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The Breakdown: Five Thoughts on Ravens' Win Over Falcons

(From left to right) LBs Patrick Queen & Odafe Oweh
(From left to right) LBs Patrick Queen & Odafe Oweh

The Ravens beat the Atlanta Falcons, 17-9, in the coldest game ever at M&T Bank Stadium and locked up a spot in the playoffs.

Here are five thoughts on Baltimore's win:

The Ravens are in the dance, and that's what's most important.

We can all debate how far you think the Ravens will get in the playoffs in the weeks to come, but the first step is getting there.

The Ravens have long been a team that believed that anything can happen in the postseason so long as you just get in the dance. Both of their Super Bowl runs proved it; the highest seed or the "best" team doesn't always win.

Head Coach John Harbaugh praised the character of his team for punching its ticket with two weeks to go. The Ravens have won three of four games with one of the NFL's top playmakers, Lamar Jackson, on the sideline.

Considering what happened down the stretch last year when the Ravens lost six straight games with Jackson hurt to fall out of the playoff race, it's an accomplishment that they didn't let that happen again. Granted, the Ravens were in far better overall health this time and their schedule wasn't as arduous, but it's still not easy for any team to win December games with a backup quarterback.

The Ravens did it with what's become their clear identity – stellar defense and a punishing rushing attack. Will that formula be enough to make a playoff run? We'll see.

Some of the AFC's other playoff teams may look mightier, but frigid temperatures and bad weather can slow any offense. If the Ravens max out their winning formula, they can beat anyone on any given day. But it's become clear that their margin for error is narrow, so they have to keep improving.

Baltimore's defense isn't satisfied, needs to keep making plays.

The Ravens defense gave up just three touchdowns and 45 points in four December games. Yet Patrick Queen said he and teammates were not thrilled leaving Saturday's game.

Baltimore entered the game allowing 327 yards per game, the 10th-best mark in the NFL. The Ravens gave up 327 yards to the Falcons. The difference in this game, as opposed to the loss in Cleveland, was turnovers and clutch stops.

After giving up a fourth-down conversion to Drake London, Marlon Humphrey broke out his "Fruit Punch" to get the one takeaway of the game. The Ravens got two other fourth-down stops – once on a deep incompletion from near midfield in the first half and another on a goal-line stand midway through the fourth quarter that kept the game from getting too interesting.

Baltimore's defense did it without starting cornerback Marcus Peters (calf) and defensive lineman Calais Campbell (knee). The Falcons, with rookie Desmond Ridder under center, aren't a fearsome offense, but rookie wide receiver Drake London (96 receiving yards) and rookie running back Tyler Allgeier (74 rushing yards) had some impressive plays.

The Ravens defense is going to be tough to move the ball and score on down the stretch, but it needs to continue to make plays of its own to take it to the next level and beat the other AFC titans.

The passing game was good enough.

Fans who wanted the Ravens to run on every single play did not get their Christmas wish. On the Ravens' first offensive play, J.K. Dobbins ran up the middle for 11 yards. On the second play, Huntley sailed a ball over Mark Andrews' head. Fans' desires were so tangible that Andrews waived his arms to quiet the agitation.

The Ravens' highly scrutinized passing attack never got humming Saturday, but it was proficient enough to complement the rushing game effectively. Huntley was 9-of-17 for 115 yards and a touchdown and no turnovers. The Ravens ran the ball twice as much as they threw it.

But the passing game still made strides as it made some big plays in big moments. Huntley connected with Sammy Watkins for 40 yards to set up a field goal. Huntley connected with Mark Andrews for 36 yards to set up another Justin Tucker chip shot.

In the second quarter, a Ravens wide receiver scored a touchdown for the first time since Week 3 when Demarcus Robinson leapt for a 6-yard catch over reserve Falcons cornerback Cornell Armstrong. After not reaching the end zone since the first quarter in Pittsburgh, that one was a sigh of relief and badly needed. The Ravens ran the ball 11 straight times on that drive, but it was a pass that punched it in the end zone on third down.

By no means was this a high-octane passing attack. But that shouldn't be the expectation with this wide receiver corps and Huntley under center. This was good enough.

"Obviously we have a little bit of ways to go and grow," Andrews said. "But guys making big-time plays when it matters, that's what it's about. That's what football is about. Timing of plays."

The Gus Bus completes the Ravens' 1-2 punch.

There's a reason why J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards both were introduced as Ravens offensive starters running out of the pregame tunnel. They are a 1-2 punch where anybody can be the "1".

Dobbins has been all the rage the past couple weeks, and justifiably so, after running for 120 and 125 yards in his first two games back from his midseason knee surgery. But on this day, the Ravens rode the "Gus Bus" for 99 yards on 11 carries. 

Dobbins had 12 carries for 59 yards, but didn't get touch the ball in the fourth quarter for a second straight game. This time, nobody is complaining about that because the Ravens still ran it and ran it well.

"That just kind of got to be a Gus deal at that point in time. Gus was coming downhill," Harbaugh said.

Overall, the Ravens had 184 yards on the ground. It was another dominant game for Baltimore's ground game that looks unstoppable right now.

Extra Points

  • Not sure who was the right team to root for as the Bengals and Patriots went back and forth down the stretch of their game. A Patriots loss secured the Ravens' playoff berth, but a Bengals loss would have meant that a Ravens win (vs. Steelers) and Bengals loss (vs. Bills) next week, would mean Baltimore would've had the AFC North title locked up before Week 18. The Ravens can still win the division by winning out, but that scenario would've been nice.
  • The frigid cold weather (17 degrees at kickoff) did not seem to bother the Ravens, or at least they said so after the game. Fullback Patrick Ricard and the running game seemed to love it. That will serve them well.
  • The Ravens caught an officiating break at the end of the first half when Ridder was called for intentional grounding on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. His arm was hit on the play, which made the pass wobble out of bounds, but the penalty forced the Falcons to have to kick a field goal. The Ravens carried a 14-3 lead into the halftime locker room as Falcons Head Coach Arthur Smith argued with refs the entire way in. After the game, Referee Bill Vinovich said it's a judgement call on how much the contact affected the throw and they didn't think it prevented him from getting the ball back to the line of scrimmage.
  • A holding penalty that wiped off a Cordarelle Patterson touchdown also bailed the Ravens out. Nobody was going to stop Patterson after he stiff-armed Tyus Bowser, but Brandon Stephens did a good job keeping himself in the play and selling the hold.
  • Linebacker Roquan Smith had a staggering 15 tackles, showing off his sideline-to-sideline speed throughout the game. He said going into the game that he loves cold games because people don't like being hit, so he turns into a "predator." He sure feasted.
  • The man credited with the fourth-and-goal tackle for loss in the fourth quarter was defensive tackle Isaiah Mack, who was playing in just his second game this season and had spent the entire year on the practice squad before being signed to the 53-man roster Friday. Good for him.
  • An under-the-radar huge play was the fumble recovery by guard Ben Powers late in the third quarter. Huntley was stuffed on a third-and-1 run and coughed the ball up. Powers jumped on it and the Ravens punted. The Falcons were trailing by just eight points at the time and would have taken over possession in Ravens territory.

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