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Sunday, December 1, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

BALTIMORE — This was a game that seemed more like a fit for the gritty, defensive-minded 2000 Super Bowl Baltimore Ravens than the franchise’s sleek new 2019 version.

Ray Lewis would have felt right at home out there. Jonathan Ogden, too.


M&T Bank Stadium was shrouded in mist and rain at game time, the field wet and sloppy. It was not a day for 21st-century football fireworks.

Sunday’s showdown between the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers — a possible preview of February’s Super Bowl — was messy. It was dirty. It was hard-fought, right down to the final seconds.

The 49ers brought the top defense in the league and a 10-1 record to Baltimore. They didn’t travel across the country to be spectators for the Lamar Jackson show.

They came to play, and play their way — toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow. A heavyweight slugfest.

The 10-2 Ravens showed they were up to the task.

Baltimore’s revolutionary, high-powered offense, led by Jackson, the favorite for the NFL’s most valuable player honor this season, took the 49ers’ best shot.

In the final six minutes of a 17-17 tie, and facing a ferocious 49ers defense, Jackson drove the Ravens from their own 35 to the 49ers’ 31, setting up the game-winning Justin Tucker 49-yard field goal as time expired for a 20-17 win.

If the NFL wanted a measure of how tough these 2019 Ravens are, they got it Sunday.

The league already knows how explosive Jackson, the greatest dual-threat ever seen behind center, is, after he led the Ravens in high-scoring romps over the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams.

No one was going to hang 40 on the scoreboard Sunday. Points were hard to come by, but in the end, the Ravens had enough, even if 20 was their lowest output of the season.

“It was a grit game and a grit win for us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “To win a game like that is really valuable. We expect every game to be just like that. And sometimes they’re not, but the ones that count, and the ones that are, you have to be ready for.”

Jackson was 14 of 23 for 105 yards and a touchdown and added another 101 yards on 16 carries.

There were eye-popping moments to add to a growing reel of highlights — stunning, ankle-breaking runs and touchdown passes to wide-open receivers.

But the drive Jackson ran in the final six minutes is what the rest of the league should pay attention to.

No flash. All fortitude.

A five-yard pass to Seth Roberts on second down. No gain by running back Gus Edwards on third down. Facing fourth and one on their own 44 with 4:39 left, Harbaugh called on Jackson to get the first down. He delivered a three-yard run off right guard to move the chains and drive toward field goal range.

“We have a good offensive line,” Harbaugh said. “We have a quarterback who can handle it.”

They have a quarterback who may pretty much be able to handle anything.

Baltimore got to the San Francisco 39 on a 12-yard pass from Jackson to tight end Mark Andrews. But a six-yard run by Andrews was negated by an illegal formation call, putting the ball back on the 49ers’ 44.

On first down, Jackson scrambled and made a remarkable sidearm pass to tight end Hayden Hurst that put the ball on the 34, forcing San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan to call his third and final timeout with 2:23 left. The game, for all intents and purposes, was over.

“This is the NFL, so each and every game, you’re going to go in prepared, ready for a dogfight,” Jackson said. “This one here, it was a dogfight that came down to fourth down and a field goal. We were ready, but at the same time, you’ve got to get ready each and every game because you don’t know what will happen.”

Sunday’s dogfight showed there’s some pit bull in the Ravens‘ young quarterback. It might be the rest of the league that has to get prepared.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast.


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