The Ravens were dominant at home Sunday, and they don't plan on traveling until the Super Bowl.
Clinching the AFC North, capturing the No. 1 seed and a first-round playoff bye, the Ravens rolled to a 56-19 victory at M&T Bank Stadium that became an early New Year's celebration for Baltimore.
It was the most points the Ravens have ever scored at home in team history, a wow win that makes them the clear AFC favorite with home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
Baltimore is playing the best football in the NFL right now, having won six straight and 10 of its last 11. Here are my five thoughts, as the Ravens celebrate a Happy New Year and look forward to a postseason with huge possibilities:
Lamar Jackson Can Prepare His MVP Speech
The fans who chanted "MVP, MVP" during this game were right.
The debate is over. Jackson put an exclamation point on what will be his second MVP season by roasting the Dolphins' defense with a season-high five touchdown passes and threw just three incompletions all day (18-for-21, 321 yards). Head Coach John Harbaugh called the performance by Jackson "perfect" and it was. It was Jackson's third career game with a perfect passer rating, tied for the most in NFL history.
Miami entered the game with the NFL's third-ranked defense and Jackson picked it apart. Sensational play from Jackson has become a regular occurrence during Baltimore's late-season run to the No. 1 seed. Over the past six games, Jackson has thrown 14 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He's doing it with accurate passing, poise in the pocket, athleticism like no other quarterback, and unwavering focus on the Ravens' ultimate prize.
Jackson has become a more dangerous quarterback playing in Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken's system, with new weapons such as Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor.
"I'm very confident," Jackson said. "Having the freedom to do whatever I want to when I see things out on the field. That's the kind of game I like. We were dialing it up, being aggressive."
Jackson has been the best quarterback in football this season for the best team in football. That spells MVP.
"There's no debating," said Beckham. "The way that he leads this team, the way that energy that he brings every day. He's our general, our leader."
The Defense Deserves Major Kudos
Marlon Humphrey (calf) left the game in the first quarter, Kyle Hamilton (knee) and Brandon Stephens (ankle) didn't play, and Michael Pierce and Daryl Worley both left the game with stingers. Yet, Baltimore held Miami's No. 1-ranked offense to 19 points, its second-lowest total of the season, and the league's most explosive receiver Tyreek Hill was held in check as well (6 catches, 76 yards).
Harbaugh talked about the importance of Baltimore's depth, and it showed in this game. Perhaps no other team in the NFL could hold down the Dolphins while missing three starters in the secondary. But Hamilton's absence meant more playing time for Geno Stone, who made his team-leading seventh interception of the season. Ronald Darby and Rock-Ya Sin held down the outside corner positions once Humphrey went down, while Arthur Maulet played tenacious defense in the slot.
Meanwhile, All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith made the most spectacular defensive play with a one-handed interception just before halftime that set up Likely's 35-yard touchdown catch.
"I said, 'Crap, let me just stick this arm out,'" Smith said.
No matter who was on the field defensively for the Ravens, they had each other's backs.
"I just know at the end of the day, we'll go to war with each other, and if we get knocked down, we'll get right back up," Smith said. "That's the way we're built."
Playmakers Are Taking Baltimore's Offense to New Heights
Smith wasn't the only player making a one-handed catch.
Isaiah Likely made a spectacular one-handed grab late in the first half, and then made a mad dash to the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown reception.
Beckham showed unreal body control on a catch that set up another score, high-pointing the football while still keeping his feet inbounds near the sideline.
"I expect myself to make those plays, I think everyone in here does," Beckham said. "To me, it feels like a normal catch. I always hunger for more."
Flowers got behind the defense for a 75-yard touchdown pass, Rashod Bateman (four catches, 54 yards) made clutch grabs, and running back Justice Hill (five catches, 64 yards, six carries, 76 yards) may have played his best game as a Raven.
Hanging 56 points on the Dolphins, without Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, is an emphatic statement.
Having Injuries Makes Having the Bye More Important
The Ravens won't have anything at stake against Pittsburgh in the Week 18 regular-season finale. Players who are out with injuries, or who are playing while far less than 100%, will have extra time to heal.
Dolphins star outside linebacker Bradley Chubb suffered what looked like a serious knee injury late in Sunday's game, an unfortunate event in a game that was already decided. Unlike the Dolphins, who face a huge game against the Bills in Week 18 that will decide who wins the AFC East, the Ravens can rest some key players against Pittsburgh if they choose.
The last time the Ravens had the bye and the No. 1 seed in 2019, two teams in each conference received a bye and the regular season was 16 games. Now the regular season is 17 games and only one team from each conference gets the bye. Having the first week off in the postseason has become even more important, and the Ravens are grateful to have it.
"It's important, we've got some guys banged up, so that will give us some rest," Maulet said. "They'll be able to get back healthy and get ready for the first game. Everything's coming through the AFC North and The Bank. We appreciate that."
- Jackson has 821 yards rushing this season and became the first quarterback to have three seasons with over 800 yards rushing. He set the all-time single-season rushing record for quarterbacks in 2019 (1,206) and had 1,005 yards rushing in 2021.
- Hill had a 78-yard kickoff return to start the second half and set up a touchdown, as the Ravens' special teams unit continued its recent excellence.
- Likely's 35-yard touchdown grab just before halftime was a huge turning point. Harbaugh made the decision to go for it on fourth-and-7 instead of trying a potential 52-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. Instead of leading 24-13 at halftime if Tucker had made the field goal, the touchdown increased the lead to 28-13, then the Ravens scored on their first possession of the second half. "I felt good about our offense," Harbaugh said. "The kick was tough, the wind was coming out of that end, it was going to be a real challenge. Tuck's the best in the business, he probably would've made it, but it turned out to be the right call."
- Melvin Gordon III scored his first touchdown of the season, after spending most of the season on the practice squad.
- In four games since their bye, the Ravens have outscored their opponents, 149-76.