Five thoughts on the Ravens' 27-13 win over the New York Giants Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
It was a very good day for the home team. The Ravens capitalized on a fast start to win their fourth straight game, and as the contest was ending on a chilly afternoon, they got the help they needed to give them control of their playoff fate. It's simple now: If they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati in their season finale next week, they're assured of a spot in the AFC playoffs. If they make it, they'll be one of those teams that opponents would just as soon not face, as the Ravens clearly have found their stride, especially offensively, after stumbling through a tough stretch in November. They delivered what amounted to a first-round knockout in this game, scoring two touchdowns on long drives to produce a 14-0 lead before the Giants registered a first down. After that, they just had to make sure they didn't give away anything and let the Giants back into the game, and they did that with what I'd call relative ease. It was a complete performance by a dangerous team that has endured a lot of adversity, come together and peaked at the right time.
Tight end Mark Andrews wins what I'm calling the Full Disclosure Award after conceding he watched the out-of-town scoreboard "the whole game." Thank you, Mark. Most of his teammates and coaches said they only paid attention to the task in front of them, beating the Giants, but let's face it, several other games were just as critical to the Ravens' playoff prospects, and that's where the day's real drama unfolded. It was only human to want to stay abreast of what was happening. Along with Andrews, I closely monitored those other games all day, and I'm sure many fans did, too, especially after Saturday night's epic collapse by the Las Vegas Raiders, which made it seem as if the Ravens might never get the help they needed. But they did Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied to beat the Indianapolis Colts (just say it: "Thank you, Ben") and the New York Jets upset the Cleveland Browns. "Now we control our own fate, and that's a great feeling," Andrews said. Before anyone accuses him of not focusing on his own game, he had six catches for 76 yards Sunday to lead the Ravens in both statistical categories. If he was distracted, he was a distracted beast.
Although the Giants have a losing record, their defense ranks in the top third of the league, and their specialty is stopping the run. The Ravens' offense supposedly faced a bona fide challenge, in other words. But it wasn't. The offense blew right through New York's supposedly stout defense, totaling 249 rushing yards and 432 overall offensive yards. The state of the offense has been under scrutiny for months due to key injuries, quarterback Lamar Jackson not seeming quite the same and the unit seemingly struggling to figure out HOW it wanted to move the ball. But there is no longer much scrutiny, just praise, as the offense has found its stride by focusing on what it does best, i.e., bludgeoning defenses with its ground game, and then using that to set up the pass. The key is there are no longer so many moving parts. The offensive line has jelled behind Orlando Brown Jr. at left tackle, Bradley Bozeman at left guard and Ben Powers at right guard. The coaches have settled on a two-headed monster at running back with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and they're utilizing extra blockers at the point of attack. Jackson is just having fun, as opposed to trying to live up to being the reigning league MVP. The end result is a bruising and potent attack. Just ask the Giants.
The Giants like to run the ball, but after they fell so far behind so quickly Sunday, you knew their offense was going to consist of little more than quarterback Daniel Jones throwing the ball. Sure enough, New York only rushed 12 times and Jones attempted 41 passes. To his credit, he hung tough, didn't throw an interception and made some plays, completing 24 passes for 252 yards. But one never got the feeling the Ravens' defense was losing control of the situation. The pass rush was extremely active for the second straight game, posting six sacks and 11 hits on Jones. Also, even though Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith were out with injuries for a second straight game, cornerback Anthony Averett was extremely solid opposite Marlon Humphrey. "It's good to see him playing so well with his opportunity," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said of Averett. Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams also has stepped up. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's unit is gaining momentum in these final weeks of the season.
Short takes: Third-year inside linebacker Chris Board, a former undrafted free agent, is an organizational favorite because of how far he has come, so you know his team-high two sacks will be cheered … Devin Duvernay brought some juice in his first stint as a punt returner, averaging 18 yards on two returns ... Gus Edwards said it twice to the media after the game: "I love the way we're playing" … The Ravens accumulated 50 yards in penalties in the second half and lost the turnover battle (1-0). Harbaugh referenced the need to finish stronger … The Giants sort of forgot to cover Dez Bryant on his second touchdown catch in two weeks, which is interesting considered how many years he faced them in the NFC East … Jackson needs 92 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the second straight season.