Five thoughts on the Ravens' 20-12 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ugly Win Beats The Alternative
This was not one to frame and hang on the wall. Favored by two touchdowns against a 2-11 team that hadn't won a road game in 378 days, the Ravens were pressed all day, behind at halftime and sweating the outcome until the final moments. I'm giving the Jaguars some of the credit for the fact that the game was so close. They absorbed an early blow, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, the kind of thing that can lead to an awful day, but they rebounded nicely. Their offense controlled the ball early, running 33 of the game's first 42 plays. Their defense stopped the Ravens' running game pretty much cold. Their coaches had a blast, trying an onside kick, a fake punt, pretty much everything except a statue-of-liberty play. But the Ravens also helped keep the game close by losing a fumble, dropping a few passes, missing two field goals and committing nine penalties, mistakes that Head Coach John Harbaugh called "self-inflicted wounds." A couple more and the Ravens might have lost. They survived because their pass rush took over the game, their defense never allowed a touchdown and Joe Flacco manufactured just enough points with minimal help from his running game. The Ravens certainly didn't accrue any style points, but a win, no matter how ugly, beat the alternative.
Such A Thing As Injury Virus?
I'm really starting to wonder if there's such a thing as an injury virus. How else can you explain what keeps happening to the Ravens' defensive backs? A week after Danny Gorrer was lost for the season with a knee injury, the Ravens lost two more defensive backs, safety Terrence Brooks and cornerback Asa Jackson, to knee injuries Sunday. Neither looks good. And that's on top of Jimmy Smith's season-ending foot injury in October, an earlier injury (foot) that sidelined Jackson for eight weeks and the back troubles that sidelined Lardarius Webb in September. As the Ravens drive for a playoff spot, their secondary is in constant flux, changing from week to week. It's no way to gain traction, but what can you do? Jackson, who had just returned to the lineup last week, was having a strong game until he went down. His replacement, Rashaan Melvin, had never played in an NFL game until he stepped in for Jackson. He seized his chance with gusto, contributing four tackles and a pass defended in one quarter of action. He's tall and strong and played to the crowd like a veteran, raising his arms when he made plays. It was nice to see the enthusiasm. I'm thinking we'll see more of Melvin going forward as long as he doesn't contract the injury virus.
2-0 Without Haloti Ngata
The Ravens are now 2-0 without Haloti Ngata, the centerpiece of their defensive interior, who is serving a four-game suspension for using a performance-
enhancing drug. I thought they would have more trouble replacing their Pro Bowl tackle, but rookie Timmy Jernigan is filling in impressively. On Sunday, he was stout against the run and consistently brought pressure up the middle on passing plays. His stat line said it all – four combined tackles, two sacks, and five quarterback hits, the latter a team high on a day when everyone unloaded on Jacksonville's Blake Bortles. The Jaguars ran the ball effectively early, gaining 53 yards on the ground in the first quarter, but they managed just 29 yards rushing in the last three quarters, which was precisely why the Ravens' pass rush could go after Bortles so aggressively. "We didn't change anything. They just executed better early. We turned it around," Jernigan said of shutting down the Jags on the ground as the game wore on. As for his own performance, he said, "When you get an opportunity, you have to make the most of that opportunity."
Jaguars Discover Formula For Slowing Ravens Offense
For the first time in awhile, the Ravens' running game was virtually no factor until the very end. It was a surprise because the Jaguars entered the game with the league's fifth-worst run defense, but Jacksonville won battles up front, leaving Justin Forsett no room to run. The Ravens had 13 yards on the ground at halftime, a startling total. When a holding call on a running play short-circuited Baltimore's first drive of the third quarter, Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak obviously had seen enough. The Ravens got the ball back, trailing by two points, and went pass, run, pass, pass, pass, pass on an 80-yard touchdown drive that was the difference in the game. Flacco went 5-for-5 for 64 yards on the drive, which ended with a three-yard scoring toss to tight end Owen Daniels. Kubiak returned to a more balanced approach after that without producing points, and he hammered the ground game with better results as the Ravens closed things out. The lesson? If you want to slow down the Ravens' top 10 offense, stop them on the ground.
The Ravens have not allowed a touchdown in seven quarters … Their next opponent, the Houston Texans, suffered a major loss Sunday when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went out with a leg fracture in Indianapolis. It looks like backup Tom Savage will start for Houston against the Ravens next Sunday ... Of all the penalties that cost the Ravens, the most annoying was the 5-yard delay-of-game on a field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter. It was going to be a 49-yard attempt, and Justin Tucker hasn't missed inside the 50 all year. But his 54-yarder hit an upright, keeping the Jaguars five points behind with a chance to win if they broke off a big play (which they did not).
Check out the best photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens battle the Jaguars!