would win the tiebreaker because their conference record (4-3) is better than the Bills’ (3-3).
If the season ended today, Baltimore would play a wild-card game at the Jacksonville Jaguars in a rematch that the Ravens would love to redeem themselves after an embarrassing 44-7 loss in London Week 3. Tennessee would play at the Kansas City Chiefs. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots would be the 1-2 seeds.
The even better news is that Baltimore has the easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to ESPN, with its final six opponents owning a combined 25-35 record.
Four of the six teams left to play have losing records in the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Two opponents are playing with backup quarterbacks, and the Browns don’t have an established signal caller. Four of the last six games will be played at M&T Bank Stadium.
2) Despite a difficult stretch in which the Ravens lost five of seven games, the locker room chemistry appears to be as strong as ever. If the video below is any indication, the players clearly love and respect their head coach.
Usually Head Coach John Harbaugh gives out all the game balls after wins, but veteran leader Terrell Suggs briefly took the reins yesterday.
The victory at Lambeau Field marked the 100th win for Harbaugh, and Suggs, who has been with Harbaugh the entire way, presented the head coach with a game ball of his own. The team – including Harbaugh – then erupted into a celebratory dance.
In a team huddle, defensive back Anthony Levine urged his teammates to recognize that “not every head coach is like this.”
No matter what happens the rest of the way, what a special moment for Harbaugh and his players, who have stuck together through adversity.
3) Mike Wallace’s one-handed touchdown catch highlighted a day in which the receiving corps showed signs of life. One or two big plays a game going forward could be enough to punch a playoff ticket.
Can we just watch that again? Don’t mind if we do.
Take the whole thing in: the freakishly amazing left-handed, one-hander, with a defender draped all over him, and the Lambeau Leap afterward. It was one of the “most incredible catches in team history,” according to ESPN.
And let’s take a look at the great reaction from the crowd …
To Ismail and Gilbert’s point, it was nice that a big play was made by a receiver on his own. The offense doesn’t need to provide much if the defense continues its dominance (see more on that below), but one or two big plays per game could be enough for the Ravens to punch a playoff ticket.
“The Ravens need more plays similar to Wallace's if they want to make a serious run,” wrote ESPN. “On Sunday, against an overmatched Brett Hundley, one big play from the offense was enough.”
The passing game has been the most curious disappointment so far this season with a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and two veteran receivers leading the way in Wallace and Jeremy Maclin.
But in addition to Wallace’s highlight-reel catch, the intermediate passing game also took a positive step forward with passes to Maclin for 14 yards, tight end Benjamin Watson for 33 and another to Wallace for 16.
“Despite the uneven offensive performance, the receivers showed signs of life,” wrote The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker. “It’s been puzzling to watch the Ravens ignore Wallace for long stretches this season, because when they’ve made a point of going to him early — against the Oakland Raiders and the Packers — he’s delivered standout games.
“This obviously wasn’t a high-powered offense. Flacco still averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt, which would rank 28th in the league if it were his season rate. But with Wallace and Maclin healthy and Danny Woodhead back in action, the passing attack at least approached competence.”
4) The already strong defense is finding ways to get even better.
As the offense continues to find its legs, the defense is taking steps to go from good to great.
Notching its third shutout of the season – something not accomplished since the 2000 historic defense got four – Dean Pees’ unit carried the team to victory by forcing five turnovers, six sacks, two turnovers on downs and five punts.
Asked if the team is getting better with six games left to play, Harbaugh said, “I think they are getting better. Our defense is improving. Our offense is improving. … Defense, obviously, was off the charts. That's about as good as you can play on defense."
With the defense living up to its own expectations to carry the team, a strong special-teams unit and the offense finding life in the passing game, the offseason vision is coming into view, says Press Box’s Bo Smolka.
“With their free agency signings and draft picks this spring, the Ravens pronounced that they expected to win with defense,” he wrote. “They expected a faster, more disruptive pass rush, a stout run defense and an improved secondary. The offense would be efficient, if not spectacular, but would be the beneficiary from that defensive firepower. That's precisely how the game in Green Bay played out.”
“Their defense is good enough to keep them [in the thick of the playoff race] the rest of the way,” added The Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec.
5) Matthew Judon and Marlon Humphrey exemplify the next generation of great defenders.
According to Suggs, Judon had a “phenomenal” game and “one of the best I’ve seen.”
Judon’s two-sack, one forced fumble and seven-tackle performance was enough to catch the eye of Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who named Judon one of the defensive players of the week. Pro Football Focus gave Judon its game ball.
Meanwhile, first-round pick Marlon Humphrey saw the second-most snaps of the season (the first was in Oakland when Jimmy Smith aggravated his Achilles) and notched his first career interception.
“You could almost see the evolutionary wheel spinning for the Ravens on that side of the ball as Judon and Willie Henry, a pair of second-year players, and several others made play after play,” wrote John Eisenberg. “Other Generation Next defenders who made plays included Humphrey, Patrick Onwuasor, Michael Pierce, Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser, all rookies or second-year guys.”
6) We finally saw Alex Collins do his Irish dance in the end zone. Also, look much closer at the stats to see how good his day really was.
We’ve been waiting for it for weeks, and we finally got to see Alex Collins do his thing after his first touchdown of the season.
As Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg indicated earlier in the week, Collins remained the feature back despite the returns of Terrance West (calf) and Danny Woodhead (hamstring). Collins saw a season-high 20 attempts. West was a healthy scratch.
On the surface, Collins didn’t look like he played as well as normal. He came into the game averaging the league’s highest average per carry, but only averaged 2.5 yards per attempt in Green Bay. But if you look closer at the stats, he was still very impressive, which is why he was the highest-graded Raven by PFF.
“On the surface of it, 50 yards on 20 carries might not seem like a good day. But with 47 of those yards coming after contact Collins worked tirelessly to keep the chains moving forward and was rewarded with a garbage-time touchdown,” wrote PFF’s analysis team. “Even with the return of Danny Woodhead (13 snaps), Collins was still very much the feature back with his 38 snaps more than Woodhead and Javorius Allen combined (23).”
The Post-Bye Ravens Looked Like Pre-Bye Ravens, Including on Offense
OK, so it wasn’t the perfect day.
As good of a win as that was, there’s still work to be done on offense. The unit struggled to put points on the board despite the defense’s five turnovers. At the half, when the defense had already notched three turnovers, the offense only had six points to show for it.
While quarterback Joe Flacco played well for most of the day despite constant pressure in his face, he threw an ill-advised interception when Woodhead was blanketed by a defender. Walker called the mistake something that has cost the Ravens in the past and could in the future.
“[M]ake no mistake: We still saw most of the flaws that have kept the Ravens from becoming a surefire playoff team,” wrote Walker.
“The Ravens have shown they can dominate mediocre teams with this blend of ball-hawking defense, top-notch special teams and spotty offense. The good news for them is that their remaining schedule is full of such teams. They’ll play another one — the Houston Texans — next Monday night. The post-bye Ravens looked a lot like the pre-bye Ravens. But in this AFC, that might be enough.”
Ronnie Stanley Is Among Ravens’ Most Indispensable Players
Harbaugh didn’t mince words when he talked about not having franchise left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the game as he continues to progress through the NFL’s five-step concussion protocol.
The Ravens head coach said the loss “created a major problem,” but luckily the offensive line hung in there long enough to notch the win.
“Ronnie Stanley is among the team’s most indispensable players,” wrote Walker. “With Stanley out because of a concussion, the offensive line struggled to one of its worst performances of the season.
“Because Stanley protects Flacco’s blind side, we tend to think of him primarily as a pass blocker. He’s also grown into an excellent run blocker this season, and with James Hurst filling in at left tackle, the Ravens suffered in both areas. Hurst is a decent guard and a handy utility lineman, but he’s always been overmatched when forced to play against the opponent’s best edge rushers.”