Five thoughts on the Ravens' 47-42 win over the Cleveland Browns Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium:
Calling this an instant classic doesn't do it justice. The Ravens won't play many games that are more epic. On a night they desperately needed to win to boost their playoff prospects, they had the game in hand, lost it, regained it, lost it, and finally scored what might be a season-altering victory as Lamar Jackson made a dramatic return from a bout of cramps in the locker room to lead them in the end. Oh, and those winning points? Just a 55-yard field goal from Justin Tucker into the teeth of Lake Erie's swirling winds. Amazing stuff. Couldn't make it up if you tried. And it speaks volumes about the sheer toughness and heart of the Ravens, who saw their season of great expectations pushed to the brink due to injuries, a COVID-19 outbreak and several losses. The obstacles continued Monday night as they pretty much ran out of cornerbacks and saw their MVP quarterback cramp up at the worst possible time. But they simply refused to buckle and found a way to score a crucial win that won't be forgotten for a long time. "It's a game that's going to go down in history," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
The most famous play in Ravens history is the Mile High Miracle, the fourth-down rainbow that Joe Flacco threw to Jacoby Jones, which set up a Super Bowl run. Ray Rice's fourth-and-29 conversion in San Diego was another memorable one, and there are others. But this game produced another that belongs with the best and might rank right at the top for sheer, Hollywood-style drama. If you saw the game, you'll be able to say you were watching when Jackson raced from the locker room straight to the field, took the snap on a fourth-down play that could have snuffed out the Ravens' playoff hopes and tossed a 44-yard touchdown pass that swung the game in the Ravens' favor. "If you wrote a movie about this, people wouldn't believe it," Harbaugh said. That is too true. Jackson had been in the locker room for awhile as the Browns rallied and took command late. His replacement, Trace McSorley, actually had the offense moving before suffering a knee injury. To be clear, Jackson was in the locker room when McSorley went down but on the field for the next play. Truly a Superman moment. And all he did on the play was throw a touchdown pass that saved the season. OK, who's writing the script?
Although Jackson has accomplished remarkable things in his young pro career, he also has been dogged by whispers about what he hasn't done. You've heard them, right? He can't lead a team from behind. He can't beat you with his arm. He can't win the big one. Regardless if it's fair, this might be the game that quiets some of those whispers. Jackson devastated a solid Cleveland defense with his legs for most of the night, continually finding running room and making enough plays to put the Ravens in control. But the game all but slipped away while he was in the locker room with cramps, and once he returned, he did his damage with his passing arm. First, he tossed the season-saving 44-yard touchdown pass to Hollywood Brown. Then, after the Browns matched that and the score was tied, he led a game-winning drive with completion after completion to set up the final field goal. Bottom line, in close to a must-win situation, he did exactly what those whispers suggested he couldn't. He passed the Ravens' offense down the field and won a "big one" on the road against a talented rival headed to the playoffs.
It sounds like a trick question: How does a team win when its defense allows 33 first downs and 493 yards of offense and gives up touchdowns on three straight drives relatively late in the fourth quarter? The answer, of course, is there's no way a team wins in such circumstances. Somehow, though, the Ravens did Monday night. But they'll come away from the game knowing their defense needs work. The Browns ran the ball effectively and passed more and more effectively as the game progressed, especially after Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith went out with an injury, leaving Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to pick on the deep depth that replaced him. Mayfield dropped back a whopping 48 times by the end of the game, yet he wasn't sacked once. The defense did contribute a big play, as linebacker Tyus Bowser made a brilliant one-handed interception to set up a touchdown in the third quarter, and the Ravens wound up needing those points. In all, though, the defense has a lot to correct before Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
It's impossible to over-emphasize how important this win was for the Ravens' playoff chances. They wouldn't have been eliminated with a loss to the Browns, but they would have faced an uphill struggle and needed a ton of help. They still might need a few games to go their way, but this win greatly increases their chances of finishing 11-5, as their final three games are against the Jaguars, Giants and Bengals, teams with a combined 8-30-1 record. They have to take care of that business, of course, but an 11-5 finish is now a real possibility and that would likely get them into the postseason. Watching them celebrate so wildly in the moments after this ultra-dramatic win, they sure looked like a team that had been pushed to the brink by obstacles but survived. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but after this win, they just might enter the postseason on a five-game winning streak, as the team no one wants to play.