Five thoughts on the Ravens' 45-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams Monday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum:
It goes without saying that the Ravens have played some good football since they came to Baltimore in 1996. They've won two Super Bowls, made 11 playoff appearances. But I'm not sure they've ever put together a run of championship-caliber football as dominant as this, certainly not in the regular season. This was their seventh straight win, and it was every bit as lopsided as their recent triumphs over the New England Patriots and Houston Texans, but this one, well, it begs the question: Can you throw a perfect game in football? The Ravens were on the road against a team that was in the Super Bowl nine months ago. They scored touchdowns on each of their first six possessions. Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes before he threw an incompletion. The defense manhandled the Rams' offense. The Ravens simply obliterated a winning team with playoff aspirations. They aren't currently the top seed in the AFC, but no team in football is playing better, and that's really not even debatable. The Ravens have become the monster no one wants to see.
When chants of "M-V-P" first began to echo at games more than a month ago, Jackson was generally regarded as a second-tier candidate behind more established quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers. My, how things have changed. Jackson boosted his chances with a series of dazzling performances in recent weeks, but he saved his best for his Monday Night Football debut. With the football world watching, he rushed for 95 yards, threw five touchdown passes and seemingly broke the spirit of the Rams' very-solid defense, which had no answers for him. We aren't in December yet, so it's early, but Jackson is now the clear-cut favorite to become the Ravens' first league MVP. The only player who possibly could wrest it away from him is Wilson, who also is having an excellent season, with great stats to show for it. But Jackson's team whipped Wilson's team in October, and even taking that head-to-head matchup out of the equation, Jackson is breaking barriers, doing things no quarterback has done. He's the NFL's shiny new thing, and yup, the Ravens have him.
The Ravens haven't just been beating opponents. They've been beating up the guys on the other side of the ball. The Rams were supposed to be able to have a say about that. They like to run the ball. Their defense is physical and led by Aaron Donald, arguably the game's fiercest defensive player. But the Ravens blew the Rams away. After a week of chatter about the physical challenge the Rams could pose, the Ravens rushed for 97 yards in the first quarter as they drove to two touchdowns. They continued to punish the Rams on the ground, ending with 285 rushing yards – more than three times what the Rams were yielding per game on average. Most impressively, they made Donald disappear with blocks and schemes that left him chasing the ball rather than making plays. Donald finished without a single solo tackle, perhaps the ultimate testament to guard Marshal Yanda and the Ravens' O-line. The Rams played hard until the end, but their body language suggested they knew the game was over when the Ravens scored their fourth touchdown before halftime. Their inability to stop Jackson surely was discouraging, but so was the Ravens' total dominance. As ESPN's Booger McFarland said, "Can anybody stand up to this physicality?"
I know Marcus Peters said he wasn't motivated by the chance to play the team that traded him six weeks ago. But he gave himself away after he leapt high in the air to intercept a pass thrown by his former teammate, Rams quarterback Jared Goff. He tried to run it back for another pick-six, which would have been his third since the trade, but he was tackled. No matter. He strutted to the end zone to pose in the center of a raucous group picture, then moved to the sideline and continued to chirp at the Rams. ESPN's cameras caught him wagging his tongue in delight. Can you blame him? If anything, this blowout illustrated that he's in a better place, at least for now. Baltimore's defense is on a roll, as evidenced by this latest outing, which featured a lot of by-now-familiar touches such as the Rams' running game going nowhere (22 yards) and Goff being harassed all night. But Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale has the freedom to dial up pressure because of the quality of the Ravens' secondary, which was solidified by the acquisition of Peters. Between his addition and the return of Jimmy Smith, the Ravens now have cornerbacks who can pretty much blanket opposing receivers week after week.
Quick Hits: The most disturbing sight of the night, no question, was center Matt Skura leaving the field on a cart with a knee sprain in the first quarter. Skura has been playing well, but the O-line kept rolling with undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari taking over at center. "I was ready," Mekari said … The Ravens had possession of the ball for almost 40 of the game's 60 minutes. How does a team do that? By converting nine of 15 third-down situations and three of three fourth downs into firsts. Amazing stuff … A cross-country flight home and a short week with a holiday in the middle isn't the ideal way to head into a game against the NFL's other hottest team. But Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is big on not blinking at whatever the schedule makes you do. There was a lot of chatter after the game about immediately turning the page to Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers. As former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott famously said, "Can't wait!"