Week 13 of the NFL season may well prove to be a defining moment in the Ravens’ pursuit of a third Super Bowl title.
Sure, the Ravens were already the best team in the AFC even before the Patriots lost to the Texans, allowing Baltimore to move up to the No. 1 seed in the playoff picture.
And sure, the Ravens were already the best team in the NFL even before they beat the 49ers Dec. 1, although San Francisco would have reclaimed the symbolic title had they pulled off the victory.
The tangible results of the day aren’t insignificant, however. While the Ravens look like a team that can win just about anywhere right now, it certainly behooves them to have a hypothetical AFC championship game played in Baltimore. They now control their own destiny for that top spot, and with the Patriots facing the Chiefs next and looking incredibly un-Patriots-like of late, perhaps there will even prove to be a bit of a margin for error for the Ravens in that pursuit.
Greater still was the intangible, namely the reminder of what makes the Ravens so scary come postseason.
For the majority of their current eight-game win streak, the Ravens have been so overwhelming that is has been reasonable (albeit also filed under “good problem to have”) to ask what might happen on a day when things don’t exactly go the Ravens’ way. What happens if a team comes out and punches the Ravens in the mouth with a touchdown drive out of the chute? What happens if conditions become less conducive in terms of playing into the strengths of Lamar Jackson and the offense’s speed? What happens if they need to make big plays in big spots against a great defense in the second half of a game? What happens if the Ravens ever need to punt again?
These would all have been fair questions before the 49ers game. And the Ravens handled all of them expertly. They started sluggishly on both sides of the ball, the conditions were miserable and they needed a pair of huge fourth-down plays (one a defensive stop, the other a conversion) in the fourth quarter to finish off a massive win.
It was a reminder that while “Lamar Jackson Lamar Jacksons you to death” might be by far the biggest reason the Ravens are in this position, it’s not the only reason. The Ravens as constructed are capable of beating teams in all aspects of the game. The performance Dec. 1 included massive game-winning plays from the punt team, with Sam Koch and Chris Moore combining for a 62-yard punt that pinned San Francisco back on its own 1-yard line and, of course, Justin Tucker’s brilliant game-winning field goal at the horn.
A number of the league’s best teams are terrified of their kicking situations. The Ravens are gutting teams offensively and on a day in which the circumstances (combined with an exceptional defense) just so happened to slow them down a BIT, their kicking units came up with arguably the two biggest plays of the game in order to lift the team to victory.
That’s the intangible part of the win that sticks out. On a day where they weren’t perfect, they were still capable of beating one of the best teams in the NFL because they’re so loaded.
Sure, they’ll have to shore up the edge against the run. At least part of running back Raheem Mostert’s dominance was aided by missed tackles that could be attributed to the conditions, but they appeared vulnerable in general in that department.
And it’s likely that there won’t be many more games this season played in “great” conditions, necessarily. While the forecast suggests there won’t be a blizzard in Buffalo Dec. 8, every game they play (at least until a potential early February date in South Florida) is likely to at least be played in the frigid cold, if not worse weather. They’ll have to continue to adapt, a la the Twitter LOL-storm caused by their use of “wet balls” in practice last week.
But a much closer victory than we had grown accustomed the last two months is no reason to think the Ravens are any less likely to make a deep run in the playoffs. To the contrary, the Ravens look even more like a Super Bowl championship contender than they did before the narrow win.
So, like, can we just skip ahead to January already?
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox