The Baltimore Ravens’ top-ranked defense didn’t have much to prove after rattling opponents throughout the season. But the unit delivered a signature performance in the game that could chart the course for the franchise’s playoff fortune.
The Ravens bottled up the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday in a 22-10 win that kept the team’s hopes for winning the AFC North alive.
Baltimore flustered Philip Rivers and Co. from the outset, with cornerback Brandon Carr intercepting the quarterback on the first play from scrimmage. But it wasn’t until cornerback Tavon Young returned an Antonio Gates fumble 62 yards for a touchdown that the Ravens extinguished the chance for another Chargers comeback. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey also came up with an interception on the ensuing drive.
Los Angeles gained just 189 yards and converted four of 13 third downs. Rivers was held without a touchdown for the first time this season and was sacked four times.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers fall to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the Ravens will take the division lead.
Here are three things we learned from Saturday’s game:
1. Lamar Jackson is making strides
In building a 4-1 record as Baltimore’s starting quarterback heading into the night, Jackson largely ran roughshod over some of the NFL’s most decrepit defenses. But in what was the biggest test of his rookie year so far, the No. 32 overall pick showed signs of an improvement as a passer.
Jackson threw for a career-high 204 yards on 12-of-22 passing while adding another 39 yards on the ground. His biggest gain of the night came on a third-quarter 68-yard scoring strike to rookie tight end Mark Andrews. The connection was the longest passing play for the Ravens in more than two years.
Jackson still made some missteps, including a fumble for the record-tying seventh consecutive game. But his progress should be encouraging for Baltimore in both the short and long term.
2. Los Angeles can’t count on comeback magic
After mounting big late surges to topple the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs the last two weeks, the Chargers couldn’t recreate the late spark. Despite being held to a season-low 72 yards in the first half, Los Angeles remained within striking distance for most of the night and briefly led after a Melvin Gordon touchdown. But penalties were particularly problematic, as
3. The Chargers face long odds to secure the top seed in the AFC
Though the Bolts entered this week tied with the Chiefs for the best record in the conference, the odds are growing that they’ll find themselves playing on the road in the wild-card round. Kansas City now only needs one win in the final two weeks to secure the AFC West and a first-round bye. Even if the Chiefs trip up against the Seahawks on Sunday, they’ll have a favorable setup in the regular-season finale at home against the Raiders.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.