So much for the fear of a letdown.
The Ravens (7-2) scored on their first two possessions, scored twice on defense and secured their fifth straight win with a 49-13 rout of the winless Cincinnati Bengals (0-9) at Paul Brown Stadium Nov. 10.
Any fear that the Ravens might come out flat after their emotional, 37-20 win against the previously undefeated New England Patriots evaporated immediately, as quarterback Lamar Jackson connected with receiver Marquise Brown on a 49-yard completion on the game’s first play. Four plays later, the Ravens were in the end zone.
Jackson shredded the Bengals defense through the air and on the ground and added to his Most Valuable Player candidacy with his second perfect passer rating (158.3) this season. He becomes the second player in NFL history with more than one perfect passer rating in one season, as he also accomplished that in Week 1 at Miami.
Here are five quick impressions of the Ravens win, which gives them a five-game regular-season winning streak for the first time since 2006:
1. Just when you thought you’d seen it all from Jackson, he unleashes that spin move.
What more can be said about Jackson?
He put up his second perfect passer rating of the season, going 15-for-17 for 223 yards and three touchdowns. He feathered a 49-yard pass on the opening play that hit Marquise Brown in stride, then later stood in the pocket, took a shot and delivered a 20-yard touchdown pass to Brown. He completed passes over the middle and toward the sideline. He completed passes short and long, and one was almost underhand.
Of course, much of what makes Jackson special is his running ability, and even in a year when he has put up one highlight-reel play after another, his juking, spinning, 47-yard touchdown run proved that he is unlike any other talent in the NFL.
With the Ravens leading 28-10 in the third quarter, Jackson kept on a read-option and went left, finding some running room on the left side. He juked safety Jessie Bates with a head-fake, then put on a dazzling spin move that left linebacker Nick Vigil and safety Shawn Williams grasping nothing but air and outran everyone for a phenomenal 47-yard touchdown.
If you didn’t see it, fear not; it will be shown on highlight packages for years to come.
LAMAR. JACKSON. @Lj_Era8 TO THE HOUSE ‼️‼️
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 10, 2019
2. Jackson’s critics are running out of reasons at this point.
Jackson is ferociously competitive, and he has heard the critics — flawed mechanics, inaccurate, can’t play in the pocket. Despite his success this season, even this week one national commentator argued that the Jackson-led offense is not sustainable.
“The doubters are always going to be there,” Jackson said. “We just want to keep having success.”
At least one of Jackson’s prominent early critics, former Colts GM Bill Polian, issued a mea culpa this past week saying he now he admits he was badly mistaken when he proclaimed before the 2018 draft that Jackson’s NFL future would have to be at wide receiver.
It seems each week, Jackson provides more ammunition for his supporters, and shoots another hole in an argument of his detractors.
Against the Bengals, two plays in particular illustrated that. Not accurate? On the game’s opening play Jackson lofted a pass that hit Marquise Brown in stride for a gain of 49. There were a couple of unorthodox sidearm throws, but Jackson threw only two incompletions all day — and one was a clock-stopping spike.
Not a pocket passer? Jackson’s most impressive throw of the day came when he stood in the pocket, absorbed a shot from Bengals defensive lineman Sam Hubbard and delivered a 20-yard touchdown strike to Brown.
Jackson doesn’t operate like traditional NFL quarterbacks — as his remarkable spin-move touchdown so eloquently showed. But at this point, the critics are simply running out of reasons to discount him.
3. The Ravens tight-end trio has been as good as hoped.
Throughout the summer, second-year tight end Mark Andrews made one play after another and was a trendy national pick for a breakout season. Save for a sloppy game at Seattle in which he had multiple drops, he has been as advertised, and he caught six passes for 53 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Bengals.
But Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle have also been steady, if more quiet, contributors to the Ravens’ offense.
The tight ends accounted for 12 of the Ravens 18 completions against the Bengals, as Boyle had four catches for 78 yards — coming within a yard of a touchdown for the second straight game — and Hurst finished with two catches for 20 yards — also coming within a yard of a touchdown.
In addition, the Ravens often unveil a diamond backfield formation with Jackson in front of a running back, with two tight ends, or a tight end and fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard flanking him in the backfield. It has worked to great effect this year because the Ravens tight ends, particularly Boyle, have been successful run blockers.
At one point this summer, Mark Andrews broke into a broad smile when he described hearing the news that Greg Roman was being promoted to offensive coordinator for the Ravens, because he knew the history and Roman’s affinity for his tight ends.
Roman’s work with the tight ends has been on point, and this trio represents a weapon unlike many seen in the NFL.
4. Patrick Ricard has quietly emerged as one of the Ravens more indispensable players.
Last week against New England, Patrick Ricard as a fullback laid one solid block after another, springing Marquise Brown on a long gain on a jet sweep on one play, and clearing a lane for Mark Ingram on another.
This week against Cincinnati, Ricard was again a battering ram on offense but also a disruptive force on defense, registering a sack and forcing the fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Tyus Bowser.
Ricard finished with four tackles, matching his career-high, and he figures to become a more valuable member of the Ravens defense if Michael Pierce is sidelined for an extended period. Pierce left the Bengals game early with a foot injury.
Ricard, the former undrafted player from Maine, relishes his unique role in today’s NFL as a true two-way player, and the Ravens were wise to envision his potential on both sides of the ball.
5. The Texans game Nov. 17 has major playoff implications.
With their fifth straight win, the Ravens improve to 7-2 and are one game behind the Patriots for the top overall seed in the AFC, and the Ravens own the tiebreaker against the Patriots by virtue of their 37-20 win Nov. 3.
To be sure, Ravens players and coaches will insist they are focused only on the next game, and with Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans (6-3) coming to M&T Bank Stadium Nov. 17, that’s a wise approach.
That game looms large in the AFC playoff race; with Kansas City losing to Tennessee this week, Houston and Buffalo sit a game behind the Ravens in the AFC. A Texans win next week would pull them even with the Ravens, and actually edge Houston ahead by virtue of head-to-head tiebreaker. A Ravens win, though, would put another game between the Ravens and Texans and solidify the Ravens position as no worse than the No. 2 seed in the AFC, which would translate into a first-round playoff bye.
There is a lot of football left to be played, and the Ravens have to navigate an arduous schedule featuring the Texans, the Los Angeles Rams, the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers and the Bills in the next month. But they have put themselves in position for a favorable postseason schedule.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox