BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson looked every bit the part of the league’s Most Valuable Player, running and throwing his way into the record book as the Ravens put away the New York Jets, 42-21, at M&T Bank Stadium for their 10th consecutive win.
But despite clinching the AFC North title with the win, it was far from a clean game for the Ravens, especially on special teams, and the miscues should give the Ravens plenty of motivation as they look to lock up the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed.
Here are five quick impressions of the win, which gives the Ravens a 12-2 record for the first time in franchise history and keeps them undefeated on “Thursday Night Football” in the John Harbaugh era (7-0):
1. The Most Valuable Player race is over.
Jackson put some more distance between him and any other contenders for the league MVP award, once again shining at his brightest in prime time: Jackson threw five touchdown passes for the third time this season and broke Michael Vick’s NFL single-season record for rushing yardage by a quarterback.
Jackson finished 15 of 23 for 212 yards and five touchdowns, and he ran eight times for 86 yards.
Jackson entered the game needing 23 rushing yards to surpass Vick’s record of 1,039 yards, and he did that by the end of the first quarter. Jackson now has 159 carries for 1,103 yards and seven touchdowns, and every yard he gets from here on out will add to a record whose only threat probably comes from himself.
But that’s not the sole reason he will win the MVP award. He also leads the league in touchdown passes with 33, and he has led the Ravens to the best record in the AFC. Jackson’s total of 33 touchdown passes ties Vinny Testaverde’s Ravens single-season franchise record with two games to play. And Jackson needed 179 fewer throws to do it; Jackson has thrown 370 passes, Testaverde threw 549.
One of the concerns before this season was whether Jackson would be accurate enough to complete touchdown passes in the tight windows of the red zone, especially after the Ravens were frequently held to short field goals last season. Against the Jets, he threw three touchdown passes of 10 yards or less.
Another concern entering this season was whether Jackson could be a successful pocket passer. Against the Jets, he lofted two longer touchdown passes from the pocket, hitting Marquise Brown for 24 yards and Seth Roberts for 33. Brown made a great toe-dragging catch, while the throw to Roberts was perfectly placed.
Jackson has heard every criticism and answered every challenge this year. His will to win is ferocious, and he’s the reason that this team on the brink of the No. 1 overall seeding. With all due respect to other outstanding players, the MVP award is his.
2. The Ravens’ special teams could be this team’s undoing.
So much has gone so right for the Ravens this season, but the Ravens’ special teams play has been a concern all season, and against the Jets, it faltered in all phases.
Kicker Justin Tucker missed an extra point kick. The Jets blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. The Jets had three kickoff returns of more than 30 yards and had a 21-yard punt return. On one particularly disjointed sequence, the Ravens were called for back-to-back penalties while in punt formation.
That kind of play is shockingly unusual for the Ravens, who consistently rank among the league’s top special-teams units, and it will surely infuriate head coach John Harbaugh, who cut his teeth as a special teams coach with the Philadelphia Eagles. First-year special teams coordinator Chris Horton is going to have a fretful time watching the film of this game.
“We played really well on special teams last week. We played not well at all this week,” Harbaugh said. “So that’s an area of concern right now.”
The Ravens were fortunate that these errors didn’t prove critical against the Jets (5-9), but when the margin of error is less come playoff time, mistakes like this could be much more costly.
3. It’s time to give Chuck Clark the credit he deserves.
The Ravens’ defensive renaissance has been at the heart of their 10-game winning streak, with the Ravens moving from No. 27 in overall defense after their 2-2 start to No. 6 in overall defense entering the Jets game.
Much of the credit has gone to the newcomers brought in by general manager Eric DeCosta, and rightfully so. Linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, cornerback Marcus Peters and defensive linemen Domata Peko and Jihad Ward have all made significant contributions. Peko was once again a brute force in the middle of the Ravens’ defensive line, leading the Ravens with six tackles.
But at the heart of the Ravens’ defensive revival has been Clark, the safety who has become the quarterback of the defense from his undersized dime linebacker spot.
Clark took over a starting job after Tony Jefferson suffered a season-ending injury and has missed just one defensive snap in the past nine games. He took over wearing the headset helmet, making calls and getting players lined up pre-snap. It’s a job that seems to suit a player referred to by many teammates as the smartest guy on the field.
Clark had one of the big defensive plays against the Jets, intercepting a pass from Sam Darnold at the 5-yard line as the Jets were driving late in the first half. That was a deserving moment for a player who has been instrumental in the Ravens 10-game winning streak.
4. The sloppiness might serve the Ravens well.
This was far from the Ravens’ best performance of the season. The Jets actually outgained the Ravens in the first half and moved effortlessly down the field early in the game, only to be thwarted on three separate potential scoring drives by a partially blocked field goal (by Patrick Ricard), a fourth-down incompletion and an interception by Chuck Clark when the Jets were in field-goal range.
Maybe those are errors are why a team finds itself 5-9, as the Jets do, but the Ravens had enough miscues — on offense, on defense, and especially on special teams — to stay focused and hungry going into their final two games of the season.
The Ravens have won 10 in a row and deserve all the accolades and credit for that remarkable run, the best stretch of regular-season play in franchise history. So it was probably inevitable that there would come a time they wouldn’t be quite as sharp, and on a short week maybe even moreso.
They got away with it because they were facing a lesser team that was short-handed because of a rash of injuries. The Ravens know they can be better and they will need to be better if they want to beat better teams. They won’t be complacent after this one, and that’s a good mindset to have with playoffs looming.
“It wasn’t our best performance by any stretch, but we stuck to it,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “We grinded a win out. … We had our bad spots, but our team is very resilient. We are going on a long run here.”
5. The AFC’s No. 1 seed is within reach next week.
The Ravens have put themselves in position to secure the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed and home field throughout the playoffs by virtue of their remarkable 10-game winning streak, and now they can sit back and root against the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs Dec. 15; losses by both would give the Ravens the No. 1 seed.
Otherwise, they could clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed next week with a win at Cleveland, and it’s a safe bet that the Browns would love nothing more than to end the Ravens’ winning streak and send them back to Baltimore needing to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular-season finale to earn that spot.
The Ravens know the stakes, and they embrace them.
“Once you start stacking wins,” Harbaugh said, “the next one means more than the last one because it becomes more meaningful. … Everything we need to do needs to be at a championship level because that’s what we’re chasing.”
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