Five thoughts on the Ravens' 34-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys Tuesday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
After the unsettling events of the past few weeks, the Ravens desperately needed a win that brought some stability back to their season and also started what they hope is a late bid for a playoff berth. They got just what they needed. It wasn't the dominant performance some expected against a struggling opponent going nowhere in 2020, but that's actually not a shock considering a handful of key players were just returning from the Reserve/COVID-19 list with little practice time underfoot, while a handful of other key players are still ON the list. The Ravens' answer to having all that uncertainty was to keep it simple and rely on what they do best, i.e., run the ball – an especially effective plan against a Dallas defense ranked last in the league in rushing defense. The Cowboys moved the ball more than the Ravens wanted, but it didn't add up to anything because of how easily the Ravens controlled the game with their rushing attack. A win is a win, and no doubt, the Ravens really needed this one.
I've heard it suggested that the Ravens would have beaten the then-unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers last week if only Lamar Jackson had played. (The Washington Football Team beat them five days later.) It's an interesting thought, and of course, we'll never know. But the point is Jackson is a supreme difference-maker, and the point was reaffirmed Tuesday night as Jackson devastated the Cowboys even though he'd practiced little and spent time on the Reserve/COVID-19 list in recent weeks. Jackson said after the game that he didn't enjoy being sick ("I don't wish that on anybody") but did feel refreshed by what amounted to a midseason break – albeit one in which he mostly slept, he said. He certainly looked like a guy making a fresh start as he rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown and passed for 107 yards and two touchdowns. He did misfire on several pass attempts, including one to Miles Boykin when the receiver was open in the back of the end zone. But he also lobbed a perfect strike to Hollywood Brown for a touchdown, and most importantly, looked like he was having fun, which hasn't always been the case in 2020. With the Ravens needing big performances from him in order to make a December run, this was close to an ideal night, one he can build on.
I thought things had gotten as weird as they were going to get for the Ravens in 2020. Silly me. Wide receiver Dez Bryant was scratched shortly before kickoff Tuesday night when an inconclusive COVID-19 test led to his being re-tested, and finally, to his not being allowed to play. Bryant immediately vented his frustration on social media, and his disappointment was understandable, as it was no secret he was fired up to play the Cowboys, his former team. It would have made for good theater with, I'm guessing, a happy moment or two for Bryant against Dallas' struggling defense. Too bad. But although the timing was weird, Bryant's scratch was really just an example of the league's COVID-19 protocols in action, and needless to say, those protocols are important. Boykin, whose playing time had dwindled, received more snaps in Bryant's absence and made the most of the opportunity, catching a long touchdown pass from Jackson. That's really what the Ravens want to see at the position going forward – a bigger contribution from Boykin.
The return of Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell didn't quite turn the Ravens' rushing defense into a shutdown unit, as the Cowboys gained 111 yards on the ground and averaged 4.0 yards per attempt. But Williams and Campbell deserve kudos for playing even though their injuries still bothered them. And although other defensive starters had bigger performances (Derek Wolfe had nine combined tackles and DeShon Elliott had seven unassisted tackles) Williams had a hand in the game's decisive play. The Ravens trailed, 10-7, and the Cowboys had the ball with a chance to grow the lead. But Williams leapt and deflected an Andy Dalton pass, and as the ball wobbled, linebacker Patrick Queen swooped in and grabbed the interception. The Ravens then immediately turned the break into points as Jackson hit Boykin for a touchdown. They never trailed again. "You can't put a price on momentum-changers like that," Wolfe said of Williams' deflection.
Short takes: It was shocking to see Justin Tucker miss a 36-yard field goal attempt, as he'd hit 70 straight from inside 40 yards. But after watching the Cowboys' Greg Zuerlein also miss three attempts, it seemed pretty clear that the swirling winds were a beast … Pretty amazing that the first pass interference call of the season on a Baltimore opponent came in the second quarter of Week 12 when the Cowboys' Xavier Woods tackled tight end Luke Willson to deny a pass attempt over the middle … Some analysts expected the Ravens' pass rush to overwhelm the Cowboys' makeshift offensive line, but Baltimore only registered one sack on 49 Dalton dropbacks … The Ravens' season-best rushing performance included three gains of 30 or more yards.