Lamar Jackson/USA Today (Tommy Gilligan)
Welcome back to The Crow's Nest your virtual Baltimore Ravens sports bar. Wow, what a game we all just watched. The joint was jumping. In front of a national TV audience, the Baltimore Ravens (1-1) somehow managed to claw a 36-35 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) on Sunday Night Football. It was a season-saving win as the Ravens were in danger of falling into an 0-2 hole and gave Lamar Jackson his first win over the Chiefs in four tries. Games like the one we watched on Sunday night are why the NFL is the absolute best. For sheer entertainment and drama, the Ravens and Chiefs produced a three-hour thriller that Hollywood could never match (well, Hollywood Brown maybe).
Let's talk about the four factors that led to the Ravens getting into the win column in the 2021-22 season and how important this game will be moving forward as a confidence builder getting into AFC North Conference play.
Lamar's Greatest Game
Well, the game didn't start well for Lamar Jackson as Tyrann Mathieu picked him off twice early in the first quarter as a sense of dread came over every Ravens fan. The Chiefs looked like they were going to run away with the game early and Jackson would be left with another loss over Mahomes and the Chiefs. Alas, there was something about tonight that was different about Jackson. Instead of falling deeper into a rut, he was able to fire off into a different level for the rest of his game. His numbers tonight were incredible. 239 yards passing and 107 yards rushing with two rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown. Every time the Ravens needed a play after the first quarter, Jackson was able to deliver it with either his legs or his arm. Ravens fans, we have to stop and admire what this man is doing. Jackson is literally giving up his body in order to win, absorbing hit after hit, bouncing right back up, and going at the defense again. He may win a Super Bowl, he may not but what I'll always appreciate about Jackson's game is his ability to put in all on the line when his team needs him. On that crucial 4th down conversion to ice the game, everyone knew Jackson would keep it and try to get that yard. Andy Reid knew it, the Chiefs defense knew it, hell the popcorn vendor at M&T Bank Stadium knew that Jackson was going to run that play. There was no denying him that yard. Jackson is fearless, sometimes to his detriment when he tries to make something out of nothing but tonight was a game that will at the very least give his critics one less thing that they can hang their hat on as he finally got his victory over Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Todd Olszewski/Getty Images
Not Your Usual Ravens Defense But it Will Be
Let's face a certain fact. If you're a person of a certain age like myself, your formidable years of Ravens fanhood had one certainty above everything else. The defense was the bedrock of the franchise. Players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs were counted on to make the plays that mattered as Baltimore's usual mediocre offense would put up just enough points to keep the Ravens in the game and then the defense would seal the win. What I've learned is I really did take those years of having Hall of Fame-caliber players on defense for granted. There may not be a Hall of Famer in this defense at the moment but you can see the progress that Patrick Queen has made at linebacker in his second year with seven tackles tonight or the impact that rookie Odafe Oweh has had in the first two games of his career with a sack in his first game against the Raiders and strip of Clyde Edwards-Helaire to stifle the Chiefs drive late in the fourth quarter.
Usually, giving up 35 points is nothing for a defense to celebrate but against Mahomes and the Chiefs, it was just enough for the Ravens to win. The identity of this team might be Jackson at the moment but there will be a time soon where Queen and Oweh can restore that swagger we were all used to from the Ravens defense. It could come sooner than you think.
John Harbaugh/BaltimoreRavens IG
Harbaugh Trusted His Players
It's fourth down with a minute and change left in the game. The Ravens offense had one yard to gain and if they get it the game is over. They get stopped short, the Chiefs' potent offense gets a short field and a chip shot field goal for the win. John Harbaugh had the most important regular-season decision of his career staring at him with only one timeout left. Go for it or punt and give the ball back to Mahomes. He asked his quarterback what he should do. He knew the answer that was coming but in his own mind, it was already made up. Go for it, don't voluntarily put the ball back in Mahomes' hands with the game on the line. It turned out to be the best decision he has ever made. Jackson easily got the yard and the Ravens ran out the clock. As much as the Ravens coaching sometimes gets me tied up in knots, tonight they seemed to make all the right calls. After Jackson's early interceptions, they simplified his schemes, worked out of the pistol and relied on the running game. The drive that gave them the lead was a workhorse of a drive, eating up the clock with the running game and kept Mahomes on the bench. As Harbaugh's mentor, Andy Reid, was across the sidelines from him, he outfoxed him where it mattered. In the game plan Harbaugh, Greg Roman on offense, and Wink Martindale drew up on defense it all played to the strengths of this year's Ravens team. They didn't blitz Mahomes, the secondary made Tyreek Hill a non-factor on offense, and the offense pounded the ball with Jackson, Ty'Shon Williams, and Latavius Murray. Harbaugh would have fallen on the grenade if the fourth down attempt failed but he used common sense when making that call. He trusted himself, his team, and his quarterback. Big trust is back in Baltimore.
Everything Improved in a Week
Wow, week one seems like it's so much in the past after tonight. Practically every problem that caused Ravens fans to toss and turn in their sleep after the shocking overtime loss to the Raiders last Monday night looked corrected in the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. The first credit has to go to the offensive line. They looked DOA against Las Vegas as the Raiders chased around Lamar for the entire game. This Sunday, the line was spectacular against the Chiefs. Jackson was only sacked once, the line opened up holes for the running game and they effectively bullied their way down the field. The second credit has to go to tight end Mark Andrews. On Raven's final drive in Vegas, Andrews dropped a crucial pass that would have kept the Baltimore drive going in overtime. There was criticism that Andrews couldn't handle the big stage. Tonight, Andrews made a crucial catch late in the game and with only one timeout left, vaulted over the Chiefs defender in order to get out of bounds and stop the clock. A money play and maybe a sign that Andrews is a prime-time player. The third credit is the unsung hero of the night in Hollywood Brown who had six receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown. In the span of the last seven games, Brown has either had a touchdown or over 90 yards receiving. To top it off, maybe the Raiders aren't bad? They handled the Steelers fairly easily in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon. Everyone in the AFC North is at 1-1 with the Ravens and Browns winning today and the Steelers and the Bengals taking losses against Las Vegas and Chicago.
As we move on week three against the Lions, I think the momentum from tonight's win will carry this team more than we realize. The narrative has changed again for Lamar Jackson. It was that he couldn't beat Tom Brady (done), couldn't win in the playoffs (done), and couldn't beat Mahomes (done). Go ahead, say he can't win a Super Bowl. Please, just say it. He's good about proving everyone wrong.
Until next week, the bar is closed. We're refurbishing our trophy case.