Ravens display intended identity in ‘fight to the end game’ vs. Buccaneers

TAMPA – You can’t blame the Baltimore Ravens for having a bit of extra satisfaction for the manner in which they completed their Thursday night mission.

They finished strong.

That has not always been the case this season. In each of their three losses, the Ravens blew double-digit leads in the fourth quarter – not exactly the mark of a champion and just the kind of stuff that can haunt a team later when playoff berths and positioning are determined.

Yet the 27-22 victory stakes a claim to a different identity for the Ravens as they ran the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into the ground with a dominating second half.

The Ravens rushed for a season-high 231 yards, with all but 27 in the second half. The omen came on their first snap after halftime, when Lamar Jackson bolted up the middle for a 25-yard run to ignite a 77-yard touchdown drive.

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Talk about an adjustment. Jackson threw 30 passes and offensive coordinator Greg Roman called just 7 rushes in the first half, a strategy that produced all of 3 points. After halftime, Jackson was 8-for-8 passing and Baltimore (5-3) ran 26 times, including three kneel-downs at the end.

“That was the plan,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh insisted. “It really laid out exactly how we anticipated, in terms of what we called, when we called it, in terms of the run-pass ratio.” 

It certainly worked, which begs the question of why Roman didn’t lean more on the running game earlier. After sputtering in the first half, the Ravens scored on all four of their second-half possessions and protected the football – which also hasn’t been a given for a unit that entered the game with seven fourth-quarter giveaways.

Never mind that the domination came against the reeling Buccaneers (3-5), who dropped a third consecutive game and have had an identity shift to the opposite degree. Not only has Tom Brady struggled, but Tampa Bay’s typically stout run defense surrendered 404 rushing in five days, including the loss on Sunday at the Carolina Panthers.

Baltimore averaged seven yards per rush, which is as good an indicator as any that a defense that was on the field for 74 plays was worn down.

“This was kind of a fight to the end kind of game from an energy standpoint, in terms of not wearing down and executing when you’re tired,” Harbaugh said. “Trying to wear an opponent down, both teams were trying to do that, and our guys prevailed.”

Jackson – who passed for 238 yards, two touchdowns, rushed for 43 yards and committed zero turnovers – was buoyed by the next-man-up elements of the effort. Tight end Mark Andrews and receiver Rashod Bateman were knocked out of the game in the first half with injuries. Rookie Isaiah Likely filled in for Andrews and finished with a team-high 77 yards on six catches with a touchdown; wideout DeMarcus Robinson had six grabs for 64 yards.

“I feel like the whole offense is hungry,” Jackson said. “(Our) main guys went down and everyone stepped up.

‘We all just went out here to finish the job.”

Finishing. The flow at Raymond James Stadium – which included a healthy contingent of Ravens fans clad in purple – also served as an example of the complementary football Harbaugh & Co. should want to bottle up for later use. If this team is to emerge as a serious Super Bowl contender, the balanced formula demonstrated Thursday night is essential to the ticket.

In blowing the big leads this season (and nearly blowing another one against Cleveland on Sunday), it’s natural to scrutinize a defense that ranked 23rd for yards allowed (26th against the pass) through seven weeks. Yet the offensive woes contributed to the meltdowns, too.

Interestingly, Baltimore put up big rushing totals in its losses: 155 yards against the Miami Dolphins, 162 against the Buffalo Bills and 211 versus the New York Giants. The underlying problem, though, was bottom-line productivity with turnovers as part of the equation. Heading into Thursday, the Ravens were outscored 71-25 in the fourth quarters. They managed ten fourth quarter points against the Bucs.

Although Tampa Bay tightened the final margin with a late touchdown, the Ravens were clearly in control by the fourth quarter in large part because of the balanced running attack powered by Jackson, Gus Edwards (65 yards), Kenyan Drake (62 yards), Justice Hill (28 yards) and even receiver Devin Duvernay (33 yards).

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey said it was reminiscent of the rushing attack in 2019 that averaged more than 200 yards per game as it set an NFL record with 3,296 yards – which, by the way, took a lot of pressure off the defense.

“It was one of those times you sit on the bench and you look up and five minutes went off the clock,” Humphrey said. “So, we’ve got to shout out for the offense and the O-line. They got the game ball.”

Now that’s finishing strong.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY