Five thoughts on the Ravens' 42-21 win over the New York Jets Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
In theory, a game against the Jets, already eliminated from playoff contention, had the potential to produce a letdown. Seven of the Ravens' first nine wins in their current winning streak were against playoff-caliber teams with a combined 64-27 record. They'd been playing and beating the best of the best, in other words. (The other two wins in the streak were over the 1-12 Cincinnati Bengals.) But the Ravens are playing so well, with such confidence and energy, that the trap-game concept honestly is beneath them. Lamar Jackson and the offense started hot, giving a national TV audience what it wanted, some magic, while putting the Jets in a hole they were unlikely to escape from. The defense yielded early but saved itself with big stops and plays. Eventually, the rout was on with everyone taking their prescribed roles, the Jets as steamrolled patsies, the Ravens as the blistering-hot Super Bowl contenders zeroing in on the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Baltimore is 12-2 for the first time, winners of 10 straight games for the first time, and oh, I almost forgot, they clinched their second straight AFC North title with this win. That's their No. 1 goal at the start of every season, but it's just the place to start this year. What heady times these are.
Some seven minutes into the first quarter, on the Ravens' first possession, Jackson broke Michael Vick's 13-year-old NFL record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback. When he went to the bench after the drive, which produced a touchdown, a stadium camera zeroed in on him and the record was announced, drawing a roar from the fans. But Jackson didn't acknowledge the cheers or bask in his moment of individual glory. Seated on the bench, he was all business, conferring with his position coach, James Urban, as he does after most possessions. He admitted after the game that he would cherish the record, but that muted on-field moment neatly distilled his priorities. One online oddsmaker has him listed as a 1-10 shot to win the league MVP award. Those are overwhelming odds. But he doesn't want to talk much about his honors or growing stack of records. He mostly wants to talk about what the team is doing right. That's leadership. Think about how his attitude impacts his teammates. This is a guy who is dominating the league, has every right to crow, but his sole focus is winning. How can any teammate do anything other than follow his lead?
The lopsided final margin doesn't reflect how well the Jets' offense moved the ball, especially early. "There are going to be things we don't like when we see the tape," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold rolled out to negate Baltimore's blitzes. His receivers gained separation and made catches. Ranked No. 31 in the league in offense coming in, the Jets gained 199 yards in the first half, which was 11 more than the Ravens. The Ravens still led by two touchdowns at halftime because the Jets came away with nothing on three drives into Baltimore territory due to a partially blocked field goal, a turnover on downs and an interception. Still, it was something of a wake-up call for a Baltimore defense coming off a dominant outing in Buffalo. Then things got better in the second half. Tyus Bowser forced a fumble on a sack and the offense quickly turned the mistake into a touchdown, which broke open the game. The defense has been doing that all season, producing impactful turnovers, while the Ravens' offense has excelled at protecting the ball. The result? Baltimore has a plus-10 turnover margin for the season, an under-the-radar factor in their success.
The Jets were without Jamal Adams, their outstanding safety, who was injured, and it seemed they really missed him – Jackson tossed five touchdown passes and easily could have thrown more, as his receivers were constantly open. The Ravens, meanwhile, were also without one of their top performers, tackle Ronnie Stanley, who missed the game because of a concussion, but they didn't appear to miss him in the least. With veteran James Hurst replacing Stanley, the Ravens' offensive line was dominant, giving Jackson all the time he needed to throw while also opening holes in the run game. The Jets came in with the league's No. 2 rushing defense, allowing 78 yards per game, but the Ravens blew by that in a little over a quarter and finished with 218 yards on the ground. Hurst, a former starter who has watched from the bench this season, couldn't hide his pleasure as he spoke to reporters after the game. "It feels great to be able to step in and help like that," he said. Bottom line, the Ravens' depth was way better than the Jets' depth.
Short takes: The Ravens' special teams, normally so sound, had a dreadful night. Justin Tucker missed an extra point. The Jets blocked a Sam Koch punt and returned it for a touchdown. The Jets' kickoff and punt returners consistently found open lanes to run through. That can't keep happening, needless to say. Harbaugh said it was an "area of concern." … The Jets surely set a record for suiting up the most ex-Ravens against their former team. Guard Alex Lewis, cornerback Maurice Canady, safety Bennett Jackson and running back Ty Montgomery all played, as did linebacker Brandon Copeland, a Baltimore product (Gilman) who was in Baltimore's training camp in 2013 … Weirdly, the Ravens dominated despite converting just two of eight third-down chances into firsts … Marquise Brown continues to demonstrate that he's not just a speed guy. He showed great body control by getting both feet down on his touchdown catch in the third quarter, and he threw key blocks on a couple of big plays early in the game.