Five thoughts on the Ravens' 19-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at Everbank Field:
Ravens Inventing Ways To Win, Instead Of Ways To LoseLet's see, the Ravens had the game in hand, then they let it slip away, then they grabbed it back just in time. It wasn't pretty, to say the least – losing three turnovers in the fourth quarter alone automatically disqualifies you from calling a win pretty – and the late-game twists and turns were enough to make even the most level-headed fan dizzy. But what mattered was the Ravens found a way to survive a crazy fourth quarter, enabling them to start a season with a 3-0 record for the first time since 2009 and just the third time in their history. The case can easily be made that it never should have come to that. The Ravens led by 10 points in the second quarter, by nine points in the third quarter. Joe Flacco completed 21-straight passes at one point, setting a franchise record. All along, it felt like a game the Ravens should win. But the offense couldn't finish drives, reaching the end zone just once, and it also struggled to convert third downs into firsts. The special teams experienced hiccups. The defense gave up some yards. In the end, the Jaguars forced late turnovers and had the game in hand. But when Brent Urban blocked a field-goal attempt, it gave the Ravens a chance to put the game in Justin Tucker's hands, or more accurately, on his feet – something they love to do. Tucker nailed the kick. No, the style points aren't there, but the difference from a year ago is stark. Instead of inventing ways to lose, the Ravens are inventing ways to win.
Ravens Defense Is Simply Better Than Last Year
In 60 minutes, the Ravens defense recorded half as many interceptions as it did all last season. It also stepped up with a flurry of sacks with the game on line. Asked to describe the difference from a year ago, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh gave the simplest of answers: "I think we're better. We're just better on defense." I do believe that's true. Even though the Ravens haven't faced top-notch competition, they're much tighter from top to bottom on that side of the ball. The run defense was stout again Sunday, allowing just 48 yards on 21 carries. That forced the Jaguars to win the game in the air. Blake Bortles had some success, especially picking on Shareece Wright, and he put enough points up (with some help from the Ravens) to give his team a late lead. But given several chances to ice the game, Bortles and his unit blinked. What happened was the Ravens pass rush, which had had been quiet, finally stepped up. "That was just guys not wanting to lose, period," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "We had enough of that last season." What a difference a year makes.
Numbers Don't Accurately Paint Joe Flacco's Day
Regarding Joe Flacco's day, I would say this: The numbers don't paint an accurate picture. Even though it looks bad that he threw two critical fourth-quarter interceptions, I don't really fault him for either. On the first, the ball was deflected when he tried to hit Dennis Pitta. On the second, his arm was hit as he threw and the ball popped into the air. Flacco also hit 21-straight passes, an impressive feat by any measure, sure to last for years as a club record, but it didn't produce a lot of points. A fair share of the completions came on low-risk "check-downs" that the Jaguars gave him. On several third downs, he threw well short of the first-down marker because he had no choice. Flacco didn't seem especially impressed with either his record or his offense's middling day, which included just one touchdown and a 3-for-13 performance on third downs. "We have to find ways to score more points," he said.
Special Teams Was Both Rough And Brilliant
It was a day of extremes for the Ravens special teams units, a mixture of rough and brilliant moments. Early in the game, several fourth-down penalties cost them excellent field position. Then, with the Ravens up by 10 points in the second quarter, a 42-yard punt return gave the Jaguars momentum and set up a touchdown that got them going. Then there was the worst mistake, a flubbed fair catch by returner Devin Hester in the fourth quarter, potentially a fatal mistake. The framework was in place for a "Special Teams Kind Of Lose It" storyline, but they rallied late. First, Urban rose up and blocked a field goal, giving the Ravens a final shot. Then after Flacco moved the ball into decent range, Tucker nailed the 54-yard game-winner. It's worth noting that the Ravens didn't really even try for another first down after they crossed midfield, pretty much leaving it up to Tucker to make a plus-50-yard kick to win, something he struggled to do in 2015. But not this year. They always have confidence in him, but it's even higher this year.
Terrell Suggs was quiet until he registered a pair of fourth-quarter sacks … The Ravens had the Jaguars to thank for three points at the end of the first half, which really mattered at the end. First, a roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-down incompletion kept a drive going. It appeared to lead to nothing when Tucker's 57-yard field-goal attempt fell short, but a leverage penalty wiped out the miss and gave Tucker another chance from 42 yards, which he nailed … The Ravens also started 3-0 in 2006 and 2009 and made the playoffs both years … A noticeably large contingent of Baltimore fans made the trip to Florida for the game … In another sign of progress in his return from a major knee injury, Flacco used his legs to reach the end zone, scoring on a 7-yard scramble in the first half.