The Ravens were already congratulating the Raiders on the field. The game was over, and the Raiders had won. Except it wasn’t, and they hadn’t.
This came after a frenetic final minute of regulation in which it appeared the game was over and the Ravens had won. Except it wasn’t, and they hadn’t.
After the Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders evenly battled for 59 minutes, Justin Tucker’s 40-yard field goal with 37 seconds left gave the Ravens a lead that figured to be the decisive points. But that only ushered in a wild stretch that included a game-tying field goal with two seconds left, an overtime touchdown by the Raiders that was overturned upon review and a subsequent end-zone interception by the Ravens that kept the game tied.
But after Lamar Jackson lost a fumble in overtime, Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr lofted a 31-yard touchdown pass to backup wide receiver Zay Jones to send the Ravens to a crushing, season-opening 33-27 loss.
The Ravens had jumped to a quick 14-0 lead and appeared to be in command early, only to give up a lead three different times. Running back Latavius Murray gave the Ravens a 24-17 lead with 6:04 left in regulation, but the Raiders countered when Carr hit tight end Darren Waller for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 3:44 to play.
The Ravens drove for the go-ahead field goal by Tucker, but Carr (34-for-56, 435 yards) fired a pair of strikes that got the Raiders into field goal range, and kicker Daniel Carlson nailed a 55-yarder with two seconds left to tie the game at 27 and force overtime.
The Raiders received the ball first in overtime and appeared to have won when Carr lofted a pass down the right sideline for Bryan Edwards, who adjusted on the ball in the air, caught it against Chris Westry and then dove past Brandon Stephens for the touchdown.
While the players from both teams were on the field for the post-game handshakes, officials deemed that Edwards’ knee had actually touched down with the ball short of the goal line. Then from the 1, Raiders tackle Alex Leatherwood was called for a false start, pushing the ball back to the six, and Carr’s next pass bounced off the hands of former Raven Willie Snead and into the hands of Ravens cornerback Anthony Averett for a touchback.
The Ravens’ lone overtime possession, though, ended when Jackson was hit and lost a fumble, giving the Raiders the ball at the Ravens 27-yard line. Two plays later — after pulling the field-goal team off the field because a delay of game penalty moved the ball back 5 yards — Carr lofted the game-winning pass to Jones.
Here are five quick impressions of the game, the Ravens’ first season-opening loss in six years:
1. The pass rush was a concern in the spring, and it’s a bigger concern today.
The biggest difference in how the two offenses operated came down to pressure on the quarterback. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was under duress much of the night, while his counterpart, Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr, seemingly had all the time he needed all night long.
Officially, each quarterback was sacked three times, but that hardly tells the story. Carr stood tall and patiently throughout, going through his progressions and finding his intended receiver, who was often tight end Darren Waller (10 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD on 19 targets).
Patrick Queen had a sack on a well-disguised blitz, and rookie Odafe Oweh recorded his first career sack, but the Ravens are going to need to find ways to get the quarterback out of rhythm much more than they did against the Raiders.
This past summer, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale told season ticket holders that sacks were a superficial statistic and that in the end, he’d take a good cover corner over a premium pass rusher because they would find ways to get to the quarterback. But the Ravens have lost premium cover corner Marcus Peters for the season, so now pressure becomes a much bigger factor. And the Ravens didn’t find ways to the quarterback nearly often enough in this game.
2. The Ravens’ offensive line has major issues.
The offensive line lost tackle Orlando Brown after his offseason request to be traded, but they thought they had found a good stopgap alternative in veteran Alejandro Villanueva, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle.
Yet against the Raiders, Villanueva, who turns 33 next week, looked every bit his age and had all sorts of trouble dealing with the Raiders edge rushers. Granted, All-Pro Ronnie Stanley struggled as well in his first real game action since his season-ending injury last year, and when the Ravens ran into trouble in this game, including the fumble in overtime, the problems usually began with pressure off the edge.
Stanley said he had hoped to be back to an All-Pro level by Week 1, and that was probably a tall ask, and he should only improve as he continues to gain strength and flexibility.
As for Villanueva, the Ravens have to hope he can show better than he did in this game, because the Ravens have few alternatives. Compounding the problem, Tyre Phillips, who started at left guard but is probably the top backup tackle, was carted off the field with what is feared to be a significant knee injury.
The most glaring difference was the way the edge rush disrupted the Ravens and failed to disrupt the Raiders.
3. Ty’Son Williams looks the part. Now the Ravens just have to trust him.
Playing in the first regular-season game of his career, Williams burst right up the middle for a 34-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 for the first score of the game and finished with 65 yards on nine carries.
Most important, he looks the part of an NFL running back, a 6-foot, 220-pounder who gets north-south in a hurry and whose confidence has soared over the past month as he climbed up the Ravens’ depth chart.
But in this game, the Ravens didn’t lean on their ground-and-pound approach that has defined this offense, especially with a second-half lead, and maybe that’s understandable. Heck, two of the three backs in uniform – Latavius Murray and Trenton Cannon – weren’t even in the organization five days ago.
Williams, though, only had two carries after halftime, and the Ravens came out throwing on seven of their first eight plays of the second half. Was that offensive coordinator Greg Roman trying to mix things up to keep the Raiders off balance, or just not exactly trusting these new faces in the backfield? Jackson’s scrambling to get away from that edge pressure proved to be one of their more effective running plays, and he led the Ravens with 86 yards on 12 carries.
It’s understandable that a team that lost three running backs to season-ending injuries in the past two weeks is still trying to reorient its ground game. But if the Ravens want to keep its run-first identity, then they need to trust Williams to have a big part in that.
4. There’s no way to game-plan for Jackson’s improvisation.
Teams can study Jackson all they want, they can use their fastest players on the scout team on the practice field to try to simulate Jackson, but there is no way to mimic how dangerous and potent Jackson can be when the play breaks down and he improvises, which is when he’s at his most dangerous.
Case in point: Jackson’s lone touchdown pass in this game. As happened often, the Raiders collapsed the pocket and looked to have Jackson contained, only to watch him elude pressure, outrun pursuers to his right, and then zip a 10-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown.
Jackson’s longest runs of the game also came when the play broke down and he just used his off-the-charts athleticism to create something out of nothing. That is where Jackson is at his most scintillating, and where it seems a highlight-reel play can break out at any time. It’s what makes him one of the most dynamic players in the NFL today.
Jackson, though, is going to have to be careful with ball security, and he lost two fumbles, both of which proved to be critical, leading to a pair of Raiders touchdowns. One of them came when — again — the pocket broke down, but one came when he just lost the ball after running in the open field. He’s going to need to be better about that, but his improvising, unpredictability is what makes him so hard to defend.
5. John Harbaugh usually thrives on adversity. This will be a test.
John Harbaugh has often gotten the best out of his players when they stare down adversity. He likes to channel an us-against-the-world mentality, and he is sure to let his players know about any perceived slight. You don’t succeed as long as he has in this league without finding the right ways to motivate players at the right time.
This has been a tortuous training camp with the Ravens losing five players, including Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and the top three running backs, to season-ending injuries. Several other players are on short-term injured reserve.
Now coming off a gut-wrenching loss to the Raiders, the Ravens welcome Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs next week. Lamar Jackson has called the Chiefs his “kryptonite,” and the Ravens are staring at an 0-2 start if they can’t figure out a way to beat the Chiefs, something Jackson has yet to do.
With the crazy run of injuries, this season already has a strange, fatalistic feel to it that is only compounded by the way this game ended. Now it’s up to Harbaugh to dig deep into his motivational bag of tricks and steer this ship forward. He has generally risen to this challenge, but this is feeling like a big test already, and it’s not even October.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox