Justin Tucker game winner/ Shawn Hubbord/BaltimoreRavens.com
Hello friends and welcome back to The Crow's Nest, your virtual Baltimore Ravens sports bar.
It's been a few weeks since the bar has been open. We missed out on the Bengals coming into M&T Bank Stadium and blowing the doors off of our boys two weeks ago. A bye last week gave us a chance to go apple picking with the family but we're back behind the bar again as the rare opportunity of a familiar color uniform visited Baltimore in the Minnesota Vikings. These two teams don't play often, but it comes down to the final play when they do it more often than not. The two teams have played each other four times since 2005 and each game was settled by a touchdown or less. Today would be no different. The Ravens clawed their way from two scores down and managed to win in a nail-biter in overtime, 34-31 as Baltimore moves to 6-2 and lays claim to a two-game lead in the AFC North midway through the 2021-22 season. Today was the third overtime game of the season for the Ravens and are now 2-1 in extra time this year. In a wacky Sunday of NFL action that saw both the Bills and the Cowboys high-powered offenses get neutered by the Jaguars and the Broncos, Baltimore avoided the upset bug and now has a short week as they travel to Miami this Thursday night. Here are a few things I saw during the game today that bode well as we hit the midway point of the season and some issues that the Ravens still need to correct if they want to make it to Los Angeles for the Super Bowl. Again, this team will kill us all with all of these last-minute wins and losses.
Adjusting on the Fly
College basketball personality Jon Rothstein likes to call Seton Hall head basketball coach Kevin Willard, "the chiropractor", for all the in-game adjustments he makes during the flow of the game (speaking of, College Hoops Digest and House Enterprise have merged!) The Ravens seem to be a team of chiropractors this season as they've managed to make the necessary adjustments more often than not as the game progresses. I was getting a flashback of the Bengals blowout early today as Kirk Cousins hit Justin Jefferson on a fifty-yard touchdown bomb with 8 minutes left in the first quarter.
It looked like it was going to be a big day for the Minnesota offense as on their next possession Dalvin Cook rumbled for a 60 yard run in setting up an easy score for the Vikings offense. The Ravens offense was sputtering in the first half and another big play and touchdown before halftime could have put the game away early for the visitors. The defense was able to adjust and held the Vikings to just a field goal on their next three possessions before halftime. Veteran linebacker Josh Bynes made a few key tackles to stop Cook and the secondary kept the receivers to short gains as Minnesota went a bit conservative in their offense to end the half. After running the second-half opening kickoff into the end zone for a touchdown, the Ravens defense had the Vikings punt twice while the Baltimore offense scored three touchdowns in the third and the latter part of the fourth quarter before Minnesota managed to score a game-tying touchdown with three minutes left in regulation. In overtime, after a Lamar Jackson interception, the defense made the Vikings go 3 and out in one of the most impressive stands of the season.
The Passing Game Continues to Flourish
As a Ravens fan, I'm still not used to a Baltimore team that has very competent wide receivers. Hollywood Brown has made an amazing step forward this season and the chemistry that Jackson and Brown have is really a joy to watch. The emergence of first-round pick Rashod Bateman as one of Jackson's go-to receivers bodes well as Bateman made several key catches to keep drives going. The catch of the day was by return specialist and little used wide receiver Devin Duvernay who made this ridiculous one-handed grab to tie the game in the 4th quarter.
In the game-winning drive in overtime, Jackson hit Brown for a 20 and a 13 yard gain en route to the winning field goal. It looks like the best improvement Brown has made to his game is the ability to go deep and as Jackson extends the play with his legs, Brown comes back and finds a gap in the secondary that he can sit on. Jackson's improvement in keeping his eyes downfield and the ability to spot Brown and get him the ball makes the Baltimore passing game a legitimate weapon. I can't wait to see what happens when Sammy Watkins comes back from his injury. Our receivers are fast, run good routes, and rarely drop the ball. Again, as a Ravens fan, this is something we have never had. Sure there's been the Torrey Smith's and Jacoby Jones that were plenty serviceable but these guys the Ravens are suiting up now, they really give opposing secondaries reasons to worry.
They Are Starting to Believe
For all of his faults and for being with this franchise for years, John Harbaugh still knows how to motivate his team. You see it often in the NFL where a quality head coach's message might grow stale. That moving on to greener pastures in the TV booth or a new city seems lucrative and an easy sell. Not John Harbaugh. He has managed to walk that tightrope of being a players coach while also having his players buy into their own accountability. While the defense is young and continues to develop, Harbaugh's patchwork in having the 'next man up" is crucial to this team that is already decimated with injuries. Losing safety DeShon Elliot to a season ending injury today is another obstacle to overcome.
With the Rams and Cowboys losing big at home today and the Bils losing to the lowly Jags on the road, I don't think I've ever seen more parity in the NFL than this season so far. It's a week to week league and while losing to the Vikings today wouldn't have been a shameful loss, there's the Dolphins this week and then into the teeth of divisional play with the Browns and the Steelers and the Rams and Packers still to come. Great teams, Super Bowl teams, gut wins out like the Ravens did today.
OK, the bar is closed for the night. We'll see everyone on Thirsty Thursday as we try to squish the fish down in South Florida. The last time the Ravens played down there in 2019, they won by the score of 59-10. It was the Lamar Jackson coming out party with five touchdown throws in the first game of his MVP season. I saw it live as I was at the game. Everyone in the visiting stands knew we had something special. Hopefully, more of the same Thursday.