Five thoughts on the Ravens' 19-3 win over the New York Jets Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Could've Been Bigger Blowout, But Needed Win
It was a crossroads game for the Ravens. A loss would effectively quash their realistic playoff chances. A win would move them up in the race for the AFC's last wild-card spot. Early on, it was apparent the win was there for the taking, mostly because the Ravens defense simply was too much for Geno Smith, the Jets' rookie quarterback, who was missing his favorite receiver. But of course, the Ravens have not taken advantage of promising circumstances on several occasions in 2013. This time, they did. The defense made Smith and the Jets offense look so bad that you had to wonder how the visitors came in with a .500 record. If not for the Ravens' so-so offense going 0-for-4 in the red zone, the game would have been a bigger blowout. It wasn't always pretty, but it gave the Ravens the result they needed and then some. Suddenly, they're part of a six-way tie for the top spot in the race for that wild card spot.
What This Game Means For Tyrod
Ravenstown will be buzzing now that the coaches have given backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor some snaps, with generally positive results. For clarity's sake, let's state what it likely means – and doesn't mean – going forward. It doesn't mean Taylor should supplant Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback. That's a ridiculous suggestion. With his arm, size and experience, Flacco made something out of nothing on a half-dozen plays Sunday. He is by far the more dangerous overall playmaker. Oh, and he did lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory, if you recall. But Taylor can provide an effective change of pace with his quickness and different skills, especially in short yardage and red-zone situations. Flacco made it clear after the game that he is no fan of giving up his spot and lining up at wide receiver ("I would rather line up under center") but I see nothing wrong with judiciously mixing in Taylor when the circumstances are right. It makes the offense more unpredictable and seemingly gives it a jolt. In a year when points have been hard to come by, why not give a guy with Taylor's talents a chance to touch the ball?
Why Jones Is Important
The Ravens deemed big plays from Jacoby Jones such a crucial part of their success in 2012 that they spared him in their post-Super Bowl purge of veterans, thinking he could provide more of the same this season. But until Sunday, Jones had done little in 2013 that reminded anyone of 2012, admittedly in part because of the knee injury he suffered in the season opener. Finally, though, the Ravens saw on Sunday why they brought Jones back. He piled up 249 all-purpose yards on 11 overall touches (five punt returns, four pass receptions and two kickoff returns), and it wasn't a coincidence that the Ravens won. They haven't been getting big plays from anyone other than Torrey Smith and occasionally Tandon Doss, and yes, it was a problem; if you never get big plays, you have to grind away for all your points on long drives, a tough task that can suffocate an offense. Flacco's big pass to Jones (right over Ed Reed) provided the kind of knockout blow the Ravens have lacked all season. What a difference it makes.
Payback Game For Defense
In talking about his defense, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh hauled out the D-word. "It was a dominating performance," he said. No doubt. The Jets went 1-for-12 on third downs and didn't sniff the red zone in the last three quarters. They had no shot once they were more than one score behind. Listening to the Ravens' defensive players, it seemed the performance was a payback of sorts for recent games that have gotten away. "It's about time we close out a game and suffocate people," Elvis Dumervil said. Lardarius Webb explained that the unit's mindset was to go out and "win a game on our own," without help from other units. Well, the other units did help Sunday, but the defense carried the day. It is playing some good football. But let's be honest, it had some help Sunday, playing a turnover-prone rookie quarterback in wind gusts reaching 40 mph. Upcoming games against Pittsburgh and Detroit will provide a better measure* *of whether the defense is truly becoming a dominating unit.
When you look inside the numbers, Justin Tucker's streak of 22 straight field goals is even more impressive. Six of his "makes" have been from 40-49 yards, and four from 50 yards and over. So almost half of the 22 have been from 40 yards and out, including Sunday's 53-yarder … Ed Reed's second return to M&T Bank Stadium was slightly more interesting than his first in September. He knocked a touchdown pass out of Jones' hands, a nice play, but he was beaten on Jones' long touchdown and overall had one tackle and four assists. Pretty quiet … For the record, Harbaugh explained that Flacco's second-quarter interception was attributable to "a route that wasn't run exactly right," rather than an errant throw … The Ravens are now 4-1 at home and 1-5 on the road heading into Thursday night's home showdown with Pittsburgh.