Ravens Leave Loss in Rearview Mirror With Decisive Win Over Colts
John Harbaugh’s paternal grandfather, Bill, was an awful driver, and as a tumultuous week dawned for the Baltimore Ravens, the coach felt compelled to share as much with his players.
His grandfather, Harbaugh told them, couldn’t pull in or out of the garage without scraping the paint or battering the wood. When it was gently mentioned that his car lacked a rearview mirror, Bill huffed an explanation: “I don’t need to know where I’m coming from. I need to know where I’m going.”
The Ravens’ convictions are cloaked by a sort of blind faith, the expectation that they can summon a critical play, an efficient drive or a dominant half of football when they need to simply because they can — because they know where they are going. As their season teetered on Sunday, the Ravens mustered all three in a second-half reversal that dazed the Indianapolis Colts.
For Baltimore, the result — a 24-10 victory — mattered greatly. The win, after a last-second loss to its A.F.C. North rival Pittsburgh last week, reasserted the Ravens’ presence as a contender in the rugged conference and impeded the path of the Colts (5-3) in the playoff chase. But from the Ravens’ perspective, how they managed to win Sunday mattered just as much.
“They understood the gravity of the win,” Harbaugh said. “They understood how tough that win was.”
It was tough because the Ravens played without two starting offensive linemen who were hurt last week; the All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who tested positive for the coronavirus last week; and the Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, who left early in the first quarter with a calf injury. It was tough because in the first half, the Colts stymied quarterback Lamar Jackson and the league’s most productive running offense like no other team had this season, holding Baltimore to 18 rushing yards. And it was tough because the Ravens, for all their offensive dynamism and defensive might, had lost 20 straight games when down at halftime.
When Baltimore (6-2) ran onto the field for the second half Sunday, after it had scored a defensive touchdown to trail, 10-7, it faced the fulcrum of its season: A second consecutive loss could have shoved the Ravens three games behind the Steelers in the division and reinforced the belief that Jackson beats only inferior teams, a notion propagated by the Ravens’ playoff loss to Tennessee last season and perpetuated by defeats this year to Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
After a drive in which the Ravens fumbled on first-and-goal from the Colts’ 3-yard line, the game turned four minutes into the second half on an Indianapolis pass that was initially ruled incomplete. But Harbaugh challenged the call, believing that cornerback Marcus Peters, who caught the ball while backpedaling, held on to it long enough to establish possession before it was dislodged. The call was overturned — Peters was adjudged to have controlled it and taken three steps — and after regaining possession, Baltimore recalibrated.
By picking up the tempo, the Ravens reduced the efficacy of Indianapolis’s sideline-to-sideline speed. They scored touchdowns on consecutive drives, on a 1-yard run by Gus Edwards and a 9-yard keeper from Jackson on a series that had been extended by J.K. Dobbins’s 4-yard run on fourth-and-3 from the Indianapolis 43.
“That’s a tough one to pull the trigger on,” Harbaugh said, but he trusted the play, and he trusted Jackson to make the proper read.
The natural inclination is to presume that a player like Jackson, after smashing records and bamboozling defenses and collecting awards, continues ascending at a steady, deadly rate. That his off-season represented a tantalizing respite between M.V.P. seasons, and that in every game he further redefines a position already bent to his will.
Except that a player’s development is rarely linear. Quarterbacks, especially. Jackson remains as elusive as ever, but his passing proficiency has waned. Entering Sunday, he had completed less than 60 percent of his throws in four of his previous five games, and he was coming off throwing two interceptions as part of a four-turnover day against Pittsburgh.
Against the Colts, Jackson completed all 10 second-half passes — “just keeping it going,” he said — to finish 19 of 23 for 170 yards. He also ran for 58 yards, regrouping after a dismal first quarter, when Baltimore failed to net even a single rushing yard. In the second quarter, the Ravens completed a miserable trifecta — stuffed run, sack, holding penalty — to encounter a third-and-35. The totality of the carnage represented the Ravens’ worst offensive first-half showing since their playoff loss to Tennessee. If not for Chuck Clark’s fumble return for a touchdown, Baltimore wouldn’t have scored at all.
But then Baltimore shut out Indianapolis in the second half and Matthew Judon all but extinguished the Colts’ hopes by hitting Philip Rivers to force an incompletion on fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 16 with 5 minutes 34 seconds remaining. The Ravens gathered in a jubilant locker room, where their general manager, Eric DeCosta, used the word “fortitude” to describe Sunday’s win.
At the midway point of their season, the Ravens are positioned well. They are within reach of Pittsburgh. They’re still among the best teams in the N.F.L. They know where they are coming from, and they like where they are going.
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