Five thoughts on the Ravens' 31-25 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ha, and you thought the Ravens' season was going to become reasonably normal after their workmanlike win in Denver. Silly you. This game wasn't the least bit normal and it certainly wasn't reasonable. It was an opera with three acts. The first act was long and depressing as the Ravens sputtered on offense, got bullied on defense and found themselves down by 19 points in the third quarter and by 16 points with 12 minutes to play. Ballgame? It sure seemed so. The Colts were 120-0 when they led by that much in the fourth quarter. But then came the second act of the opera, a furious rally in which Lamar Jackson threw darts all over the field and the Ravens' offense suddenly was unstoppable. With help from two missed field goals by the Colts, one of which Calais Campbell blocked, the Ravens erased the entire deficit and forced overtime. That became the third act of the opera, and honestly, after the Ravens won the coin toss, it was anticlimactic. The Colts' defense was toast. There was little doubt the Ravens would roll to the winning score. So, to sum up, the game was frustrating and weird and amazing and cathartic all at once, and it produced a happy ending that was almost impossible to believe, except impossible is now the Ravens' new normal.
Say goodbye to the narrative that Lamar Jackson can't bring the Ravens from behind with his arm. The narrative actually died a while ago, but you'll never hear it again after this game. The rushing game that has carried the Ravens in recent years was nowhere to be found. Jackson rushed for 62 yards, but the running backs gained just 24 yards on 11 carries (they did catch seven passes for 62 yards) and the Ravens reached a point where they were so far down they had to throw. That's when Jackson took over with his arm. He was masterful, unstoppable, pick an adjective. "One of the greatest performances I've ever seen," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. He completed 37 of 43 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns, and those crazy-great numbers don't even do justice to the way he dropped back on play after play and coolly went through his progressions until he found open receivers and hit them. "He's seeing the game really well. He's throwing darts," said tight end Mark Andrews, his favorite target. Jackson put it like this: "I was locked in. I was calm. Everything was moving slow." The rest of the AFC will read that and say, "Uh, oh." Because, for sure, a dynamic passer has sprouted in Baltimore.
After the Ravens' playoff loss in Buffalo last year, Jackson told the front office that he needed to get better, but also, that he needed more receiving targets if he was truly going to make the passing game go. The organization has endeavored to make that happen, and the fruits of their labor were evident in this game, as nine different Baltimore receivers caught at least two passes. Yet there's no doubt where Jackson looked when he really needed a completion – to Andrews and Marquise Brown, his favorite targets last year, this year and always. The result was monster games for both, a combined 20 catches for 272 yards and four touchdowns. They did their damage late, with all but four of those combined catches coming after halftime, and the effect was to reinforce that they'll be among the biggest beneficiaries of the ramped-up passing game. Many observers have long viewed Andrews as ranking just below the top tier of tight ends; that might be changing. As for Brown, who caught the winning touchdown, yes, he had a blip in Detroit, but look closely: He already has five touchdown catches and is etching the outline of a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale and his unit aren't going to enjoy reviewing the tape of this one. It was a rough night. An Indianapolis offense ranked No. 21 in the league flat-out bullied Baltimore's defense, generating 29 first downs and 513 yards. The Colts scored on their first possession of the first half, their first two possessions of the second half and four straight possessions at one point, seemingly driving a stake into the Ravens' heart until Jackson started engineering a comeback. There was trouble everywhere. Colts quarterback Carson Wentz was under little pressure and threw for a career-high 402 yards. His receivers were open again and again, especially in the middle of the field. The Colts' backs shed tacklers and gained yardage in chunks. Even when the unit rose up and made a late stop with the score tied, a penalty gave the Colts new life and a chance to try a game-winning field goal. (Which sailed wide.) Calais Campbell was right when he said winning makes it seem better, and he also was right when he said there's a lot to clean up. No doubt about it.
Short takes: It's almost easy to forget amid the craziness of the comeback, but the Ravens now have sole possession of first place in the AFC North after winning four straight games … After playing well through the first month of the season, cornerback Anthony Averett had a rough night in coverage … Just like the Ravens' prior two opponents, the Colts stacked their defensive interior, daring the Ravens to beat them through the air. The strategy worked well for most of the night, until it didn't. It'll be interesting to see when opposing defenses finally start figuring the Ravens are going to pass as much as they run … In 2021, no week is complete for the Ravens without more injuries. This time, rookie guard Ben Cleveland was carted off with a knee injury and wide receiver Sammy Watkins left with a hamstring injury. Cleveland's departure hits the Ravens where their depth is already being tested … The 400-yard passing game was Jackson's first in the NFL.