Five thoughts on the Ravens' 23-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Clearly It Wasn't Pretty, But All That Matters Is Ravens Are in Good Playoff Position
To say it wasn't pretty or easy is an understatement. Needing a win that was crucial to their playoff hopes, the Ravens led the whole way, but couldn't finish off a 3-11 team playing out the string, producing plenty of anxious moments, especially at the end. But the Ravens did just enough right, just enough, to get the win they needed on a wet, windy evening. OK, you can exhale now. The underdog Colts moved the ball throughout the game, forced Baltimore's offense to settle for field goals that kept the score close, and unlike the Browns a week earlier, didn't just hand the game over with turnovers. In the end, the Indy offense was just 10 yards away from a touchdown that, let's face it, could have ruined Christmas around here. But the Ravens defense, after an unsettling day, rose up with a stop that made everything look better. "We really showed some character, some toughness, to do that with the game on the line," safety Eric Weddle said. There's plenty to pick apart, but honestly, all that matters now is the Ravens, to quote Bill Belichick, are "on to Cincinnati." A win over the Bengals in their season finale will put them in the playoffs. It's a nice position to be in.
Despite Settling for Field Goals, the Offense Moved the Ball and Delivered a Key Touchdown
There was a lot to like about the performance of the Ravens offense. Joe Flacco moved around so well he resembled Aaron Rodgers at times, and other than a couple of errant incompletions, he was on target and productive, passing for 237 yards and two touchdowns while generating a soaring 109.2 quarterback rating. The rushing game was blunted at times, but still went over 100 yards. Bottom line, the offense moved the ball, generating five drives of at least 10 plays while running up a 10-minute edge in time of possession. So why was it still a one-score game at the end? Because the Ravens couldn't finish enough of those long drives, settling three times for field goals. One of the stops was self-inflicted. On a third-and-1 in the red zone, instead of just running the ball, the Ravens tried a gadget play with a tackle and two other players split wide in front of a receiver. One defender blew the play up all by himself. Let's not call that one again. Otherwise, the Colts defense made timely plays to force field goals. But the Ravens offense came through at a key juncture, just as the defense did. Nursing a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter, it drove 75 yards to a touchdown, with Flacco hitting Maxx Williams for the score. "That was a sweet drive," Flacco said.
Ravens' Lack of Pass Rush Was Alarming Until Coming Through With Game on Line
Though a home game against a 3-11 opponent is just what a team on a playoff push wants, this wasn't an ideal matchup for the Ravens in one respect. They have feasted all year on teams that turn the ball over, and the Colts, despite their record, are careful with the ball. They also came into the game leading the league in allowing sacks, a clear indication that they'd rather see quarterback Jacoby Brissett just take a sack rather than force a throw and possibly suffer a pick. Like a lot of observers, I figured that meant the Ravens pass rush would have a huge day. But it didn't. In fact, the rush was missing in action for most of the game, and with Brissett as careful as ever – he didn't throw a pick – the Colts offense had plenty of success. "It wasn't our best game on defense," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. The absence of a pass rush was alarming, but like the Ravens' other phases, it also came through with the game on the line when Za'Darius Smith sacked Brissett to put the Colts in a fourth-and-10 hole at the Baltimore 17. Brissett's final pass to receiver T.Y. Hilton was defended by Maurice Canady, and that was that.
Young Receivers Answered Call With Jeremy Maclin Down
When receiver Jeremy Maclin was scratched with a knee injury, it prompted a major question: Could any Ravens wideout other than Mike Wallace be a factor in the game? The pressure was on Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro and Breshad Perriman to effectively replace Maclin. Early on, when Flacco surprisingly found Wallace running open for completions of 23 and 19 yards, it seemed the "replacements" might not be needed. But of course, the Colts adjusted, increasing their focus on Wallace and forcing Flacco to look to other targets. And the news there was good. Moore, Campanaro and Perriman combined to catch six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. With Wallace's totals added in, the receivers caught 10 passes for 124 yards, a very solid day.
Once again, Flacco didn't throw an interception. The fact that he's thrown just one in the Ravens' past four games is, no doubt, a key reason why they've been winning … Another way the Colts kept the game close was by avoiding penalties. Somewhat incredibly, they weren't flagged once in the first three quarters. They finally drew two flags in the fourth quarter, for pass interference and defensive holding, and both were quite damaging, enabling the Ravens to convert third downs into firsts on their 75-yard touchdown drive. The Ravens, meanwhile, only had five penalties for 25 yards in what was actually a very clean game … Tony Jefferson blocked a field-goal attempt early, giving the Ravens 13 blocked kicks since 2014 (tied for second-most in the league over that span) but the Colts got even with a late block of a Sam Koch punt … In a game that ended up close, it's worth noting that the Ravens fumbled the ball twice, but recovered both. Jaylen Hill fell on Campanaro's muffed punt, and Nick Boyle recovered an Alex Collins fumble on a running play. Had the Ravens lost one or both, the game might have unfolded quite a bit differently.
Check out the scenes from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens host the Colts in week 16 of the NFL season!