Five thoughts on the Ravens' 30-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks Sunday at CenturyLink Field:
You want to talk about sending messages. The Ravens sent about a thousand with this memorable triumph. OK, not that many. But they sent a whole batch to the rest of the NFL. What did they say with this impressive road win? They're serious contenders in the AFC. They've got a great shot at a second straight division title. They've got a tough defense after all. Lamar Jackson is a legitimate MVP candidate. They're among the NFL's most physical teams. I could go on, but you get the picture, right? Most wins just help your record, but every now and then, one comes along that defines and elevates you. That's what this was for a Baltimore team that had experienced some ups and downs early in the season and, along with everyone else, was still trying to figure out how high its ceiling was. Well, when you fly to Seattle, take the measure of the 5-1 Seahawks and whip them, you're confirming that your ceiling is extremely high. "Great day for the Ravens," Head Coach John Harbaugh said, and indeed, they haven't produced many regular-season wins more satisfying.
In a game with many turning points and big moments, I'll single out one play as the most important – and no, it wasn't either of the two touchdowns the Ravens' defense produced. Those were huge, as were the countless plays Jackson made with his legs and arm. But this game turned permanently on, of all things, Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll's decision to attempt a field goal from the Ravens' 35 with 6:51 left in the third quarter. The score was tied at the time. The Seahawks seemed in control. But instead of being aggressive and seeing if MVP candidate Russell Wilson could make magic happen on a fourth-and-3 play, they let their kicker, Jason Myers, attempt a 53-yarder, which was 11 yards beyond his longest of the season. No surprise, it flew wide, and the Ravens' offense finally had good field position after being backed up all day. Jackson took full advantage, leading a touchdown drive that gave the Ravens the lead for good. And fittingly, he scored that touchdown after talking Harbaugh into going for it on a fourth down play in the red zone. That was an aggressive decision, unlike the one from the Seahawks minutes earlier. Try to remember that sequence the next time you're grumbling about Harbaugh taking so many chances.
In many respects, this was the kind of performance we've seen for years from the Ravens' signature unit, i.e., their defense. They were tough against the run. They harassed the quarterback. They delivered game-altering turnovers. But I dare say this winning performance was unlike any other from a Baltimore defense. Why? The players on this Baltimore defense barely know each other. Space limitations prevent me from recounting the many changes that have transpired since the unit bottomed out three weeks ago in a home loss to Cleveland. But the major contributors to this victory included inside linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes, cornerback Marcus Peters and pass rusher Jihad Ward, none of whom were on the team for the loss to Cleveland. The unit has been transformed on the fly, ordinarily a risky, low-percentage gamble that could almost pass for panic. But the Ravens have brought in quality players, a testament to General Manager Eric DeCosta, and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale has taken them and restored order around Bynes and Fort in the middle. Believe me, it doesn't happen every day. Like, hardly ever.
No game ends without Jackson having done something memorable with his legs or arm. But what I'll remember most about him in this game was how he got angry and then used that anger to bury the Seahawks. Coming into the game, the offense had been struggling to finish drives, settling for field goals. Then it did so again on two drives in the first half. Jackson started to simmer. Aside from settling for field goals, he was slipping all over the slick field, struggling to communicate amid the deafening noise and missing on some passes. When a delay-of-game penalty in the red zone seemed to indicate another field goal was coming in the third quarter, he boiled over, his fury evident for all to see. But he channeled that fury into taking down the Seahawks. Moments later, he salvaged the drive with plays that produced a touchdown. Then, when the defense got him the ball back, he led a nine-minute drive that consumed most of the fourth quarter. "I felt like something different came out of Lamar," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said of his play after he became so angry. It was quite a sight.
Short takes: What a homecoming for Earl Thomas III. He was cheered by the fans, helped keep Wilson in check and walked off the field a winner. I'd call that a 10 out of 10, … I don't want to imply that newcomers were mostly responsible for the strong defensive effort. Tyus Bowser held the edge and brought pressure. Chuck Clark was in on eight tackles. Brandon Williams was in on four tackles and led the team with two quarterback hits. Rookie linebacker Jaylon Ferguson had by far his best game. It was a collective effort, … Marcus Peters' pick-6 was precisely why the Ravens traded for him, but just as crucial, according to Humphrey, was how he spent the game telling the secondary what to expect from the Seahawks in various formations, … The Ravens hadn't beaten the Seahawks since 2003.