Five thoughts on the Ravens' 23-16 victory over the Houston Texans Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Wasn't an Ideal Performance, But Ravens Found Some ConsistencyLet's see if I can sum this complicated thing up. The defense didn't bring its "A" game by any means, but at least it was in "bend but don't break" mode, and it closed strong. The offense couldn't sustain drives and struggled so much that it heard boos in the fourth quarter of a playoff-drive game, but at least it delivered a few sparkling plays that produced points. There were almost 100 yards in penalties, a disturbing development, but there also was a 3-0 edge in turnovers, which probably made the difference. So: some good, some not so good, but in the end, all that mattered was it added up to a victory that the Ravens needed to stay on top of the race for the AFC's second wild-card spot. They hadn't won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season, so the first Monday Night Football contest at M&T Bank Stadium since 2012 was all about establishing some measure of consistency. Mission accomplished, I guess. But this was far from ideal.
Ravens Don't Win Without Two Longest-Tenured Vets
You could say the, ahem, longest-tenured Ravens (I won't say old) made the difference. Sam Koch, a Raven since 2006, not only set up the team's first touchdown with a completion on a fake punt, but also, for the second straight week, dropped five punts inside the 20-yard line, forcing Houston to continually drive long distances to score points. Terrell Suggs, a Raven since 2003, came through when it felt as if the game might slip away midway through the fourth quarter. As Houston's offense drove, threatening a score that would give the visitors the lead, Suggs crashed in on the quarterback and forced a fumble with his second sack of the night. The Ravens' struggling offense managed to convert the break into a field goal, which gave Baltimore a seven-point lead and eased the tension in the final minutes. Suggs conceded after the game that he is playing some of his best football at age 35, and Koch, also 35, has painted special-teams masterpieces the past two weeks. Score one for the, ahem, locker room elders. (Again, I won't say old.)
Ravens Need More From Offense for Realistic Super Bowl Run
On a night when Houston's offense produced drives of 90, 66, 65 and 56 yards, Baltimore's longest drive was just 50 yards. The fake-punt completion from Koch to Chris Moore set up one touchdown, and another fourth-down play, a surprising pitch to Alex Collins, went for 29 yards and set up another touchdown. Otherwise, it was an uninspiring night for the offense. If the passing game was ever going to explode in 2017, this was the game for it. Houston was ranked No. 26 in the league in pass defense, and had allowed 22 touchdown passes in 10 games. But Joe Flacco failed to connect on several deep passes and spent most of the night either handing off or throwing short passes that failed to move the chains. Though happy about winning, he obviously was unhappy about the conservative nature of the offense. "We can win games playing like this," Flacco said, but added that the goal is to go far in the playoffs, not just get there, and "it's not super realistic" to think the Ravens can win the Super Bowl with their offense playing like this. I'm not going to argue with that frank assessment after a game in which the Ravens converted just three of 14 third downs into firsts. They need to do better than that to make something substantive happen this season.
DeAndre Hopkins Gave Ravens Fits, But Never Scored
The play of the Ravens cornerbacks has been excellent all season, in some ways the backbone of the entire team, but they had a rough time keeping up with Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, who grabbed seven catches for 125 yards and also drew several penalties worth quite a bit more yardage. After barely being targeted all season, Jimmy Smith gave up several big plays, as did Brandon Carr. (Marlon Humphrey barely played because of a leg injury.) Appropriately, the Ravens simply tipped their cap to Hopkins after the game. "The kid is real. That kid can play," Suggs said. The good news for the Ravens on that front was they kept Hopkins out of the end zone, and in fact, didn't allow a touchdown in the final 53 minutes. It's worth noting that the organization was determined to build a defense that could finish close games more effectively after several late leads were lost in 2016. On this night, the Ravens forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter and walked off as winners.
Although Collins had 16 carries, Danny Woodhead and Javorius Allen combined for nine carries as the Ravens went with more of a three-headed monster at running back. It worked nicely, as the ground game produced 139 yards and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. Expect more of the monster going forward … Woodhead also had four receptions and finished with 45 total yards on eight touches. Expect his role to continue to expand … Breshad Perriman was active but failed to make a catch on two targets. Chris Moore saw more action as the No. 3 receiver … Moore, by the way, was the one who made the fake punt work. He was covered when Koch released the pass, but he scrambled after the ball and snagged the catch, setting up the Ravens' first score with what Head Coach John Harbaugh called a game-changing play.
Check out the best photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens host the Texans on Monday Night Football.