Five thoughts on the Ravens' 33-27 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders Monday night at Allegiant Stadium:
It all seemed to make sense early, when the Ravens built a 14-point lead. We'd seen this before, the Ravens going on the road and spoiling the other team's fun. But ever so slowly, things stopped making sense. The Ravens' offense ground to a halt under the weight of a dominant Las Vegas pass rush. The big lead soon evaporated, and when Lamar Jackson and Baltimore's offense finally starting moving and scoring again, the defense faltered, yielding throughout the game's final minutes. It felt like a game that the Ravens could win and should win, but had lost command of – a game that was going to slip away. Sure enough, it did slip away in an overtime that truly made no sense. The Ravens gave up what appeared to be the decisive touchdown, only to be saved by replay and a miraculous interception that went off a receiver's hands and a defender's helmet before being caught. But Jackson's second fumble of the game gave the Raiders a reprieve, and they took advantage. Bottom line, the Ravens didn't close out the game when they had a chance, and they paid for that. This is not at all how they wanted to start the season, with a maddening defeat that highlighted troubling issues on both sides of the ball.
For most of the game, the Ravens had the lead and a chance to win mostly because of Jackson. The Raiders' defensive front won the battle up front and put constant pressure on Jackson. Baltimore tackles Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva had all sorts of trouble containing the Raiders' Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue (who was far more impactful in this game than he ever was with the Ravens last year). Only a quarterback with Jackson's elusiveness could endure such unrelenting pressure and keep making plays to keep his team ahead. He showed a lot of pocket awareness. But late in the game, a problem arose that hasn't troubled him since his rookie season – ball security. His two fumbles led to Las Vegas scores that made the difference. Given the state of the offense around him, with so many injured players and new pieces trying to fit together, the Ravens can't afford many mistakes from Jackson. He was effective Monday night and fumbled trying to make something happen, but fairly or not, the Ravens need him to be close to flawless.
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale tried all sorts of strategies to put pressure on Derek Carr, the Raiders' veteran quarterback. The Ravens subbed a rotation of players in and out on the edges and rolled out a variety of blitzes, packages and schemes. It's not right to say they didn't work at all. The defense had the upper hand early and finished with three sacks and five quarterback hits. But as the game wore on, Carr had all the time he needed to find tight end Darren Waller and other receivers and carve up the Ravens' secondary. Baltimore's defense actually did solid work against the run, limiting the Raiders to 82 yards on the ground and less than four yards per carry. That's usually a recipe for success, especially in Baltimore. But when the opposing quarterback passes for 435 yards, as Carr did, that's not a prelude to success. It was tough to watch the Ravens struggle to generate pressure when the Raiders were doing it without having to resort to blitzes and schemes. They did it the old-fashioned way, by straight-up winning one-on-one battles up front.
If you were concerned the Ravens' ground game might suffer after running backs J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill all suffered season-ending injuries, this game surely calmed your nerves. The team stat line was straight out of the past few seasons: 34 carries for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson led the way, as expected, picking up 86 yards and nearly breaking a handful of impromptu runs. Ty'Son Williams also was solid in his first start, gaining 65 yards on nine carries, which included a 35-yard touchdown run. But Williams barely touched the ball after halftime as Latavius Murray, who just signed Friday, received a look. Murray averaged less than three yards a carry, but he did score a touchdown. At this point, it appears Williams, Murray and Jackson will be charged with keeping the ground game going. And that's probably fine.
Quick hits: Sammy Watkins was just what the Ravens were looking for when they signed him – a viable receiving alternative to Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews, In fact, he was more than that. Two of his catches were big plays that set up touchdowns. If the Ravens had won, Watkins would have made headlines … Tough to see offensive lineman Tyre Phillips get carted off the field in a continuation of the injury bug that has crushed the team lately. The line will miss the big, athletic Phillips if he is out for long … The toughest thing to reconcile: After Justin Tucker drilled a 47-yard field goal to give the Ravens a three-point lead with 37 seconds left, the Raiders took possession with no timeouts remaining. Yet Carr still moved them into range for a field goal that forced overtime. One pass breakup probably would have sealed the win … Not only did rookie linebacker Odafe Oweh record a sack in his first NFL game, quieting those who'd fretted about him not getting one last year at Penn State, he also had two solo tackles and two quarterback hits. A very nice debut.