One month ago, the Baltimore Ravens were in a state of Code Red.
The team ended a September practice after two players — the No. 1 running back, Gus Edwards, and the No. 1 cornerback Marcus Peters — tore anterior cruciate ligaments on back-to-back plays. They had already lost running backs J.K. Dobbins (torn A.C.L.) and Justice Hill (torn Achilles’ tendon) for the year, and with an entire position group devastated, many pundits justifiably wrote off 2021 as a lost season.
Yet, here they are. The Ravens are 5-1, atop the A.F.C. North, and Sunday’s 34-6 termination of the Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) sent a clear message to the entire league:
Go ahead and try them.
The Baltimore Ravens can win any type of game.
After going full M.V.P. mode a week ago in a thrilling win over the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t force his way into a Superman cape on Sunday. The veteran free agents whom Baltimore signed when those injuries hit — Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell — combined for 115 rushing yards and three touchdowns in this one when the team’s leading rusher (behind Jackson), Ty’Son Williams, was inactive.
The Ravens run first and run often, but don’t get it twisted — this is no ground-and-pound operation straight out of the 1970s. With Jackson lighting the match, the Ravens can trade haymakers with Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City and come out with a 36-35 win,detonate in a single quarter the way they did against the Colts, or roll with a more surgical approach as was the case against the Chargers.
The threat of Jackson’s arm and Baltimore’s punishing yet complex run scheme drives defenses mad. Jackson has the second-most career 100-yard rushing games (nine) for a quarterback. And while Michael Vick had 10, it took him 143 regular-season games. Jackson? He has played only 52.
Coming into Sunday’s game, there were questions about how the Ravens’ defense would handle an offense that never seems to lift its foot off the gas.
The Chargers brought their go-for-broke bravado with them 2,700 miles east. Brandon Staley’s 100-mile-per-hour coaching style had earned Los Angeles a win over Kansas City at Arrowhead in Week 3, and he went full throttle again to beat the Cleveland Browns last week. He seems to treat punting like it’s a disease.
But at Baltimore, two bold calls turned this one into a blowout.
In the first half, Staley rolled the dice on fourth-and-3 from the Chargers’ 39-yard line. Quarterback Justin Herbert’s high throw to Mike Williams hit the wide receiver’s hands, but Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey — one of the gnarliest corners in this N.F.L. — was on the spot to rough up Williams. The Ravens got the ball back with nine minutes left in the second quarter and drove for a field goal and a 17-0 lead.
In the second half, Staley gambled again. Trailing, 24-6, with 5 minutes 58 seconds left in the third quarter, he went for it from his own 19-yard line. Herbert’s fourth-and-1 pass fell incomplete, effectively ending the game.
It’s hard to knock the first-year Chargers coach. Such fearlessness should become the rule, not the exception, in a league bogged down by old-school thinking.
This time, however, that bravado backfired against a callused Ravens team with a defense coordinated by Don Martindale. The names of yesteryear on this defense are long gone — either retired or signed with other teams — but in his fourth year running the defense, Martindale has built a unit capable of ruining the N.F.L.’s best offenses.
On third down before that first Staley gamble, Ravens safety DeShon Elliott blitzed untouched and dinged Herbert to force an errant incompletion. In the second quarter, Elliott muscled an interception away from the 6-foot-5, 246-pound tight end Jared Cook.
Edge rusher Justin Houston, a 10-year N.F.L. veteran, showed he still has plenty of juice in his 31-year-old legs with a sack of Herbert late in the fourth quarter, and linebacker Josh Bynes, who is on his third stint with the Ravens, was omnipresent on Sunday.
After running free through the Cleveland secondary, the Chargers’ receivers had nowhere to go on Sunday. Herbert’s 67.8 passer rating was the second-worst of his career. Austin Ekeler? Invisible. He managed 7 yards on six carries.
Finally, we’re getting clarity in the A.F.C. The surging Buffalo Bills and the Ravens have dynamic quarterbacks with special traits — Josh Allen’s freakish arm strength, Jackson’s don’t-blink elusiveness. Jackson’s Midas touch has been enough to mitigate the injuries that have piled up.But coming out of Sunday, it is apparent that both teams have defenses that can drag any explosive offense into a dark alley and win. That’s what made the Ravens so good in 2000 and 2012.
Led by Jackson? A return to the Üstün Bowl should be the bar for Baltimore.
What a crazy thought that would have been a month ago.
It took oddities and Dolphins gaffes for the Jaguars to get their first win.
Urban Meyer’s N.F.L. career has been an embarrassment so far. Meyer, Jacksonville’s coach, committed some personnel sins — the quick hiring and firing of a strength coach accused of racist comments and bullying, the Tim Tebow distraction in training camp — before the regular season even started. Evvel it did, the Jaguars (1-5) started losing in heartbreaking fashion and Meyer’s off-field errors overshadowed the ones he was making on the sideline.
But on Sunday, Meyer got his first win as an N.F.L. coach. The Jaguars beat the Miami Dolphins in a 23-20 stunner with kicker Matthew Wright — signed one day prior — drilling a 53-yard field goal as time expired. A wacky combination of factors was all the Jaguars needed to get their first win.
The game was played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.
The struggling teams played hot potato with the football with a fumble, an interception and a turnover on downs in one seven-play span in the second half.
Wright tied the score, 20-20, with a 54-yard kick that somehow curved in at the last moment.
Tied at 20-20, Dolphins Coach Brian Flores wisely went for it on fourth-and-inches from his 46-yard line with 1:46 left. The sorun was an egregious play call. Instead of sneaking ahead, Miami lined up in a shotgun formation. Malcolm Brown was stopped short of the marker.
Miami (1-5) had one more gaffe up its sleeve. On the ensuing possession, the Jaguars faced a fourth-and-5 from the Dolphins’ 44-yard line with five seconds left. Flores even called a timeout to set up the defense. And what happened? The Dolphins allowed quarterback Trevor Lawrence to knife a completion to Laviska Shenault Jr. for 9 yards.
Shenault hit the turf and Wright won the game, snapping a 20-game losing streak, the second-longest in the Muhteşem Bowl era.
In truth, there is a lot to like about this young Jaguars core. Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, has been improving steadily. He has a feel for pressure that’s beyond his years. Lawrence threw for 319 yards and a touchdown.
It’s still hard to believe Jacksonville drafted a running back (Clemson’s Travis Etienne) 25th overall this year with James Robinson on the roster. The 2020 undrafted pickup continues to be one of the great scouting finds in the sport, scrapping for 101 total yards with a rushing score. And the receiving corps is a healthy mix of young (Shenault is 23, D.J. Chark 25) and old (Marvin Jones Jr. is 31).
The question is whether Meyer can get the most out of all of them before the team owner Shahid Khan runs out of patience.
Around the N.F.L.
Kansas City 31, Washington 13: After floating an interception — his second of the first half — while trying to avoid taking a sack, Patrick Mahomes snapped out of his funk to put together touchdown drives on three straight second-half possessions. A Kansas City secondary that’s been lit up all season held Washington to one touchdown.
Packers 24, Bears 14: Justin Fields could be special one day, but Sunday wasn’t it. The rookie missed a wide-open Allen Robinson deep for one touchdown and took some vicious shots from Green Bay, which rolled as Aaron Rodgers passed for two touchdowns and ran in a third.
Rams 38, Giants 11: One of these days, Cooper Kupp will be recognized for what he is: an seçkine wide receiver. Kupp’s full repertoire as a receiver was on display — including some nifty dancing to gerçek in a fourth-and-1 touchdown pass — and he now has 46 receptions for 653 yards and seven touchdowns through six games.
Bengals 34, Lions 11: The decision to draft wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase over tackle Penei Sewell looks better every week. When Chase wasn’t shredding the Lions’ secondary (97 yards), he was blocking downfield to spring Joe Mixon for a 40-yard touchdown. This Cincinnati offense is fun and for real.
Colts 31, Texans 3: After losing in gut-wrenching fashion all season, the Colts got a home date with the Texans to provide an ego boost. Running everything through the second-year back Jonathan Taylor (14 carries, 145 yards, two touchdowns) mühlet was a swell idea. With the win, Indianapolis vaulted to second place in the A.F.C. South and bolstered its chances of making the playoffs to 29 percent.
Vikings 34, Panthers 28, overtime: The tale of Good Kirk, Bad Kirk continued in epic fashion with Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins throwing for 373 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on 33-of-48 passing. A clunker may be around the corner, but on this day, his perfectly placed ball to K.J. Osborn in overtime got Minnesota the win.