BALTIMORE — On the second series of the game for the Los Angeles Chargers, quarterback Justin Herbert dropped back to throw but was buried by Ravens safety DeShon Elliott. That set the tone for what proved to be a dominant effort by the Ravens’ defense and a miserable afternoon for Herbert, as the Ravens routed the first-place Chargers, 34-6, on Oct. 17 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens (5-1) have had a series of thrillers this year, including two overtime games and a walk-off winning kick. This game offered none of that drama, as the Ravens put together their most complete game of the season and dominated the Chargers (4-2) in all three phases.
The Ravens never trailed after marching 90 yards for a touchdown on their opening possession, and their defense suffocated Herbert, who has been in the early discussion for league MVP honors but was held to a 67.8 passer rating, his lowest of the season.
Herbert finished 22 of 39 for 195 yards, with a passer rating of 67.8. The latter two numbers are the second-lowest of his career.
“Defense just played lights out in every way,” head coach John Harbaugh said.
The Ravens jumped to a 17-0 second-quarter lead before the Chargers’ lone score, which came after Lamar Jackson was intercepted by Kyzir White, who returned the ball to the Ravens 22-yard line. Herbert’s 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jared Cook capped a two-play drive and cut the Ravens lead to 17-6 at halftime.
As they did the entire game, the Ravens had an answer.
They began the second half with a 47-yard kickoff return by Devin Duvernay and then a methodical 12-play, 52-yard scoring drive that used nearly half of the third quarter, and Jackson’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews gave the Ravens a 24-6 lead.
Jackson finished 19-for-27 passing for 167 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions, and ran eight times for 51 yards.
Here are five quick impressions of the win, the fifth in a row for the Ravens:
1. Coaches issued a challenge, and the defense responded in a big way.
Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is a straight shooter, and at his weekly press conference this week, he said, “There’s a standard of defense [in Baltimore], and we’re not playing up to it right now.” John Harbaugh acknowledged the inside linebackers had to play better, and Martindale hinted that the Ravens would change up the look on defense to try to get a spark.
They entered this game ranked No. 24 overall on defense, with a pass defense that was tied for 28th.
The defense never let Herbert get into a rhythm, they totally shut down the Chargers running game and they tackled as well as they have all season.
Herbert finished with 195 yards, the second-lowest total of his career, with just 81 yards after halftime when the Chargers were in pass-only mode. Whether that was Elliott hammering him, or Tavon Young pressuring on a nickel blitz, or Justin Houston forcing Herbert off his spot, he never got in a rhythm. Mentioned by many as an early MVP candidate, he looked nothing like that.
Dynamic Chargers running back Austin Ekeler was held to 7 yards on six carries, and the Chargers finished with 26 rushing yards.
Coming into this game, the Chargers have proved to be both fearless and successful on fourth down, with the offense going 7-for-7 in such situations. But the Ravens stuffed them twice in Chargers territory while the game was still in doubt, with Marlon Humphrey breaking up one pass and Herbert throwing incomplete on the other.
The new look hinted at by Martindale featured Josh Bynes as starting inside linebacker. The 11-year veteran, signed early in the season to begin his third stint with the Ravens, took a starting spot from Malik Harrison and quickly had an impact, with a tackle for a loss on the game’s second play.
Bynes, who had been a game day inactive a week ago, finished with six tackles, tied for the team lead. His veteran presence in the middle of the defense seemed to settle things down for Patrick Queen, who briefly left with a thigh injury and then returned. Chris Board also saw much of the action in third-and-long situations as the only inside linebacker.
Whatever the coaches said publicly, you can bet that was reinforced tenfold in team and group meetings, and the Ravens’ defense responded with its most complete game of the year.
2. DeShon Elliott returned, and the Ravens dominated physically. That’s probably not a coincidence.
Safety DeShon Elliott had missed the Ravens past two games with a quad injury, and he showed why the Ravens defense is so much stronger when he’s on the field. Elliott recorded his first career interception — “a long time coming,” he said — though the Ravens quickly gave the ball back when Jackson threw an interception one play later.
As usual with Elliott, though, it was his physical play that stood out, beginning with his sack of Herbert on the Chargers second series of the game. In the third quarter, Elliott hammered Jared Cook to break up a third-down pass play, forcing a punt.
At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Elliott is far from the biggest guy on the field, but he is consistently among the most physical. Elliott finished with three tackles, a sack, an interception, two quarterback hits and two passes defensed, both of which came on third down.
“He does bring a lot of energy,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a veteran guy, and he does notch things up a little bit from an intensity standpoint. I feel like whenever you put a player in a position where he does well, he doesn’t just add what he does. … He puts everybody else kind of on a slot where they do better, too. … So it kind of raised everybody else’s game, too.”
Elliott is in the final year of his contract, and he’s probably playing himself into a nice payday, either here or somewhere else, in 2022. The fact that the Ravens dominated physically on the day he returned from a two-game absence probably isn’t a coincidence.
3. The Chargers’ defense was the salve for the Ravens’ ailing running game.
Against the Colts last week, the Ravens were held to 86 yards rushing last week — snapping their NFL-record-tying streak of 43 straight games with 100 rushing yards — and the running backs had just 24 yards on 11 carries.
But the Chargers brought the league’s 32nd-ranked run defense to Baltimore, allowing 157.6 yards a game on the ground, and the Ravens attacked immediately.
The Ravens marched 90 yards on their first possession, with 62 of that coming on the ground, including a 14-yard touchdown run right up the gut by Latavius Murray. In the second quarter, Le’Veon Bell, who was elevated from the practice squad and suited up instead of Ty’Son Williams, carried around right end for a 2-yard touchdown, his first as a Raven.
The Ravens finished the first half with 115 rushing yards, averaging more than 7 yards a carry and starting a new 100-yard rushing streak. They finished with 187 rushing yards, spread among six ballcarriers.
Devonta Freeman led the Ravens with 53 yards on nine carries, Jackson totaled 51 yards on eight carries and Murray ran for 44 yards on nine carries before leaving with an ankle injury. Le’Veon Bell, in his second game as a Raven, finished with 18 yards on eight carries.
And in a flashback to 2016, all three running backs, none of whom were on the roster until September, scored touchdowns.
Harbaugh said all three backs felt “cast away” from other teams and felt “like they had something to prove.”
“To see them do what they did today and what they’re going to do for the rest of the season is a pretty cool story. … I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out,” he said.
4. Rashod Bateman’s career begins with a lot of promise, but one bad mistake.
After missing all three preseason games and the first five regular-season games because of a groin injury and subsequent surgery, wide receiver Rashod Bateman, the Ravens’ top pick in this year’s draft, made his highly-anticipated NFL debut for the Ravens.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the Ravens would ease Bateman in and would gradually ramp up his workload, but he was on the field early and finished with four catches for 29 yards on six targets. His first career catch went for 6 yards on third-and-5, and all four of his catches gave the Ravens a first down.
Jackson was trying to find Bateman when he threw his first interception, which went right to Chargers linebacker Kyzir White.
Bateman’s big blemish came in the fourth quarter, when Jackson’s slant to him hit off Bateman’s chest and White made his second interception of the game. Fortunately, it had no bearing in the Ravens’ rout.
Players and coaches have raved about Bateman’s hands and his route-running, so that interception seems out of character. Bateman won’t like watching that one again in the film room.
But the Ravens have to like the possibilities of adding Bateman and his potential to a passing game that already is the most productive of Jackson’s four-year career.
Bateman called his debut “an incredible, fun experience. The Ravens Flock made the atmosphere special, but I think my teammates made it more special. They’ve always had my back through it all, and because of them, I was comfortable and was able to go out and perform. It was fun.”
5. The AFC North litmus tests begin next week.
The Ravens have taken a wild, circuitous route to 5-1 this year, with a season-opening overtime loss in Las Vegas, then a one-point win against the Chiefs, a doink-off-the-crossbar, record-setting kick by Justin Tucker to escape Detroit with a win and an improbable overtime comeback victory against Indianapolis.
They will say every game matters equally, but the AFC North games matter a little more, and the Ravens face their first AFC North test, with the resurgent Cincinnati Bengals coming to M&T Stadium next week before the Ravens hit their bye week.
The Bengals routed the Detroit Lions, 34-11, to improve to 4-2, equaling their win total from a year ago. If the Bengals can come to Baltimore and steal a win, they would take over the top spot in the AFC North. But if the Ravens can turn aside another upstart the way they so dominantly did against the Chargers, they could put some distance between them and the Bengals, with that brutal three-week AFC crucible — Cleveland, at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland — looming in a month.
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