Lamar Jackson could only watch as the Ravens’ offense scuffled and stalled for 58 minutes. Anthony Averett could only watch as Chicago Bears quarterback and longtime Ravens nemesis Andy Dalton torched backup cornerback Chris Westry with a stunning fourth-down, last-gasp, 49-yard touchdown pass that appeared to be the game winner.
But Tyler Huntley, making his first career start in place of the ill Jackson, led the Ravens on a five-play, 72-yard drive in the final two minutes, and Devonta Freeman’s 3-yard touchdown run with 22 seconds left gave the Ravens a 16-13 win against the Bears at Soldier Field on Nov. 21 that was as improbable for them as it was infuriating for the Bears (3-7), who lost their fifth in a row.
The Ravens (7-3) thus stay atop the AFC North with the season’s defining stretch looming after a win that few would have foreseen with 1:41 left.
That’s when Dalton, who had entered the game after Bears starter Justin Fields left with an injury to his ribs, found Marquise Goodwin all alone behind Westry on fourth-and-11 for a 49-yard touchdown and a 13-9 Bears lead.
Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale opted to blitz on that play, leaving Westry, who was playing in place of the injured Averett, all alone on Goodwin. Westry bit on a short move by Goodwin, then could only watch helplessly as Goodwin got 5 yards behind him and Dalton lofted the touchdown throw right into his arms.
The Ravens had been held to three field goals in the game’s first 58 minutes, but Huntley — who said he learned he would be starting when Jackson sent him a text that read “Go do your thing today” — didn’t wince at the pressure of the moment.
In fact, after Rashod Bateman drew a pass interference call, Huntley delivered his biggest throw of the game. The Bears somehow lost Sammy Watkins in coverage, and Huntley rolled out to avoid pressure and connected with the open Watkins at the Bears’ 3-yard line with 25 seconds left. Freeman barreled up the middle for the game-winning score on the next play.
Here are five impressions of the win, the Ravens’ fourth this year in which they trailed in the fourth quarter, and their first ever in Chicago:
1. The Ravens always felt they could win with Tyler Huntley.
One of the more intriguing roster decisions this summer was whether the Ravens would keep Tyler Huntley or Trace McSorley as the top backup to Lamar Jackson. McSorley at times looked more polished, but Huntley showed off the bigger arm, more ability to improvise and more big-play potential. The Ravens also like his poise.
Huntley had gone undrafted out of Utah, but the Ravens saw in him someone who could seamlessly and confidently operate their offense designed for Jackson.
“From Day One, when he came in as an undrafted free agent … it was not too big for him then,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It was never too big in practice, never too big in a preseason game, and he came out here on the big stage, and it wasn’t too big for him here, either.”
Huntley didn’t have top receiver Marquise Brown, out with a hamstring injury, and he was under duress from a relentless Bears pass rush, but he played effective game manager for most of the game, possessing the ball, making key throws when it mattered, moving the chains and putting the team in a position to score.
Huntley, affectionately called “Snoop” by his teammates, finished 26-for-36 for 219 yards with one interception, and he ran seven times for 40 yards. Huntley’s legs factored in both the Ravens’ scoring drives in the first half.
He rolled out of trouble and scrambled for 19 yards on third-and-10 to set up Justin Tucker’s first field goal, and then he kept the ball and bounced outside for a gain of 8 on a fourth-and-1 play to set up Tucker’s second field goal, this one from 27 yards that gave the Ravens a 6-0 halftime lead.
Still, after going 58 minutes without finding the end zone, Huntley and the Ravens needed to do exactly that to avoid what would have been a dispiriting two-game losing streak with the AFC North stretch looming. The Bears surely helped, committing pass interference on Bateman on the first play of the decisive drive, and forgetting to cover Sammy Watkins down the sideline on third-and-12 in the final minute.
In between those two plays, Huntley found Devin Duvernay down the right sideline for 21 yards and hit Freeman out of the backfield for 6.
It wasn’t always pretty in his first career start, but when the Ravens needed him most, Huntley delivered with a drive that might go down as one of the most important of the season.
“I know everyone around our facility, this organization, knows how good he is,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who was Huntley’s most popular target with eight catches for 73 yards. “And when he gets his opportunity, which he did today, that he was going to perform and shine. But it’s awesome for the world to see. It’s a coming-out party for him.”
2. The Ravens’ defensive breakdowns continued a troubling pattern.
The Bears took their first lead of the game at 7-6 after the Ravens again allowed a short pass to turn into a huge play. Andy Dalton, who had just entered the game for the injured Justin Fields, threw a wide receiver screen to Darnell Mooney. With Chris Westry picked off by a block, Mooney slipped away from the grasp of Tyus Bowser, then broke tackle attempts by Chuck Clark and Brandon Stephens and was gone for a 60-yard touchdown.
The Ravens have allowed nine plays of 50-plus yards this year, and on several of them, they have missed tackles that turned short gains into huge ones. Tackling has been consistently subpar all season.
They have also lost players in coverage and did so again. Sometimes it’s because of a miscommunication. In this case, Westry, playing in place of injured Anthony Averett, simply bit too hard on a double move by Marquise Goodwin, and he blew by Westry for a stunning 49-yard touchdown that looked as if it would the game-winner.
Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale loves to blitz, bringing pressure from a variety of sources and directions, and loves to be unpredictable. But big-time pressure is one thing when you have All-Pro cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters on the outside in man coverage. It’s another thing when it leaves a third-string cornerback on an island with the game on the line.
The Ravens aren’t really getting to the quarterback even with all the pressure they bring. The Ravens came into this game ranked third in blitz frequency, according to Pro Football Reference, but they had registered 19 sacks, which was tied for 20th. Is the risk worth the reward?
The Ravens’ normally stellar defense ranks 24th in the league this year, and was dead last in pass defense entering this game. The lack of tackling, the bad coverage breakdowns, reared themselves again and only the Bears’ proclivity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory kept it from costing them the game.
3. Tyus Bowser stepped up in a big way.
It was fitting that Tyus Bowser got to Andy Dalton for a sack on the Bears’ final Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game, because Bowser played a huge role for a Ravens defense that was missing several starters. Bowser finished with five tackles and two sacks, including a strip sack that was recovered by Calais Campbell and set up the Ravens first score of the day.
Bowser also made a nice open-field tackle on Justin Fields on the play that ultimately knocked Fields out of the game. He didn’t get faked out by Fields, stayed with him and dropped him for a gain of 6 on third-and-11 that forced a Bears punt near midfield.
Bowser isn’t an elite pass rusher, and he’s asked to do a lot more than that in the Ravens system. They signed him to an extension this offseason as a lower-cost alternative to Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, whom the Ravens let walk as free agents. But Bowser quietly and steadily shows value, and now he leads the Ravens with 4.5 sacks this season.
“Tyus Bowser … has been playing as good a football as any outside linebacker in the National Football League all season long,” head coach John Harbaugh said.
4. The Ravens’ offensive line had a long afternoon.
You would never know that the Bears were missing two of their most disruptive defenders in defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and edge rusher Khalil Mack. The Bears’ defensive front overmatched the Ravens offensive line for much of the game. Tyler Huntley was sacked six times, with 3.5 coming from Robert Quinn, who proved to be just too quick for left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
Right tackle Patrick Mekari was back in action after missing two games with an ankle injury, but the Ravens lost battles on the right side, too. And snaps from Bradley Bozeman left his quarterback lunging for the second straight week, though again the Ravens avoided any major disasters there.
This line remains a work in progress, but Villanueva, who at times has held up well in trying to replace All-Pro Ronnie Stanley, was exposed today as a liability against speed rushers. When the Ravens’ line struggles, it doesn’t matter which quarterback is back in the pocket, the job gets much tougher.
On the bright side, the Ravens found some success running between the tackles, and though it wasn’t spectacular, they stayed committed to the run and totaled 123 yards on 34 carries. Devonta Freeman led the way with 16 carries for 49 yards, and Latavius Murray, back in action after missing three games with an ankle injury, had 10 carries for 32 yards.
5. The Ravens need to get well soon, because the next three weeks will define the season.
Lamar Jackson joked earlier this week that he used to eat Flinstones vitamins when he was a kid. Maybe the Ravens should pile up a few cartons’ worth of them at Jackson’s locker this week. In all seriousness, the Ravens have to hope that the illness that dogged Jackson this week subsides in the next few days, and that other injured players such as Marquise Brown, Anthony Averett and Brandon Williams can get right as well.
Harbaugh said there was “no way” Jackson was in position to play, as he took ill again Saturday after missing two practices earlier in the week before returning to the practice field on Friday. He did stress that Jackson’s illness is not COVID-related and also said he tested negative for the flu.
The back half of the schedule always loomed as the more daunting for the Ravens, and the crucible of the next three weeks is going to go a long way toward deciding the AFC North race.
The Ravens host the Cleveland Browns (6-5) on “Sunday Night Football” on Nov. 28, then visit Pittsburgh (5-4-1) on Dec. 5 and go to Cleveland on Dec. 12. The Browns, incidentally, have their bye on Dec. 5, so they have the bizarre schedule in which they will face the Ravens in back-to-back games.
The AFC North games are so often physical, mauling affairs, and as banged up as the Ravens already are, they have to hope they can at least start that stretch in better health than they found themselves in Chicago.
Every team in the division has dealt with key injuries and has had flaws exposed, but to their credit, with everything else that has happened this year, the Ravens enter this pivotal stretch at 7-3 and with the rest of the division is looking up at them.
“It’s all about resiliency,” linebacker Tyus Bowser said. “This is a tough league to win games, man. Every win is a great win, regardless of how you get it.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox