Five thoughts on the Ravens' 40-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
The Ravens did just what a hot team (it's official now) pushing for a playoff spot is supposed to do to an opponent that hasn't won in three months. They started fast, kept their foot on the gas and had the win secured before halftime. It was over so quickly that one website that covers the Jaguars posted the news of another defeat late in the second quarter. (True story.) But the Ravens didn't just win; they used the game to polish several areas that have been under scrutiny. Their pass rush, which had been struggling, was a difference-maker. Their passing game, ranked No. 31 in the league, had a big day. Wide receiver Hollywood Brown, who'd dropped key passes in Cleveland six days earlier, had six catches for 98 yards, including a deep one. The Ravens have now won three straight games since their COVID-19 outbreak, and although the Jaguars aren't much of a challenge right now, this dominating performance will add to the notion that the Ravens are a dangerous team rounding into shape at just the right time.
There was a school of thought, not completely irrational, that the Jaguars could make things interesting with their passing game. Their quarterback, Gardner Minshew II, is a certified gunslinger, and the Ravens were without injured cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith. But the storyline never developed. Anthony Averett started at cornerback in his return from injured reserve and was solid, a testament to the importance of depth. But Minshew's biggest obstacle was the Ravens' pass rush, which was aggressive and physical in its best outing in several months. The tone was set almost immediately, when Matthew Judon sacked Minshew for a safety on the Jaguars' second offensive snap. As the game wore on, Yannick Ngakoue was all over Minshew, contributing a pair of sacks, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale had predicted Ngakoue was on the verge of a breakout, and Ngakoue surely was happy it came against his former team. Going forward, the Ravens will hope to see their pass rush build on Sunday's performance. The defense needs it.
Dez Bryant's Baltimore teammates have liked and respected him from the outset of his time here because of his work ethic and positive attitude. Bryant, 32, definitely is in the post-diva phase of his career, perhaps an inevitable development after he'd been out of the NFL for two years. But he isn't here to provide moral support; the Ravens think he can still make plays, and he made one Sunday when he reeled in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Lamar Jackson in the second quarter. It was his first trip to the end zone in three years, and not surprisingly given what he's been through, he asked for the ball as a memento. Bryant surely understands he is no longer in an offense that depends on him as the Cowboys did back in the day – only eight of the Ravens' 19 completions went to wide receivers Sunday, with the rest going to running backs and tight end Mark Andrews. But it's clear Bryant can still contribute as a red-zone target, a blocker and a third-down target. Given his fondness for big stages and the spotlight, he could be an asset in the coming weeks.
As the Ravens delivered the football version of a first-round knockout, building a 26-0 lead, it was easy to forget they were less than six days removed from playing and winning a physical and emotional road game. And that that game also had come at the end of a shortened week of practice due to their schedule being jumbled by their COVID-19 outbreak. The aftermath of that situation has been quite the whirlwind, with games being played on a Wednesday afternoon, a Tuesday night and a Monday night before this one, finally, on a Sunday afternoon – the fourth game in 19 days for the Ravens. But there were no outward signs of fatigue, and more importantly, no semblance of a letdown after the season-altering win in Cleveland. It's a testament to what the Ravens do best, which is stay focused and keep their attention on the matter at hand, i.e., the next game. Under Head Coach John Harbaugh, they seldom lose to the teams they're supposed to beat.
Short takes: The Jaguars' defense did a nice job of containing Lamar Jackson on the ground. As was the case earlier in the season, he couldn't get to the edge and had few lanes to run through. He had nine carries for just 17 yards before breaking one late for 18 yards to make his stat line look better. It was a group effort but Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack had seven unassisted tackles and drew postgame praise from Harbaugh … Raise your hand if you guessed tackle Tyre Phillips would have the longest run of the day (22 yards) for the Ravens. His bullish rumble with a fumble will live on for many years in highlight-reel infamy … The absence of their punter due to an illness hurt the Jaguars, who went for it unsuccessfully on a couple of fourth downs when they could have punted … Rookie linebacker Patrick Queen was extremely active for the Ravens, as evidenced by his stat line of six combined tackles, two quarterback hits, a sack and three tackles for loss … Ahead of Sunday's game against the Giants at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens will now have their first "normal" week of practice since the prelude to their Week 11 contest against the Tennessee Titans.