After scuffling through a first half in which the offense failed to score, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson found his rhythm in the second half and the defense held firm as the visiting Ravens (6-2) pulled away for a hard-earned 24-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts (5-3) on Nov. 8.
Cornerback Marcus Peters came up with two game-changing plays, forcing a fumble that was returned 65 yards for a touchdown by Chuck Clark for the Ravens’ only first-half score, and then grabbing an interception in the second half that set up another score.
The Ravens’ defense endured a tumultuous week in which Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey tested positive for the coronavirus and seven other players were prohibited from practicing because they were deemed close contacts of Humphrey.
But the defense held the Colts scoreless in the second half as the Ravens rallied from a 10-7 halftime deficit — ending a team streak of 20 straight losses when trailing at the half.
“It was a tough, tough football game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It took a lot of courage and mental toughness to win that game.”
The win gives Lamar Jackson a record of 25-5 as a starter, matching Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the best by an NFL quarterback in his first 30 games.
Here are five quick impressions of the win — the Ravens first ever in Indianapolis — which extends the Ravens’ road winning streak to 10, the longest active streak in the league:
1. The defense rose to the occasion after a challenging week.
The Ravens didn’t have Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey, sidelined on the reserve/COVID-19 list. They didn’t have starting linebacker L.J. Fort, sidelined with a finger injury. Seven defensive players were prohibited from practice this week because of the league’s intensive COVID-19 protocol. They relied on practice squad call-up Terrell Bonds as the starting nickel back, and they lost starting defensive end Calais Campbell to a calf injury early in the first quarter.
Despite all of that, the Ravens’ defense held the Colts to one touchdown, scored one themselves and kept the Ravens in the game until the offense could find its footing.
John Harbaugh said he thought defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale called one of his best games ever, and one key fourth-quarter play is a good example of that.
Trailing 21-10, the Colts opted to play for a first down on fourth-and-1 from the Ravens’ 16-yard line. Despite the Colts showing a heavy run look, Martindale guessed correctly that quarterback Philip Rivers would try to pass. Matthew Judon blitzed, got a hand on Rivers’ arm as he threw, and the ball fell away incomplete with 5:29 left.
“When [Martindale] gives us the call, we just trust it,” safety Chuck Clark said. “We have a few checks out there that we can make, but we just trust the play that he calls and then go execute.”
The Ravens had surrendered 21 second-half points in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Nov. 1 and 22 fourth-quarter points to the Philadelphia Eagles in the nailbiter win before that.
“Our main goal was just to finish the game,” Clark added, “because we haven’t been finishing lately.”
Coming off a week unlike any other this unusual season, they did that emphatically.
2. The change of pace changed everything for the offense.
The Ravens totaled 55 yards of offense in the first half, with the league’s No. 1-ranked running game stuck in neutral. Running backs Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins had a combined total of 4 yards on four carries in the first half.
In the second half, though, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman changed the tempo, and the results were immediately successful.
“It caught the defense off guard,” Jackson said. “Our offensive line was doing a pretty good job, keeping the D-line away from me. Our guys were getting open, catching the ball and getting upfield.”
Jackson opened the second half with a 14-yard pass to Willie Snead. He quickly hit Marquise Brown for another 14. He connected with Snead for 9. Suddenly, finally, the Ravens were on the move. Jackson hit Boyle for a diving catch of 21. The drive ended inside the 10 with a fumble by Edwards, but the Ravens finally appeared to have found their mojo on offense.
After the Edwards fumble, the Ravens immediately got the ball back when Marcus Peters hauled in an interception, and Jackson led another sustained drive, this one ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by Edwards that put the Ravens ahead for good at 14-10 with 5:43 left in the third quarter.
One of the best play calls from Roman came with the Ravens facing third-and-1 from the Colts’ 9-yard line. After feeding the Colts a steady diet of Edwards in the second half, Jackson faked an inside handoff to Edwards, and the Colts bit hard on the fake. Jackson waltzed around the left end untouched for the touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
“The offensive playcaller is probably the most scrutinized guy in the program,” Harbaugh said. “I thought ‘G-Ro’ did a great job of finding a way to get us into a winning situation.”
Jackson wasn’t spectacular, but he was efficient, going 10-for-10 for 119 yards after halftime. And most notably, after committing four turnovers in a loss to Pittsburgh last week, Jackson played error-free. And after an ugly first half, he found some rhythm.
3. John Harbaugh’s challenge was a game-changer.
One play after Gus Edwards committed a deflating fumble inside the Colts 10-yard line, Colts quarterback Philip Rivers took a shot down the right sideline for receiver Marcus Johnson. Marcus Peters had position on the underthrown pass and grabbed it, but Johnson appeared to break up the pass like a defender. The ball fell away and the play was ruled incomplete.
John Harbaugh threw his challenge flag, saying it should be ruled an interception. It seemed an unlikely outcome, but Harbaugh and his staff who assist with his replay reviews obviously saw something different.
Upon review, it was deemed that Peters had indeed taken steps while possessing the ball, making it a completed catch. Chuck Clark, who had corralled the ball, was credited with a fumble recovery.
“I think I made a play with the ball,” Peters said. “I was going backwards for multiple steps. I had control over it. So I think it was an interception.”
“That was a [heck] of a job by Coach Harbaugh” to challenge the play, Peters added.
Peters’ interception set up the Ravens near midfield, and they began a 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Edwards for a 14-10 lead.
4. No team creates havoc with turnovers like the Ravens.
Marcus Peters’ interception was his second huge play of the game. In the first half, Peters stripped Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, and Chuck Clark scooped up the ball and raced 65 yards for a score, the Ravens’ only points in the first half.
“Whenever I get the ball in my hands on defense,” Clark said, “I’m thinking about scoring.”
That marked the 21st straight game the Ravens have registered a takeaway, the longest active streak in the league, and was their third defensive touchdown of the season.
Peters has forced a turnover in two straight games, and he and cornerback Marlon Humphrey collectively have forced seven fumbles this season. Peters leads the Ravens in interceptions this year with three, and his 30 career interceptions are the most in the league since 2015 when he entered the league.
Peters has forced a turnover in two straight games, and he and cornerback Marlon Humphrey collectively have forced seven fumbles this season. Peters leads the Ravens in interceptions this year with three, and his 30 career interceptions are the most in the league since 2015.
With the Ravens’ offense scuffling as it has at times this year, it’s nice to know the defense can put points on the board itself.
At halftime, the Ravens had been outgained 201-55, their offense had accomplished little, but they trailed just 10-7 thanks to Peters, Clark, and the opportunistic defense.
5. This new-look offensive line needs to develop together, and fast.
This was the Ravens first full game without All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is out for the season with a knee injury, and they were also missing starting right guard Tyre Phillips. The revamped line struggled mightily early against a strong Colts defensive front that entered the game ranked No. 2 in the league against the run.
The Colts seemed to win every one-on-one battle early, beating the Ravens up the middle and using their defensive team speed to deny the Ravens on the edge. The Ravens running backs totaled 4 yards on four carries in the first half.
Patrick Mekari filled in at right guard, with Orlando Brown starting at left tackle in Stanley’s spot and D.J. Fluker taking over for Brown at right tackle.
Compounding the problems, center Matt Skura dealt with a cut on his thumb that affected his snaps. A couple of them barely got off the ground.
“At first I didn’t know that,” Jackson said. “[Skura] came up to me and told me. I told him to just keep his poise because we weren’t moving the ball at first. … He got over it, and he just did his thing.”
This was bound to be a tough matchup for this group, but they will need to improve as they play together more going forward. The Ravens’ lack of offensive rhythm in the first half came, in part, from the offensive line losing a lot of one-on-one battles.
The Ravens finished with 110 rushing yards and 2.9 yards a carry — both season lows.
“It sucks that we came out in the first half playing like that,” Brown said. “We’ll get better, but I’m happy we won.”
This has been updated since its original publication with several quotes.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox