Five thoughts on the Ravens' 20-12 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
After the Ravens started slowly on offense, with a pair of three-and-outs and a fumble, they were down by a touchdown and you could almost hear the doubts being whispered around the rain-soaked stadium. Is it time to put Joe Flacco in? Remember how well Flacco played in the rain earlier this season? Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh stayed patient, letting the game develop. "It's a long game; you can't get rattled," Harbaugh said. It was the right approach. The offense cranked into gear with Lamar Jackson using his legs and arm to engineer a handful of long scoring drives that controlled the clock. The defense was dominant, keeping Tampa Bay's prolific offense out of the end zone over the final 42 minutes. In the end, the game provided a classic distillation of how – and why – the Ravens are rolling since Jackson became their quarterback. The style is anything but typical in today's NFL, but it is producing a level of consistency that has eluded the Ravens in recent seasons. You know what you're going to get from them. They're definitely no fun to play against. Let's see how far they can go with it.
Just to be clear about what happened: Jackson took over this game. After that slow start, he made play after play to keep drives going and keep Tampa Bay's high-octane passing offense (ranked No. 1 in the league) off the field. Sometimes, he spun away from defenders about to sack him and sprinted downfield for gains. Other times, he dropped back and threw strikes to receivers just beyond the first-down sticks. Were there times when he looked like a rookie making his fifth pro start? Sure, never more than early, when he lost a fumble and was lucky not to throw an interception. But "nothing rattles him," Ravens safety Eric Weddle said, and as the game developed, he was the fastest and best player on the field. Every time the Bucs took the lead, he immediately led the offense to a score that put Baltimore back in front, a habit Harbaugh called "just tremendous." He ended up rushing or passing for 226 of the Ravens' 370 total yards, which is impressive, but his best number was the team's 10-for-17 conversion figure on third and fourth downs. That's how you control the clock, control the game and win.
Although the Bucs are going nowhere in 2018, their offense can pile up the yards and points. The Ravens' defense departed from its typical patterns in limiting that offense to just one touchdown, 12 first downs and 157 passing yards. Sacks? Just one this time. Quarterback hits? Just four, 11 less than last week. But things went well in the red zone, which has been one of the defense's few weak areas this year, at least statistically. Coming in, it had allowed a touchdown 65 percent of the time, giving them a No. 25 league ranking. The Bucs made three trips inside the 20 Sunday but reached the end zone just once, settling for field goals otherwise. Do the math: the difference between three and seven points on those trips was the difference in the score. The key stop came after Cyrus Jones muffed a punt to set the Bucs up deep in Baltimore territory in the third quarter. They were down by eight, in position to possibly tie the score, but the Ravens held them to a field goal. The defense also fared well Sunday in what has been another problem area, namely, stopping opposing tight ends. The Bucs' Cameron Brate has made a bunch of plays this year, especially in the red zone, but the Ravens held him to one catch for nine yards.
At halftime, the stat sheet showed the Ravens with a nearly even run-pass balance. They'd run the ball 17 times and tried to pass it 18 times. They led by a point, but it was a bit of a departure from how they've rolled lately. They went back to the run after halftime, though, and used it to hammer Tampa Bay down the stretch. Of their 39 snaps in the final two quarters, 32 were rushes. That's pretty much exactly how they want things to unfold on offense. As much as they're relying on their ground game these days, they know they can't win with it alone, so they ask Jackson to make plays with his arm early in the game. Once he has established he can do that, the opponent can no longer "stack the box" with defenders, giving the running game a chance to prosper.
Short takes: Harbaugh almost never criticizes a player, but he couldn't avoid it when asked about Jones' muffed punt. "We're just going to move on from that because it was so bad," he said … Nine of the Bucs' 12 points were set up by Baltimore turnovers … What numbers best illustrate how the Ravens controlled the clock? Their four scoring drives encompassed 16, 8, 10 and 15 plays. They also ran out the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter with a 12-play. 57-yard possession that ended with kneel-downs. Came in handy in a one-score game … Gus Edwards surpassed 100 yards rushing for the third time in the past five games … Love this quote from Weddle on Jackson: "He's tough as nails. He gets hit 20 times a game."