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The Breakdown: Five Thoughts on Ravens-Commanders Preseason 2

WR Zay Flowers
WR Zay Flowers

The Ravens lost to the Commanders, 29-28, at FedEx Field in the second game of the 2023 preseason slate.

Here are my five takeaways from the game:

The streak ended in dramatic fashion, and it meant something to both teams.

The Ravens' record-setting 24-game preseason win streak ended in what had to be the most dramatic preseason game in NFL history.

The ending told you everything you need to know about what it meant – to both teams. Baltimore wanted to keep it rolling. The Commanders were hell-bent on ending it.

Let the record books show the Commanders had a decided advantage. They played their starting offense for the entire first half against the Ravens' second- and third-string defense. Baltimore gave third-string quarterback Josh Johnson the first half and fourth-stringer Anthony Brown the second half.

It could have (maybe should have?) been lopsided, but it wasn't. The Commanders led by three points at halftime. There were six lead changes. As drama built in the final minutes, ESPN's Troy Aikman called it the best preseason game he's ever been a part of.

The end of the streak is a bummer because keeping it going was fun and meaningful to those participating in it. Those who mocked the streak just don't get it. Simple as that. Of course it doesn't put wins in the regular-season standings, but it always said something about who the Ravens are. They draft well and they develop well, from top to bottom. And they play to win, no matter the stakes.

The Commanders seemed to have some lingering hostility from the scuffles during last week's joint practices. Before the game, Commanders guard Sam Cosmi said the Ravens' preseason streak didn't matter – or, in his words, was a “stupid record.” It sure seemed like he and the Commanders cared a whole lot about ending it. Cosmi did the Griddy after the Commanders scored a second-quarter touchdown and his teammate, center Nick Gates, levied a cheap shot hit into the back of Ravens defensive back Ar'Darius Washington.

After hitting the game-winning 49-yard field goal, Commanders kicker Joey Slye held up an "L" to mock the Ravens as he was mobbed by teammates. After the game-sealing interception, Commanders safety Kendall Smith did a partial lap around FedEx Field, high-fiving delirious fans.

Congrats to the Commanders for ending the streak after being part of five wins during it. Now we can all move on to other topics …

Zay Flowers will be a YAC monster.

Zay Flowers is going to impact the Ravens' offense in a variety of ways, but the most dramatic will be in adding much more YAC – yards after catch. In fact, "YAC" would be a great nickname for "Joystick" if it didn't conjure up images of a slow-looking beast.

Flowers put his YAC on display twice in the Ravens' opening drive. First, he made fellow first-round rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr. miss to pick up a first down. Then Flowers was left wide open in the flat and went to work. He weaved through the Commanders defense, through a one arm tackle and past another defender, to dive in for his first professional touchdown.

According NextGenStats, Flowers had 21 yards after the catch on his touchdown. The Ravens had just four plays with 21 or more yards after the catch all last season. The Ravens ranked 29th in yards after catch last year. Flowers will be a leader in changing that stat this season.

The Ravens' secondary isn't as dire as some people think.

Washington quarterback Sam Howell, who was named the team's starter Friday, went 19-of-25 for 188 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The ESPN broadcast raved about his night.

But Baltimore's second- and third-team defense made Howell work for it. He didn't find many quick reads out there. The Ravens' banged-up secondary held one of the more talented wide receiver trios in the league in check.

Defensive back Ar'Darius Washington and cornerback Kevon Seymour stood out, just as they have in practice. Washington had two pass breakups and a strong tackle in open space on running back Brian Robinson, who is 51 pounds heavier and five inches taller.

Seymour had one of the defense's best plays when he broke up a deep third-down pass with good awareness. Added off waivers eight days ago, cornerback Tae Hayes notched an interception and tackle for loss.

Nobody is arguing that the Ravens are hunky dory without Marlon Humphrey for however long he's out. But the play of Washington and Seymour shows the Ravens have more in reserve than the casual fan may think.

The Ravens are going to have some tough calls on undrafted rookies.

Loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, the Ravens don't have much extra space on their projected 53-man roster. A few undrafted rookies made decisions even harder Monday night.

Tight end Travis Vokolek scored two touchdowns, one when he powered his way over the goal line from a couple yards out, and another in heavy traffic. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Nebraska product wasn't much of a receiver in college (averaged 24 yards per game) but he made his case – and counted it, too.

Running back Keaton Mitchell flashed his explosive speed when he outraced two Commanders defenders to the edge and burned up the sideline for 31 yards. Unfortunately, he left the game early with a shoulder injury, but Head Coach John Harbaugh said it's not serious. Outside linebacker Malik Hamm, who got a sack in his first preseason game, forced a fumble in the second half.

The Ravens already have their top three tight ends in Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar, who also had a good game with two long catches for 61 yards. They have a Pro Bowl running back, Melvin Gordon III, competing for a fourth running back spot. They just added another outside linebacker, Jadeveon Clowney, to the outside linebacker room.

Finding space on the Ravens' roster isn't going to be easy.

Extra Points

Tylan Wallace has taken the lead in the Ravens' competition for the No. 6 wide receiver after scoring a touchdown in a second straight preseason game. He also drew a long pass interference penalty. It's his special teams work, however, that gives him the biggest leg up. … Johnson played better tonight than the preseason opener, leading two touchdown drives and throwing for 145 yards in the first half. Tyler Huntley, who didn't play due to a hamstring injury, is still likely in the lead to be the No. 2 quarterback, but Johnson is keeping it a competition and holding alive the thought of maintaining three quarterbacks. … Gates and Cosmi were livid during 1-on-1 pass rush/blocking drills last week in joint practices. Cosmi spiked his helmet into the turf at one point. He clearly had some feelings entering this one and it showed. … Justice Hill continues to look strong in the Ravens backfield. Baltimore has an embarrassment of riches at running back. … it was an up-and-down night for two rookie draft picks, third-round linebacker Trenton Simpson and fifth-round cornerback Kyu Kelly. For a minute, it looked like Kelly may be the hero when he stopped a two-point conversion short of the goal line. … We unfortunately didn't get to see Jalyn Armour-Davis, who should be back very soon, or any of new cornerback Ronald Darby. Once they and Rock Ya-Sin are back on the field, the Ravens' depth at cornerback won't look too bad, despite more bumps and bruises at that position Monday night.

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