For the entire offseason and the majority of the season to this point, the Patriots and Chiefs were believed to be head and shoulders above everybody else in their conference. Well, this last Sunday night should have changed everybody’s minds.
John Harbaugh’s Ravens came out and hit the undefeated Patriots directly in the mouth and got out to a 17-0 lead. Then just as the Patriots started coming back with a rolling defense, Lamar Jackson managed to keep the ball away from Tom Brady and salt the game away.
Baltimore’s offense, led by Jackson, managed to put 30 points up on New England’s historically great defense in the 37-20 victory. Jackson threw 17-23 for 163 yards and a score and ran for 61 yards and two more touchdowns.
Harbaugh designed his offense with Jackson’s unique skill set in mind. He often dials up plays where Jackson makes a run-pass read, then makes a handoff-keeper read with his terrific running back Mark Ingram, who ran for a season-high 115 yards.
But Jackson is also so much more than a run-pass option threat. When he drops back to pass and the play breaks down, he somehow becomes even more dangerous. He has the superb arm strength to make downfield throws while on the run. Bill Belichick has historically done a good job keeping mobile quarterbacks contained by exploiting their weaknesses, but Jackson didn’t appear to have a weakness on Sunday.
The Ravens hung 210 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on a Patriots defense that had only allowed two rushing touchdowns the entire season. While Jackson’s shifty moves and smart reads deserve a lot of credit, the big men on the offensive line were forcing Patriots’ defenders off of the ball all game long.
No offensive line this season has impressed me as much as Baltimore’s. There seems to be holes and cut-back lanes on every play, and players like Jackson and Ingram won’t miss those.
For as good as the Ravens looked, the Patriots were still able to do some of the things they excel at. Brady found Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman and new addition Mohammed Sanu each 10 times for 89 and 81 yards, respectively, with the latter catching a touchdown.
After a muffed punt by former Patriot and current Raven Cyrus Jones (possible collusion?), the Patriots’ offense started rolling. They went on a 20-7 run before the Ravens put together back-to-back touchdown drives that lasted nearly 18 total minutes.
What went wrong for Belichick’s offense was the space after the catch that’s often there for Brady’s receivers wasn’t there. The disciplined Baltimore tacklers rarely missed, which was also apparent in the running game. Forced to abandon the ground game due to an early deficit, the Patriots only mustered 74 yards on 17 carries. The longest run of the night for New England was a 10 yard rush by Sony Michel, who only saw four attempts all game.
The Ravens were also able to force a fumble-six from Edelman on an important drive that was going right for Brady’s offense. Mistakes like that are rare for Patriots players, but the Ravens were able to force them.
There was a third-and-long that Brady had to convert to keep the game alive, and his first two reads weren’t open so he was forced to try a high-arching deep-ball. The pass was intercepted, and even though it was just as good as a punt, the play encapsulated the frustrations the Patriot’s offense faced all game.
There are things New England needs to improve on both sides of the ball. No team, other than maybe the Bills, challenged Belichick’s guys to this point. Now that they have a taste of what real competition is like, they can go from here.
Baltimore, on the other hand, sent a message to the rest of the league. They’re real. Jackson is a legitimately great quarterback. The Ravens are going to run away with the AFC North, and with the win over New England, are in a prime position to take not only a first-round playoff bye, but also claim home field advantage.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @seanjanos.