The Ravens got everything they wanted for Christmas. The 49ers got more than they could handle.
Who's the best team in the NFL? The Ravens made their strongest statement of the season with an impressive victory over the 49ers, 33-19, at Levi's Stadium in a much-anticipated matchup on "Monday Night Football."
Baltimore stands alone as the team with the best record in the league at 12-3, while the 49ers (11-4) were forced to eat some humble pie for the holidays. Here are my thoughts on the Ravens taking San Francisco by storm:
Don't Disrespect the Ravens
The Ravens relish the underdog role and they felt disrespected entering this game by some national pundits who predicted the 49ers would win easily. Baltimore was motivated coming into this game, and took its frustrations out on its opponent.
"Everybody wrote us off before we had a chance to play," inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. "Everybody counted us out. Everybody was saying we were going to get blown out by double digits."
Queen gave the breakdown speech before the game with the team huddled around him and delivered a message.
"We worked too hard for people to be writing us off," Queen said. "You feel a certain kind of way when people write you off. My message was to take what we want."
The 49ers got the message, as the Ravens rolled to victory with a defense that feasted on turnovers, and a quarterback in Lamar Jackson who played like the ultimate weapon (23-of-35, 252 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, 45 yards rushing).
Jackson made it clear after the game he felt the Ravens were disrespected, and they played like it.
Nobody plays quarterback quite like Jackson, and nobody is more deserving of winning the MVP than Jackson.
"I thought Lamar had an MVP-type performance," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Lamar's MVP Momentum Is Growing
Just as he did in 2019 when he won the MVP by a unanimous vote, Jackson is gaining momentum as the favorite the award. It's not just his statistics. It's his impact on the games and the way he's using all of his talents to lift his team.
The way Jackson is extending plays in and outside the pocket is making him even more lethal. His completion to Gus Edwards for a 39-yard gain was one of example of how he's buying time by looking downfield for ways to gash defenses.
Jackson also made a ridiculous escape from the pocket, ducking under 49ers edge rusher Chase Young for his longest scramble of the season (30 yards). While he isn't turning up-field to run with the frequency that he used to, he's still one of the NFL's most dangerous players in the open field.
This version of Jackson is more experienced and more precise than 2019 version, and which gives opponents even more to worry about as the Ravens approach the postseason.
Baltimore Defense Is Making a Big Splash
How many people expected the Ravens to have five interceptions, including four against Brock Purdy? If Purdy wins the Most Valuable Player award after this game, ballots need to be checked.
Kyle Hamilton had two picks and there's no denying that he has become a star player. In the first quarter, the second-year safety made a perfect read as Deebo Samuel ran a crossing pattern near the end zone. As soon as Purdy threw the ball, a pass that was intended for Samuel became a throw that was destined to be picked off by Hamilton.
Hamilton's second interception may have been his most impressive, because it displayed his determination to play all-out until the whistle. He was knocked flat on his face after a chop block by 49ers offensive lineman Aaron Banks, but instead of giving up on the play, Hamilton got up and caught a Purdy pass that was deflected by Marlon Humphrey.
Brandon Stephens forced another Purdy turnover by leaping to deflect a quick screen pass intended for Samuel, which was caught by Humphrey, and Patrick Queen's interception in the third quarter set up a 9-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Zay Flowers that gave Baltimore a 30-12 lead in the third quarter. Marcus Williams sealed the Ravens' win with an end zone interception in the final minutes against Sam Darnold, after Purdy was pulled from the game due to a reported stinger injury.
Considering Purdy had only been intercepted seven times coming into the game, the Ravens' performance was even more impressive.
Another Huge Game Looms Next vs. Dolphins
The Ravens have won five straight and eight of their last nine, playing some of their best football when the lights were the brightest.
That bodes well for how the Ravens will respond Sunday in Week 17 at M&T Bank Stadium in a huge game against the Miami Dolphins (10-5). A victory over Miami would clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the Ravens, along with a first-round bye and the AFC North championship. As big as this victory was over the 49ers, a win over the Dolphins would allow the Ravens to accomplish all their regular-season goals.
It's clear the Ravens have a chance to do something special this season, but they are doing it with a week-to-week focus that has been unwavering up to this point. M&T Bank Stadium will be rocking for the Dolphins, and judging by how they've responded all season, the Ravens will be ready.
Getting a First Round Bye Would Be Good for Baltimore's Health
While Harbaugh did not give an extended update on injuries after the game, he was optimistic that nobody who left the game early had suffered anything serious.
The Ravens had some players banged up in this game, including Kyle Hamilton (knee), Kevin Zeitler (thigh), and Patrick Mekari (head).
"It doesn't look bad for anybody," Harbaugh said after the game. "We will see tomorrow to ensure that."
It was another reminder of why getting a first-round bye is important – one less game to play on a potential journey to a Super Bowl, and one less game for players to put their bodies at risk.
It's hard for players to get through 17 games unscathed, and almost every player is dealing with some type of physical ailment at this point in the season. The Ravens could use a bye week to rest and heal, and the shorter their path to a potential Super Bowl, the better.
- Tylan Wallace has become a great weapon as a punt returner. His walk-off 76-yard punt return to beat the Rams in overtime was one of the biggest plays of the season. He almost took another return to the house in this game, finding a seam to his right for a 23-yard return that set up a touchdown.
- Justin Madubuike failed to get a sack and saw his streak with a least a half-sack end at 11 games. However, he had a quarterback hit and was part of the pass rush that gave Purdy and Darnold fits. Jadeveon Clowney was consistently getting pressure in the fourth quarter when the 49ers' offensive line, including left tackle Trent Williams, was injured.
- The Ravens only gave up two sacks and none to Nick Bosa. Jackson used his legs to escape a lot of pressure, but his offensive line had an excellent game, too.
- Jackson said the referee he tripped over that he tripped over in the end zone that resulted in a safety apologized to him during the game.
- Jackson improved his career record to 20-1 as a starter against the NFC.
- While George Kittle (126 receiving yards) and Brandon Aiyuk (113 yards receiving) had some big plays, the Ravens did a superb job containing Deebo Samuel (four catches, 47 yards).
- Rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers had 13 targets while none of his teammates had more than four. The Ravens leaned on their first-round pick, who posted 72 receiving yards and a touchdown.