The playoffs seemed a distant dream to the Baltimore Ravens halfway through the season when they found themselves 4-5 with an injured quarterback.
But with a new, young quarterback, running game, and a number 1 defence to back up, the Ravens have found a new philosophy, resulting in a successful late season run. Head coach John Harbaugh noted that “If you wanted to write a book about this season, probably no one would believe it.”
All the Ravens needed was a win against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and they were in the playoffs, regardless of the Steelers result. Typically, Ravens fans are used to late game drama at the end of the regular season. The Antonio Brown extension over the goal line on Christmas Day 2016 or the Tyler Boyd 49-yard touchdown on 4th and 12 on New Year’s Eve 2017 are the first to come to mind. They were both absolutely gut wrenching for Ravens fans.
This year was no different. It was a case of same story, luckily a different ending.
It was the first match up between rookie quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield and it proved an exciting game. The Ravens rushed ahead early. However, Mayfield and the Browns came fighting back in the second half. The game finished in dramatic fashion with the Ravens’ defence forcing Mayfield into four straight incompletions. Then came a game winning interception from C.J. Mosely, once again showing the prowess of the Ravens defence.
Ultimately, the Ravens are through to the playoffs and have secured the AFC North title for the first time since 2012 – which happens to be the year they last won the Super Bowl.
The Ravens enter the playoffs as a dangerous team as well of one of the hottest teams, winning six of their last seven games. They also enter the playoffs with an excellent postseason track record under Harbaugh. In six previous playoff appearances, Harbaugh has never lost his opening playoff game, and his overall postseason record is 10-5.
So, what makes the Ravens so dangerous?
Enough has already been said about the Ravens defence and being the best in the league. However, they didn’t show their credentials in Sunday’s game, and they need to drastically improve for the playoffs, especially as defence wins championships.
The name on everyone’s mind right now is Lamar Jackson. Jackson and the team make up one of the NFL’s best rushing teams. While it can be said that Jackson still needs to improve his passing game, his rushing game was once again outstanding. In the Cleveland game, Jackson had 90 rushing yards and two touchdowns to his name. While running back Kenneth Dixon outperformed Jackson with 117 yards on just 12 carries, totalling an enormous 296 yards for the team.
While many argue Jackson as being Baltimore’s key weapon, it’s MVP lies in kicker Justin Tucker. Tucker has surpassed 140 points for the third-consecutive season. No other NFL kicker has scored at least 140 points in each of the past three seasons. This year in particular, the NFL has shown on many occasions to never take for granted a quality kicker, especially for key moments in the game.
The Browns game showed again just how valuable Tucker is. Browns kicker Joseph missed a 46-yard field goal attempt and late in the Browns game, Cleveland found themselves at the 39 yard line. They opted to go for it on 4th and 10 with the game on the line instead of giving Joseph a chance to win it with a 56-yard attempt. No doubt if it was the Ravens, Harbaugh would have given Tucker the chance to win the game.
Tucker also made all four field goals and two extra points, amounting to 14 of the Ravens 26 points. A player of Tucker’s quality will undoubtedly play an important role should they make it far into the playoffs.
Realistically, the Ravens have already been in playoff mode for a while now, faced with must-win games week after week. Now in the postseason as the AFC 4th seed, the Ravens host the LA Chargers on Sunday 6th January.
The Ravens face a strong Chargers team that they already defeated 22-10 in Week 16 in Los Angeles. However, defeating a team as good as the Chargers (12-4) twice in three weeks won’t be simple.
Still, no doubt the Ravens will be up for the challenge, and no doubt they will continue to test the heart rate of their fans well into the playoffs.