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Five Takeaways From The Ravens' 24-21 Win Against The Bengals

November 18, 2018
BALTIMORE -- To save their season, the Ravens put the ball in the hands of the rookie that everyone was talking about -- and the rookie no one was talking about.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson and undrafted running back Gus Edwards each topped 100 yards rushing, and the Ravens' defense exorcised some demons with a fourth-down stop of quarterback Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals as the Ravens held on for a 24-21 win at M&T Bank Stadium Nov. 18. 

Here are five quick impressions of the victory, which ends a three-game losing streak for the Ravens (5-5) and vaults them right back into the thick of the AFC playoff picture. 

1. Lamar Jackson was exactly as advertised.

Making his first career start in place of injured Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson was dynamic as a rusher, cautious as a passer and downright Houdini-like a couple of times under pressure. Most important for the Ravens, he was composed and directed the Ravens' offense to 24 points and a victory.

There was a palpable buzz all week with the speculation that Jackson would start at quarterback, and a loud cheer went up when he trotted onto the field for the first play. 

"I think everybody was ready to see Lamar," wide receiver Willie Snead said. "We're just looking for an edge at some point. … Lamar came in and gave that spark to the offense."

Jackson directed an 11-play touchdown drive to open the game, with all 11 plays on the ground. Jackson had five carries for 46 yards on that drive and finished with 27 carries for 117 yards, by far a Ravens franchise single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He went 13-for-19 in the air for 150 yards, with an interception and a quarterback rating of 70.1.

"I thought he played spectacular," head coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought he played winning football. It's tough being a quarterback in this league. It's tough against a defense like that. … I thought he played very poised. … He managed us, operated us, got us in the right formations."

"The playmaking," Harbaugh added, "that comes from God. He made use of that, too."

2. In the near term, this is what a Lamar Jackson-led offense looks like.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg designed a game plan that clearly played to Jackson's strengths, with a lot of read-option running, quarterback draws, power running from Edwards and short throws. Jackson took no downfield shots.

One of his best throws came when Jackson somehow spun out of a near sack, rolled right and fired a dart to tight end Mark Andrews for 19 yards. 

The look of this offense did create some friction, as Harbaugh said Snead and Michael Crabtree "got in my face" at certain points about not being more involved. Snead actually led the Ravens with five catches for 51 yards, while Crabtree had one catch for 7 yards, but downfield targets to Crabtree and John Brown (one catch, 23 yards) figure to be much less frequent with Jackson.

Snead was visibly upset on the sideline after the Ravens called runs to Jackson on second and third down inside the 15-yard line and were held to a field goal. He was seen hollering at Mornhinweg, but Snead said afterward that, "I talked to Marty and we're all good."

"It was a point in the game where passion came out," Snead said, "and I have to learn how to control it."

It appears this Jackson-led, run-first, read-option attack will be the game plan at least next week, too. Harbaugh acknowledged that he knew early last week that Flacco would not be able to play in this game, and he said it will be "tough" for Flacco to play against Oakland Nov. 25.

3. Forget the quarterback controversy, what about the running back controversy?

With all the talk of Jackson this week, the emergence of Edwards was the rookie storyline this week that no one saw coming, and he gave a badly needed jolt to the Ravens' rushing attack.

Operating as a hard-running, north-south complement to Jackson, Edwards barreled for 115 yards on 17 carries as the Ravens piled up 265 rushing yards. He even got the call on a critical fourth-and-1 run with under four minutes left. Although that play -- which went for 2 yards -- was wiped out by penalty, it showed a remarkable level of trust in the undrafted rookie. 

It is an astonishing rise for Edwards, who not only didn't make the Ravens out of training camp, he wasn't even the top undrafted rookie running back on the practice squad. That was DeLance Turner, who was promoted from the practice squad after running back Kenneth Dixon was placed on injured reserve after Week 1. But when Turner went to IR after Week 5, Edwards got the call.

Edwards had 10 rushes for 42 yards during a blowout win at Tennessee Oct. 14, but since then he had totaled five carries for 22 yards in the previous three games. 

But with the Ravens' running game stuck in neutral -- they entered the game ranked 31st in yards per carry and neither starter Alex Collins or Buck Allen were averaging more than four yards a carry -- the Ravens called Edwards' number early and often and he delivered. It marked the first time since 2012 the Ravens have had a pair of 100-yard rushers in a game.

Just a few days ago, the Ravens announced that Dixon has been designated to return from injured reserve, and conventional wisdom was that Edwards would be let go when Dixon returned. Now, Edwards might have run into the starting job. 

4. The defense exorcised a few demons.

The Ravens stared up at the scoreboard and saw the Bengals had fourth down, late in the game, driving at M&T Bank Stadium. 

"When I looked up at the scoreboard, I was like, 'This is bringing back some bad memories,'" cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. 

When this happened last New Year's Eve, Dalton hit receiver Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown that handed the Ravens a 31-27 loss and knocked them out of playoff contention in the 2017 season finale.

With receiver A.J. Green sidelined, everyone expected the ball to go to Boyd, who was a problem again with four catches for 71 yards on 11 targets. But Dalton threw instead to Cody Core on the right sideline, and Humphrey made a terrific play to break up the pass, ripping the ball away from Core with 1:42 left to essentially seal the win.

Humphrey said the Ravens plan was to double-team Boyd, and "I figured it was going to be something short and something quick, so I tried to get my hands on it. … I think it kind of stuck in his hands, kind of made a contested catch for him, and I was able to get it out at the end."

The Ravens had seven more pass deflections, but went a fifth consecutive game without an interception. Still, they made the play this time when it mattered most. 

"We’re not easy to move the ball down the field against," Harbaugh said. "In that series, they tested Jimmy [Smith]. They tested Marlon. … I can't remember who else they tested. I thought our guys came through and covered really well."

5. The season is saved -- for now.

It's not an exaggeration to say a loss in this one would have doomed the Ravens' playoff chances and possibly ushered in a massive organizational reset after the season. That isn't the case now, as the Ravens suddenly are back at .500, host the lowly Raiders Nov. 25 and find themselves right back in the playoff picture. 

The Ravens are one of about a half-dozen teams in the mix for the final wild-card spot, and they will still have to secure a road win at either Atlanta, Kansas City or San Diego, to get to nine wins, which still might not be enough to reach the postseason.

To be sure, this win doesn’t rule out an offseason organizational overhaul. It does mean that for now, the Ravens can continue to play for this year. 

And with Flacco still ailing, it looks like it will be the Lamar Jackson show once again next week. 

This has been updated.

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka    

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox