Five thoughts on the Ravens' 24-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium:
A loss would have been easily explained. A bunch of starters didn't practice all week due to COVID-19. Key players were missing, especially on defense. The offensive line was overwhelmed by the Colts' super-fast defense in the first half. It just felt like one of those Sundays when the Ravens had too much going against them. Even though they were somehow just three points behind at halftime, things didn't look good. What happened? The Ravens had another gear and the Colts didn't. Lamar Jackson and the offense picked up the tempo and started moving the ball, controlling the clock for vast stretches. A deficit became a lead, and then, a bigger lead, which the Ravens' shorthanded and inspired defense had no trouble protecting. In the end, it added up to one of the Ravens' most important and satisfying wins of the season, not just another "W." They've struggled when playing from behind and when faced with on-field adversity, as many analysts have noted. This was a response to that criticism, and if you want to take it as a sign the team is toughening, I won't argue. "It took a lot of courage and mental toughness to win that game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
The offense hasn't experienced many truly awful periods since Jackson became the quarterback. But the unit's performance in the first half Sunday was just that, truly awful. The line was dominated. Jackson and the backs had nowhere to run. The passing game was ineffectual. The offense generated no points and just 55 yards. It was quite a comedown from the record-setting performances of a year ago, and you couldn't help wondering if a crisis point of sorts was at hand. But at halftime, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman made a key decision: Let's pick up the tempo. Play out of the no-huddle on some downs and make quicker judgments on others. "It caught the defense off guard," Jackson said. Quite simply, everything changed. Jackson didn't miss a pass in the second half, hitting on all 10 of his attempts. The line gave him time to throw and also wore down the Colts' front. Jackson and backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards began to make gains. Incredibly, the Ravens had the ball for 32 of the first 36 offensive snaps after halftime, a period in which they turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead. The decision to change tempo was decisive.
All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey was out due to a positive COVID-19 test. Inside linebacker L.J. Fort was out with a finger injury. A bunch of defensive players hadn't practiced all week. Then Calais Campbell limped off the field with a calf injury on the third play of the game and never returned. Add it all up and, no doubt, this was a test of the defense's depth and resilience. Well, Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's unit aced the test. There was a lot going on, but bottom line, no one panicked. After giving up an early touchdown, the defense steadily stiffened and gave up little the rest of the way. Chuck Clark's stunning fumble return and Marcus Peters' second-half interception were difference-makers, but so were the performances of linemen Justin Madubuike and Justin Ellis, inside linebackers Malik Harrison and Chris Board and cornerback Terrell Bonds – guys who had to step in due to the absence of so many others. Meanwhile, Matthew Judon had seven tackles and a key fourth-down pressure, Derek Wolfe had his best game of the season and Jimmy Smith was flawless as Humphrey's replacement. "A lot of checkmarks deserve a lot of credit" on that side of the ball," Harbaugh said.
You could make the case that the game turned for good on, of all things, a replay challenge early in the third quarter. The Ravens trailed by three points and they were reeling after a long drive by the offense to start the second half had ended with a crushing turnover, a Gus Edwards fumble at the 6-yard line. The Colts' Philip Rivers tossed up a long pass that appeared to fall incomplete after passing through Peters' hands. But Harbaugh threw the red challenge flag, and sure enough, thanks to the fine-print details of the catch rule, Peters actually had intercepted the ball. The Ravens took possession and quickly drove to the touchdown that gave them the lead for good. Harbaugh has won his share of replay challenges over the years, but it's hard to remember one that came so out of nowhere and ended up making such a difference. It was interesting to hear Harbaugh recreate his decision-making after the game. He thought initially that Peters had held onto the ball "for awhile." His assistants watching in the booth agreed. Viewing the play on the stadium scoreboard gave him the confidence to throw the flag. The game was never the same.
Short takes: Harbaugh took and won another gamble when the offense went for it on fourth-and-3 near midfield later in the third quarter. The conversion led to the touchdown that gave Baltimore a 21-10 lead. Harbaugh had a very good day … The Ravens had as many penalty yards as offensive yards in the first half (55) but also turned that around in a big way with zero penalties after halftime … Rivers is a future Hall of Famer who has broken the Ravens' hearts on multiple occasions, but he was held largely in check while registering just a 62.8 passer rating. He did miss his top receiver, T.Y. Hilton, who was out with a groin injury … Kudos to the Colts' rushing defense, which came in ranked second in the league, yielding an average of just 3.4 yards per carry. The Ravens averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt and that seldom happens … The Ravens have won 10 straight road games, quite a feat.
Baltimore took down the Colts, 24-10, with a second-half surge.