BALTIMORE — The comparisons for 2019 are already starting to accelerate for these Baltimore Ravens. Blowouts, Lamar Jackson's emphatic MVP statements, a loss to the Cleveland Browns, starting a winning streak, and up and down the list of impressive contributions.
On Sunday, the Ravens added another layer to those comparisons. The Ravens secured the AFC North title and the conference's No. 1 seed with a 56-19 victory over the top-scoring Miami Dolphins in history at M&T Bank Stadium. Just like they did last time in 2019, the Ravens' regular-season home finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers won't hurt them in the standings. It prepares for the playoffs.
said Ravens fullback Patrick Rickard, one of seven Baltimore players to score a touchdown Sunday and one of five to catch one from Jackson. “Mostly almost the same record. We are all very excited about how the season is going. We still have a long way to go.
With their recent road trip against a quality first-place team, the Ravens created a New Year's Eve celebration that continued into the fourth quarter and beyond for the 71,196 fans in attendance.
Relying on Jackson's brilliance and a defense that lingered through a slow start and countless injuries, the Ravens scored 42 of the game's final 48 points to turn a one-point game into a game in the second quarter. With his five touchdown passes, perfect 158.3 passer rating and 356 yards of total offense, Jackson may have put a bow on his second MVP award. But it was a team-wide demolition of the Dolphins, who came into the game with 11 wins and a chance to move into first place in the AFC.
“I don't know if I've ever seen a more impressive performance in a game,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who touched off the win by showing off some dance moves in the middle of a celebratory locker room. “I'm not sure I've seen a more impressive performance in a season to date. Obviously, we need to do more. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
Harbaugh, who hates any attempt to compare the current season to the past, didn't shy away from questions about 2019. That year, the Ravens finished the regular season with 12 straight wins. For the Browns. That year, Harbaugh sat several key players, including Jackson, in a Week 17 matchup with the Steelers. The Ravens were defeated by the Tennessee Titans 28–12 in their first playoff game.
This year, the Ravens have won six straight games since their Week 11 loss to the Browns and have won 10 of their last 11. At 13-3, they have a chance to rewrite that gut-wrenching four years ago.
“We're going to remember 2019. It's one we're not going to forget,” Harbaugh said. “You're not going to take it for granted. Not that we ever will, but it's still a matter of who you are in this moment. We don't forget that.”
The 2019 experience won't resonate with precocious rookie wide receiver Jay Flowers, who added a 75-yard touchdown catch to his season-long highlight reel on Sunday; Or esteemed captain Roquan Smith, whose A hand interrupt Tua Tagowailoa jump-started Miami's slump after a solid start; Or rising sophomore tight end Isaiah Likely, whose A two-touchdown afternoon His breakout continued since Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews went down.
But they all know the story of the league's most dominant team not winning a single playoff game in 2019. The scar tissue remains at the Ravens facility. If you've listened to Jackson in recent weeks, it's almost become a corporate rallying cry to “lock in” and stay aggressive.
“Lamar was talking yesterday and the day before. He kept saying, 'Change to February,'” said Ravens cornerback Arthur Moulette, one of several veteran general managers Eric DeCosta signed to modest contracts this offseason, who played a key role. Baltimore defensive backs Kyle Hamilton (knee) and Brandon Stephens (ankle). In their absence, Moulette was never more important to the Ravens than on Sunday, when they lost cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf) and safety Daryl Worley (stinger) to injuries during that stretch.
“That's our goal,” Moulette continued. “We say nothing less, nothing more. Do it until February. We have to play in February. We have to take responsibility for that.”
Jackson, who was basking in MVP chants for much of the afternoon, didn't let a smile break after the game. He has been driven by the idea of leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl since the 2018 night in which he was drafted by the team.
2019 seemed to be the year, but the Titans came to town. Jackson was so distraught by the loss that he did not leave his room for days. The Ravens never advanced further out of the playoffs.
“We've got to finish the season the right way,” Jackson said after completing 18 of 21 passes for 321 yards and rushing six times for 35 yards. “We've got a hurdle. We've cleared that hurdle. We've got the Steelers next week, so I'm focused on this season.
Harbaugh said he has considered whether to play Jackson and the starters against the Steelers next week, but a final decision will be made in the coming days. The Ravens were flat in their playoff game against the Titans after a couple of key players essentially had two full weeks off. Harbaugh acknowledged at the time that layoffs may have been a factor. He also admitted that if Baltimore were in the same position again, he might handle things differently.
Four years later, the Ravens are in the same position. However, they have several players dealing with injuries and could benefit from a few weeks off.
“I've thought about it a lot, and it's been hypothetical up until now,” Harbaugh said. “I'm sure I'll talk to Lamar, and I'm sure he wants to play. But we have to talk about it and decide what to do. You can only take six players out of the equation. There's going to be injuries anyway, so it's not like the preseason. You “You play in your team except whoever gets out. We have to have a conversation. We haven't taken any decision there yet.”
The fact is, the Ravens have earned the right to take this opportunity, and they're not taking the easy road. They have no choice. The Browns, behind old friend Joe Flacco, continue to win and put pressure on the Ravens to do the same and stay ahead of the AFC North by two games. The Ravens responded and did so in dominant fashion.
“It's the best team I've ever been on in my life,” said Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who made one catch Sunday, “but it was an amazing 33-yard grab. Gus Edwards' 1-yard touchdown run gave Baltimore a 14-10 lead.”
During Baltimore's six-game hitting streak, it won three games on the road, all in prime time. It defeated three division leaders, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the San Francisco 49ers and the Dolphins by a 112-45 margin.
A road game against the fancy 49ers on Christmas night, followed by a matchup with the high-flying Dolphins six days later, was seen as a key measuring stick for the Ravens. They responded with wins of 33-19 and 56-19 respectively.
Many Ravens called the win over San Francisco one of the most physical games they've ever played. Some in the Ravens facility wondered if he could summon the same kind of physicality and focus that he showed on the West Coast in a short week. The Dolphins screwed the team. They turned the ball over three times and were stopped twice on fourth down. The Ravens, meanwhile, piled up 491 yards of offense and averaged 8.9 yards per game.
“People make excuses with misery, and we're productive,” Smith said. “I'm in the business of producing results and the guys in our locker room are in the same kind of business. At the end of the day, life is not about excuses. It's all about what you're going to do and (play) the cards you're dealt. That's how I live my life, that's how the guys in the locker room roll.
Now comes the next business of a team that has responded to every challenge so far. Next weekend's game against the Steelers, who are alive for the AFC wild-card spot, will essentially be a dress rehearsal. In three weeks, the Ravens will host a playoff game.
Whether it's Flacco and the Browns, Tagoailoa and the Dolphins or Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars, the Ravens will have a chance to rewrite their 2019 finish.
“I think it's a big learning experience for this team,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “That learning experience helped us overcome many things to get to this point. We know where we still have to go and that memory will always be with us.
(Photo: Tommy Gilligan/USA Today)