BALTIMORE — Despite sitting Most Valuable Player favorite Lamar Jackson, running back Mark Ingram and five other starters to prepare for the postseason, the Ravens looked much as they have the rest of this record-breaking season.
The Ravens’ offense ran wild once again, a swarming defense created havoc and the special teams chipped in with four field goals and a touchdown as the Ravens pulled away to a 28-10 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers at soggy M&T Bank Stadium in the regular-season finale Dec. 29.
The victory gives the Ravens (14-2) the franchise record for wins in a season and gives them a 12-game winning streak entering the playoffs.
Here are five quick impressions of the win, which also gave the Ravens a season sweep of the archrival Steelers (8-8) and a whopping six-game edge in the final AFC North standings:
1. The “revolutionary” season proved to be just that.
Back in the summer, head coach John Harbaugh touted a “revolutionary” offense led by quarterback Lamar Jackson and designed from the ground up this offseason by Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
The proclamation was met with some skepticism, and it sounded like so much coaching bluster until, well, the Ravens went out and did things that no team had ever done before:
* The Ravens became the first team in NFL history to average at least 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing in one season;
* Jackson broke the NFL record for single-season rushing yardage by a quarterback, finishing with 1,206 — despite not playing in this game and resting in the fourth quarter of a few blowouts;
* The Ravens set an NFL record for rushing yards in a season at 3,296 — breaking the record in this game — in an era when the league’s evolution and rules skew heavily toward the passing game.
The Ravens needed 93 yards to break the all-time single-season rushing record set by the 1978 New England Patriots, and they did so on a 9-yard run by running back Gus Edwards in the second quarter, piling up more than 100 additional yards after that.
After the record was shown on the M&T Bank Stadium scoreboard, wide receiver Willie Snead went down the bench area shaking hands with the quarterbacks, the running backs, the tight ends and all the offensive linemen.
That was a fitting scene, because this truly is a team record; credit surely goes to Jackson and Ingram, but also to the Ravens’ terrific tight end trio, an offensive line that consistently wins at the point of attack, backup running backs Edwards and Justice Hill and receivers like Snead who have embraced their role in this run-first offense.
This Ravens team is going to leave a trail of broken franchise records in its wake, but they are also doing things that have never been seen in a league that is celebrating its 100th season.
“The revolution is here,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III, who started at quarterback in place of Jackson. “It’s not coming any more. It’s here, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
2. The Ravens didn’t play like they had nothing to play for, especially on defense.
Since the Ravens had already secured the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed, they announced earlier in the week that several top players would sit out this game to get rest and recover from injuries.
The Steelers, meanwhile, had all the urgency, needing to win and get help to make the postseason.
The sense was that the Ravens might ease into the playoffs with a more casual approach. There was nothing casual, though, about the way Gus Edwards barreled over Steelers defenders, or the way Marlon Humphrey and Matthew Judon competed on every play, or the way a blitzing Brandon Carr roared off the edge time and again.
Carr, in fact, forced a safety for the game’s final points as his pressure led to an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone on Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges.
“I wouldn’t say that we didn’t have anything to play for,” said safety Chuck Clark, who led the Ravens with nine tackles. “We’re trying to go knock [the Steelers] out of the playoffs.”
Quarterback Lamar Jackson wasn’t in uniform, and neither was running back Mark Ingram. Others who sat out included tight end Mark Andrews, guard Marshal Yanda, tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive lineman Brandon Williams and safety Earl Thomas.
The Ravens trailed briefly at 7-6 before taking the lead for good on Justin Tucker’s third field goal of the game, and then added a touchdown just before halftime after Judon forced a fumble on a sack of Hodges. That set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Justice Hill for a 16-7 halftime lead.
The Steelers were held to three points in the second half by a swarming defense led by Clark, Judon, Humphrey and Marcus Peters, some of the defensive starters who played nearly every snap.
“To play as hard as we did and as well as we did, it speaks volumes,” Harbaugh said.
3. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill showed the depth and power of this running game.
The Ravens sat both of their 1,000-yard rushers in this game, resting Jackson and Ingram, who is dealing with a calf injury sustained in the win at Cleveland Dec. 22. And they were facing a Steelers team that has entered the game ranked 11th in the league against the run.
The Ravens lineup of backups went out and piled up 223 yards on 44 carries, averaging 5.1 yards a carry.
Gus Edwards set a career best with 130 yards on 21 carries, and Griffin totaled 50 yards on eight carries. Justice Hill ran 10 times for 39 yards, all of this coming behind an offensive line that was also resting two starters in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda.
“Nobody thought for one second that it would look any different,” Harbaugh said.
“Gus, to me, is a starting running back in this league,” Harbaugh added. “He continues to prove it.”
The only concern with the usually sure-handed Edwards is that he fumbled for the second straight game, this time when Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt punched the ball out of Edwards’ hand. Edwards had not fumbled in his first 25 games a Raven, carrying 237 times in those games.
Hill, the fourth-round rookie back, is coming off a pair of strong games to close the season. The Ravens viewed him as a quicker, smaller change-of-pace back, and he has shown that on swing passes out of the backfield, but on an 8-yard touchdown run late in the first half, he looked Ingram-esque as he powered up the middle and bounced off tackles for the touchdown, his second in two weeks.
Ingram said this week that he expects to be back for the first playoff game, but the Ravens should feel good about their running game regardless.
4. This was a long time coming for Robert Griffin III.
Griffin said all week that this game wasn’t about him, but he was clearly a happy man as he met with the media after his first NFL start in nearly three years.
After playing out a one-year deal as a backup with the Ravens last year, and working behind both Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson, Griffin said he hoped for an opportunity to be a starter again. When that didn’t materialize last spring, he signed a new two-year deal with the Ravens, where he would continue to be Jackson’s mentor and a backup who could step in and run Roman’s offense.
He finally got that chance in this game, his first start since the 2016 season finale on Jan. 1, 2017, as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
Griffin ran eight times for 50 yards, showing a burst as he turned the corner on one run, and he finished 11 of 21 for 96 yards, though the miserable weather probably had something to do with keeping those numbers down.
“These were tough circumstances,” Harbaugh said. “It was muddy. It was rainy. It wasn’t an easy game to throw the ball. He made some clutch throws. He made some big runs for us, operated the offense. … He just played the position excellent.”
The game obviously meant plenty to Griffin, who strutted after one first-down run and posed after he rifled a 20-yard completion to tight end Hayden Hurst.
“It was awesome,” Griffin said. “I want to savor the moment because I don’t know when I’ll get an opportunity to start again, and that’s why I wanted to have fun. I’ve never really been a first-down signal guy, but I was today.”
5. The Ravens have earned their bye week, and the new season starts now.
The Ravens can sit home next weekend, rest up and get ready to host either the fourth-seeded Houston Texans, the fifth-seeded Buffalo Bills or the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans in the divisional round at 8:15 p.m. Jan. 11.
The Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) earned the No. 2 overall seed after the New England Patriots (12-4) were upset by the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season finale, bumping the Patriots to the No. 3 seed. The Ravens will face the lowest remaining seed after the wild-card round, while the highest remaining seed will go to Kansas City.
The Ravens earned this respite with the most impressive run in franchise history, a streak of 12 straight victories that included wins over three other AFC playoff teams and two of the top teams in the NFC. They won blowouts and they won close games. They won in sun and they won in rain. And for that, they get to sit back, watch for a week and stay at home for as long as their AFC playoff run continues.
“It’s exciting to be in this position,” receiver Willie Snead said. “I’m going to enjoy a great weekend of football, take this week to recover and get my body right and get ready for that next week.”
But don’t expect the Ravens to bask in a 14-2 record and second straight AFC North title just yet.
“We are 0-0 now,” linebacker Matthew Judon said. “It starts over. It doesn’t matter what we did before this. … We are going to enjoy it for a little bit, but it starts over. We are 0-0.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox