Not Pretty, But Ravens Move Into Playoff Spot
The Ravens weren't fooling themselves after Sunday's game.
As Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the game, they didn't play smart or pretty. They had too many self-inflicted wounds.
The special teams played "one of its worst games in years," said The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. Against his former team, Justin Forsett and the offense "had no semblance of a running game," wrote colleague Aaron Wilson. The secondary may have two more season-ending injuries (more on that below). "Flat," "confused" and "lackluster" were other words to describe the Ravens' outing Sunday afternoon.
But unlike many other playoff contenders, the Ravens once again took care of business against a team they were supposed to beat on paper.
Look no further than to the Green Bay Packers, who looked like one of the best teams in the league and fell victim to an upset by the Buffalo Bills yesterday. The Steelers have lost to the 2-12 Bucs, 3-11 Jets and 5-8 Saints. The Broncos lost to the 6-8 Rams earlier this year.
The Jags had absolutely nothing to lose. They have no possibility of making the playoffs, which made them dangerous and more willing to pull out all the trickery.
But the Ravens stood strong – behind a crazy-good pass rush and a solid passing game – and didn't fall victim.
And because they did, coupled with a San Diego Chargers loss to the Denver Broncos, the Ravens moved into the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.
"Just accept the win and don't squander any time thinking about the how," wrote The Sun's Childs Walker. "The mishaps went on and on. … But 20-12 is the same as 40-12 in the final reckoning. And the Ravens held serve in a fierce playoff race.
"Really, don't think any more about it."
OK, we won't (although Harbaugh and his team assuredly will correct the mistakes). Let's take a look at the playoff picture if the season ended today.
If The Season Ended Today
If the postseason were in full force, the No. 6 seeded Ravens would be traveling to Indianapolis to take on the No. 3 seeded Colts.
1. New England Patriots (11-3):Clinched the AFC East.
2. Denver Broncos (11-3):Clinched the AFC West. Ravens need the Broncos to beat the Bengals this week, and Denver still has plenty of motivation. It needs one more win to clinch a first-round bye.
3. Indianapolis Colts (10-4):Clinched the AFC South.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1):Leads AFC North by a half-game, but likely needs to win out to keep it. Takes on the Broncos and Steelers to finish the season.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5):Owns the tiebreaker over Baltimore based on a better division record in the AFC North (3-2 vs. 2-3). To win the division, likely needs to beat both Chiefs and Bengals to finish the season.
6. Baltimore Ravens (9-5):Will clinch the playoffs with wins against the Texans and Browns. Can still take the division, but needs to win out and the Steelers and Bengals each need to lose one game.
In The Hunt…
7. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6):Owns head-to-head tiebreakers over both the Chargers and the Bills.
8. San Diego Chargers (8-6):Owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bills.
9. Buffalo Bills (8-6)
Report: Jackson Could Be Done For Season
The Ravens already announced that rookie safety Terrence Brooks will be out for the year with torn PCL and MCL in his right knee. It's possible that cornerback Asa Jackson also suffered a season-ending injury.
"Jackson's status for the remainder of the season hasn't been determined," wrote Wilson. "He injured his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), according to a source."
Added Zrebiec: "The secondary took another hit with what appears to be season-ending injuries to Asa Jackson and Terrence Brooks."
If Jackson is added to injured reserve, he will be the fifth corner to land on it, joining Jimmy Smith, Danny Gorrer, Aaron Ross and Tramain Jacobs.
Each time a defensive back goes down, Twitter lights up with fans saying the Ravens should sign them to the squad. But with the way the group seems cursed, is that what you really want in your life? A serious injury?
'Invaluable' Pass Rush Key To Playoff Ticket
With the Ravens secondary seemingly cursed, the defense will need the pass rush to keep up its torrid pace.
The unit has tallied at least five sacks in five different games this season. Elvis Dumervil has tied his career record with 17 QB takedowns, which leads the NFL (tied with Chiefs' Justin Houston). Terrell Suggs now has 11 on the season, marking the sixth time in his career that he's reached* *double-digit sacks.
"The strength of the Ravens' pass rush may help them punch a playoff ticket," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown.
Five different defensive linemen got in on the action Sunday, dropping Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles eight times.
"What everyone will be talking about from this ugly and sloppy 20-12 win over the Jaguars is how invaluable their pass rush has become," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "Some will say the Ravens aren't a playoff team after their mistake-filled performance against the two-win Jaguars. The real statement made was how their pass rush can carry the team.
"The Ravens' consistent running game faltered. Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed twice. Another cornerback, Asa Jackson, could be lost for the season. … [But] as long as the Ravens' run to the playoffs matches their pursuit of quarterbacks, the Ravens are virtually guaranteed of making the postseason."
Ravens To (Probably) Finish Season Against Three Rookies
Could the lineup of remaining opposing quarterbacks be any more favorable for the Ravens?
With a banged-up secondary, you couldn't ask for a better slate, likely taking on three rookies to finish the season.
It started with the feasting on Bortles Sunday, and now the Ravens are expected to take on rookies Tom Savage (Houston) and Johnny Manziel (Cleveland). Savage took over yesterday after top quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick broke his leg in the loss to Indianapolis, and Manziel started his first career game in place of the struggling Brian Hoyer.
Neither rookie got off to a strong start.
Savage will have an MRI on his knee after injuring it on the next-to-last play of the game, but he says he'll play against Baltimore. He fumbled a handoff to Arian Foster, but at least he knew where his running back was, which is more than Manziel could say.
"Money Manziel" completed just 10 passes for 80 yards and no touchdowns. He also threw two picks and was sacked three times. He had the worst total QBR by any starter that had at least 10 attempts this season.
The Browns could always turn back to veteran Brian Hoyer, but they may choose to stick with the rookie as they have faded out of the AFC playoff hunt at 7-7.
"The Ravens don't deserve to make the playoffs if they can't beat the quarterbacks they will face over the next two weeks," wrote Brown.
Tucker Tests Wind … With Sunflower Seeds
M&T Bank Stadium doesn't have real grass.
So how does a kicker test the wind? Tucker uses sunflower seeds. Check this out (mobile users tap "View in browser" to watch):
Tucker ended up missing two of his four field-goal attempts Sunday, but you can't blame them all on the sunflower seeds. The first miss was caused from a high snap, and the second just clanked off the upright.
Because of the misses, Tucker's reign as the league's most accurate kicker is over. He moved down to making 89.6 percent of his kicks, and the Cowboys' Dan Bailey is at 90.2 percent.
Tucker isn't losing any sleep over it though.
"I don't really think about it that way,'' he told Wilson, referencing having a bad day. "We won. We got the job done. At the end of the day, for today, we are 1-0. It wasn't pretty, and from my end it wasn't pretty, but I'm still going to feel pretty good laying my head on the pillow tonight knowing that I left it out there. I didn't just slap at it. It's not like I wasn't focused, I just missed two balls. It is what it is."
- Forsett on his former team keeping him to just 48 yards rushing: "Their mindset coming in was to stop the run. They were a physical bunch. They've got a great front seven and they did a good job. The box and safeties were down, but it was a good challenge for us. I knew what kind of front they were. I knew they were physical. I knew they weren't going to quit. They have some premier guys on that defensive line." [The Baltimore Sun]
- REJECTED! Bengals running back Jeremy Hill was not welcome in the Dawg Pound. [Vine]
- Former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick* *gives out grades to the Ravens for their performance against Jacksonville. [NFL.com]