April 23, 2024
BALTIMORE — They advised anybody who would pay attention that this was a unique workforce, that they’d realized from previous playoff failures, that they have been “locked in” on making a Tremendous Bowl. Then, over the primary half-hour of soccer Saturday on a frigid late afternoon in Baltimore, they regarded just like the playoff Ravens of the latest previous.

Their offense was confused and overwhelmed by the blitz. Their presumptive MVP quarterback, Lamar Jackson, regarded pissed off. Their particular groups gave up a game-changing punt return touchdown. The Houston Texans would possibly as properly have been the 2018 Los Angeles Chargers, 2019 Tennessee Titans or 2020 Buffalo Payments. It was the identical film, only a completely different antagonist.

However the largest distinction between these Ravens and former variations revealed itself behind closed doorways in an “edgy” locker room. That’s the place a fed-up Jackson, who teammates say has matured and grown as Baltimore’s main man, advised the room sufficient was sufficient. They weren’t happening like this.

“There’s one thing in him proper now,” mentioned Ravens broad receiver Nelson Agholor, who caught a 3-yard landing go within the second quarter. “It’s been in him all yr, however there’s one thing actually in him proper now, and I’m with it. I’m with it.”

No person appeared to need to reveal what Jackson mentioned at halftime with the rating tied and the offense coming off three consecutive three-and-outs. A couple of of the offensive linemen mentioned it wasn’t something new. They have been already aware of Jackson’s ardour for profitable. However Jackson conceded he was the one who did the crux of the halftime speaking, which isn’t typical.

“Numerous cursing at halftime,” Jackson acknowledged.

The Ravens got here out within the second half and ran the Texans off the sector as a capability crowd of 71,018 morphed from antsy to jubilant. Dominating on offense and protection, the Ravens reeled off the sport’s last 24 factors to win 34-10, securing a spot within the AFC championship and solidifying M&T Financial institution Stadium as the location on Jan. 28.

GO DEEPER

Lamar Jackson, Ravens run away from Texans in second half

The Ravens will play the winner of Sunday night time’s matchup between the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs and Payments. It will likely be the primary time the Ravens will host an AFC Championship Sport in workforce historical past and the primary AFC title recreation in Baltimore for the reason that Colts hosted the Raiders in January 1971.

“This is step one,” mentioned Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose workforce hasn’t performed for a convention title because it received Tremendous Bowl XLVII following the 2012 common season. “The following step is in entrance of us.”

Harbaugh and a few of his assistant coaches broke out the dance strikes within the locker room after the sport. It was a far completely different vibe than it was at halftime when Jackson turned up the warmth on the offense he leads.

“I used to be (edgy),” Jackson mentioned. “We had no different selection — the offense as a unit. We simply weren’t placing factors up. Properly, we scored as soon as. Our protection was enjoying lights out, however we’re not responding. So, we simply needed to dial in at halftime. Like Coach mentioned, ‘Get the ball out fast and let the protection play us sincere,’ and that’s what we did.”

Within the second half, Jackson led three consecutive scoring drives, sandwiching a 15-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Likely between 15- and 8-yard touchdown runs by the quarterback. It was classic Jackson, making fast selections, forcing the Texans to honor each a part of Baltimore’s offensive arsenal — together with his legs — and never forcing something.

After his final landing, which gave the Ravens a three-touchdown lead with 6:20 to play, Jackson ran straight up the tunnel. The present was mercifully over for the Texans, who gave up 229 speeding yards, 134 of which got here within the second half.

Jackson grew to become the primary participant in NFL historical past to have 100-plus passing yards, 100-plus speeding yards, a 100-plus passer score and two passing touchdowns and two speeding scores in the identical recreation.

“Credit score to Lamar,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans mentioned. “He made a ton of nice performs. That’s why he’s the MVP.”

The Ravens’ first second-half landing drive lined 55 yards on six performs and lasted just below three minutes. The second was a 12-play, 93-yard drive that lasted simply over seven minutes. The third consisted of 11 performs, touring 78 yards and consuming up one other seven minutes.

It was the Ravens at their 2023 finest, with the offense controlling the ball and the road of scrimmage whereas giving Jackson myriad choices within the run and go video games. It was Mike Macdonald’s protection not giving Texans rookie phenom quarterback C.J. Stroud something simple.

Stroud, who took aside the Cleveland Browns’ vaunted protection within the wild-card spherical, accomplished simply 19 of 33 passes for 175 yards and no touchdowns. Houston had simply 213 complete yards and didn’t rating any offensive factors — Steven Sims’ 67-yard punt return was its solely landing — after a late first-quarter discipline aim. In two video games towards the Ravens this season, the Texans, with a quarterback who will possible win Offensive Rookie of the Yr and an offensive coordinator (Bobby Slowik) who’s garnering head-coaching interviews, didn’t rating an offensive landing.

Maybe, essentially the most spectacular factor about Baltimore’s defensive effort was it dominated the sport with out getting a single takeaway or sack.

“The protection was pretty much as good because it could possibly be,” Harbaugh mentioned.

Harbaugh and the Ravens teaching employees badly wanted this win. Squandering one other prime seed would have been brutal. One other divisional-round defeat as a major house favourite would even have resuscitated all the previous criticism about Harbaugh and the workforce’s latest performances within the playoffs, like the house loss to the Titans after the 2019 common season. Harbaugh’s determination to sit down some key gamers, like Jackson, in Week 18 with the workforce already having clinched the highest seed would have been second-guessed advert nauseam.

The Ravens have been a bit of off to start out the sport, a minimum of offensively. However within the second half, they regarded just like the brisker and extra primed workforce. Halftime changes by offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who watched his quarterback get blitzed time and again within the first half, have been a significant distinction within the recreation.

Monken was way more aggressive on early downs in the beginning of the third quarter. He gave Jackson extra choices within the fast passing recreation and apprehensive much less about creating chunk performs. Within the second half, Baltimore had the reply to Houston’s blitz. In keeping with NFL Subsequent Gen Stats, Jackson was 13-of-18 towards an additional rusher for 120 yards and two touchdowns. The 75 p.c blitz fee he confronted was a profession excessive.

“They have been having success within the first half with blitzing us, delicate blitz and nil,” Jackson mentioned. “They have been doing their factor, however we watched quite a lot of movie. We have been ready; we simply made little errors defending the blitz and getting the ball out on time. By the second half, I felt like we have been doing what we have been purported to do.”

Jackson badly wanted this win, too. The distinguished storyline getting into the sport was about how he had a 1-3 playoff document as a starter and 7 turnovers in these 4 video games. May you think about the response had Jackson been outplayed by Stroud? It actually would have made all of the discuss over the previous few weeks about Jackson’s development and his “locked in” mantra sound like lip service.

As an alternative, the other occurred. Jackson mentioned his piece at halftime and challenged his teammates.

“I hear the message, not the phrases,” left sort out Ronnie Stanley mentioned. “I do know what he’s attempting to say. He’s a aggressive participant, wears his coronary heart on his sleeve. He’ll say quite a lot of stuff. I do know what he’s attempting to get at. We all know what he needs, and that’s simply to win.”

Then, Jackson took over within the second half. On one of many decisive performs of the sport, the Ravens had a fourth-and-1 on the Texans’ 49. They led 17-10 with simply over two minutes remaining within the third quarter. Jackson faked a handoff to Gus Edwards and ran a bootleg for 14 yards. 5 performs later, he linked with Possible for the landing.

“His character — he’s the Baltimore Ravens,” Agholor mentioned. “He leads the fitting manner: by instance. But in addition, when it’s time to speak, it’s mentioned. After which he executes. … He doesn’t simply discuss, discuss, discuss and go on the market and never do nothing. He says what must be mentioned after which goes on the market and executes.”

When it was over, Jackson was already prepared to maneuver on. And the Ravens, as they’re apt to do, have been following his lead.

“We’ve to complete,” Jackson mentioned. “It’s nonetheless the playoffs. We’re not within the dance but, however I’m trying ahead to subsequent week, to be sincere with you. I’m not even fascinated by the Tremendous Bowl till we deal with enterprise.”

(Picture: Patrick Smith / Getty Pictures)