Different Ravens, same birds of prey
Confetti from an NFL weekend.
The sign in their Owings Mills, Md. headquarters says “Play Like A Raven.” There is no written specification for that, and none is needed. One look at the team from Baltimore, and it’s self-evident.
The motto originated with general manager Ozzie Newsome and was eagerly adopted by coach John Harbaugh, who got the job in 2008. The team gives Play Like A Raven clinics, and there’s all kinds of Play Like A Raven merchandise.
It surpasses generations, from Jamal Lewis to Ray Rice to Gus Edwards, from Todd Heap to Mark Andrews, from Jonathan Ogden to Marshall Yanda to Ronnie Stanley, from Ray Lewis to Roquan Smith, from Ed Reed to Kyle Hamilton. It’s not always picturesque or even effective, particularly on offense, and they went three years without a playoff appearance in 2015-17. But generally they are identifiable in a way most teams aren’t: Emotional, menacing, and devoted to their 60-minute task. When assistant coach Rex Ryan took over the Jets, he tried to borrow the slogan. But “Play Like A Jet” never quite worked. You’re either a Raven or you’re not.
The Ravens have been to two Super Bowls and won them both, and at the moment their 9-3 record is the best in the AFC, although three other teams have three losses. They came to SoFi Stadium on Sunday night and took a 20-10 win over the Chargers, who are the antithesis of the Ravens. What is a Charger, anyway? A highly-hyped import, unloved in his home stadium, with a knack for the game-losing mistake? You can’t really spot it in the wild, because it hides so well.
These particular Chargers are 4-7 and, even though they played with unusual passion on Sunday, still turned it over four times and, when it was time to stop the Ravens and at least tie the game, gave up a 37-yard fly sweep touchdown to rookie Zay Flowers.
The NFL feels it is powerful enough to bend history, so it pretends that the Ravens came into being in 1996, instead of acknowledging that Art Modell wrenched the Cleveland Browns out of their natural habitat and moved them to Baltimore. Jim Brown played for the franchise that is now the Ravens, not the current expansionist Browns, no matter what the record book says. Nevertheless, the circa-1996 Ravens have the third-best winning percentage in the league, behind only Dallas and Green Bay.
The Ravens’ excellence comes straight from the top, where Newsome ran things until he handed it off to Eric DeCosta. Like most successful organizations, they think independently. Lamar Jackson was about as accurate as a hammer thrower when he was winning the Heisman Trophy at Louisville, yet the Ravens drafted him as a quarterback anyway, and he became an MVP and is playing at that level again. He was the 32nd, or final, pick in the first round of that 2018 draft and was the fifth quarterback taken, behind Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. Those four were all taken in the top 10.
The Ravens have also heard that you shouldn’t take a safety in the first round, because safeties are available down the line. Cornerbacks are preferable. But the Ravens are in the business of exceptionalism, and they drafted Hamilton, from Notre Dame, with the 14th pick in 2022. Hamilton has become a marauding, 6-foot-4 presence from all levels and sides of the defense. Against Cleveland he descended upon DeShaun Watson on the second play of the game, tipped his pass, caught it and ran it in, like a raven honing in on a juicy worm. Hamilton did it all so quickly that the camera never quite caught him. Without replay we would have had no idea.
Running back J.K. Dobbins went down for the season in Week 1, vs. Houston. The devastation was purely emotional. The Ravens relied on Edwards, who was born in Liberia and was brought to the U.S., and rescued from a civil war, when he was five. He played at Miami and Rutgers, was not drafted, signed with Baltimore as a free agent, and has scored 23 touchdowns, 10 this year, and runs with Raven-like defiance.
Now Andrews is out for the year. Since he has been Baltimore’s tight end, Jackson has targeted him 176 more times than any other receiver. But in 2022 the Ravens drafted Isaiah Likely, from Coastal Carolina, in the fourth round, and he is 6-foot-4 and 240, and Jackson hasn’t been reluctant to find him. Besides, the Ravens have perhaps their alltime best receiving room, with Odell Beckham Jr. healthy and hungry to join Flowers and Rashad Bateman.
The fullback is the brontosaurus of football, except in places like Baltimore, where 305-pound Patrick Ricard is functional on several levels. And now the Ravens have discovered another undrafted nugget in Keaton Mitchell, a rookie who played at East Carolina and already has touchdowns of 40 and 50 yards for Baltimore.
Mitchell had one advantage. His dad Anthony was also an undrafted free agent, from Tuskegee. Anthony signed with Baltimore and, in 2000, returned a blocked field goal 90 yards, breaking a tie with Tennessee in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. He has a Super Bowl ring. His son might just get one, too. Playing like a Raven doesn’t skip a generation.
Other confetti from an NFL weekend:
Philadelphia 37, Buffalo 34 (OT)
– Don’t come to Philadelphia with a near-perfect game. That won’t do. When Buffalo was leading the Eagles 24-21 in the fourth quarter Sunday, Josh Allen made his first serious mistake, an interception to James Bradberry. Five plays later the Eagles, specifically Olamide Zaccheus, was celebrating in the Buffalo end zone. After Tyler Bass missed a 48-yard field goal in the particular misery that is a November rainstorm in the Northeast, the Eagles responded with Jalen Hurts’ TD pass to A.J. Brown. And when the Eagles were grasping at any straw they could to put this into overtime, Jake Elliott whacked a 59-yard line drive through the uprights, as emphatic as any Schwar-bomb.
– So it came as little surprise that Hurts ran a QB draw for the game-winner in overtime after Allen had missed a lonely Gabriel Davis behind the Philly defense, which should have been his own game-winning touchdown. Buffalo’s subsequent field goal did not hold up, as Hurts went five-for-seven and DeAndre Swift ran for 16 yards to set up Hurts’ scoring run, set up by fly-sweep motion to the right. The Eagles thus became 10-1 with a trip to San Francisco next.
– Buffalo (6-6) played very well. It led 17-7 when Allen found Stefon Diggs right before halftime. The Bills ran 40 times for 173 yards. They were 13 for 22 on third down and had the ball 14 more minutes than did the Eagles. And Hurts was 4 for 11 in the first half with an interception. Again, the Eagles are permitted to show those flaws. The opponent is not.
Jacksonville 24, Houston 21
– The Jaguars (8-3) opened a 2-game lead in the AFC South in a game they controlled until the final helpless seconds. Houston’s Matt Ammendola teed up a 58-yard field goal that was on target but bumped into the crossbar and went awry. Houston could have gotten closer except for two sacks of C.J. Stroud in that drive, the last one courtesy of Josh Allen, who had two and a half, and forrmer first-overall pick Trayvon Walker.
– Stroud still became the first NFL rookie to put together four consecutive 300-yard passing games. He hit Niko Collins with the 17-yard TD pass to cut the lead to 24-14. But he was harassed most of the day, while the Texans never sacked Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence and only hit him twice. Lawrence ran a 75-yard drive in the third quarter that ended with a one-yard TD pass, and then a two-point pass, to Calvin Ridley for a 21-14 lead, and a sack by Allen ruined a Houston drive, leading to Brandon McManus’ 53-yard field goal.
– The Texans (6-5) got only 18 yards in six carries from Devin Singletary, and they couldn’t stop Lawrence from a 364-yard day. But Stroud and Lawrence are laying the groundwork for a high-level divisional rivalry.
Kansas City 31, Las Vegas 17
– With 2:59 gone in the second quarter, the Chiefs trailed 14-0 and had only nine snaps and it could have been worse, since Daniel Carlson of the Raiders missed a 30-yard field goal. From that point, it was party time for the defending champs, who didn’t permit any other touchdowns and except for Josh Jacobs’ 63-yard run, gave Las Vegas only 60 ground yards.
– At one point Kansas City scored four touchdowns on five possessions.Just before halftime, Patrick Mahomes hit Travis Kelce with 27 and 23 yard passes that set up Mahomes’ seven-yard TD pass to Justin Watson, who had a rough night with his hands in the Monday loss to Philadelphia. The Chiefs were intent on rebuilding confidence in their passing, running only 23 times. Rashee Rice was the beneficiary with eight catches for 107 yards.
– The Chiefs went to 8-3. The Raiders ontinue to get good work from rookie QB Aidan O’Connell (23 for 33, 248 yards and a touchdown) but their defense only hit Mahomes twice. Maxx Crosby, playing hurt, had the only Vegas sack.
Denver 29, Cleveland 12
– Denver is 6-5 with a five-game win streak, longest in nine seasons, and it’s happening because of Russell Wilson’s renewal and a defense that has coaxed 14 takeaways in its past four games, including three fumble recoveries Sunday. In Weeks 3-5 Denver gave up 129 points. In the six games since, that number is 99.
– Wilson had minimal numbers (13 for 22, 134 yards), but Denver’s runners rumbled for 169 yards with four runs of 10 yards or more. Wilson guided two 80-yard drives that put Cleveland down, 14-0. Denver got another active game from pass rusher Nik Bonitto, who hit Cleveland QBs three times and had a sack and a half.
– Cleveland lost QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson to a concussion and premier pass rusher Myles Garrett to a shoulder injury. The Browns were 2 for 13 on third down and 1 for 3 in the red zone. The Browns play at the Rams Sunday and are practicing this week at UCLA, where Thompson-Robinson played quarterback for what seemed like a generation.
Pittsburgh 16, Cincinnati 10
– Could it have been as simple as changing the offensive coordinator? Probably not, but the Steelers outgained an opponent for the first time in 2023 and topping 400 yards for the first time in 59 games. They fired Matt Canada last week and replaced him with interim coordinator Eddie Faulkner and play-caller Mike Sullivan. It also helped to have a healthy Pat Freiermuth, the tight end who caught nine balls for 120 yards.
– With all that, the Steelers only scored one touchdown and relied on four sacks, two by T.J. Watt. The defense denied Cincinnati on eight of 10 third down situations, and the Steelers are 7-4 and very much alive despite themselves.
– The Bengals have lost three consecutive games and, of course, won’t have Joe Burrow for the duration. Jake Browning wasn’t bad in his first NFL start, throwing a TD pass to Drew Sample and completing 19 of 26. It would have helped if Cincinnati had acknowledged the talents of running back Joe Mixon, who got eight chances to run for 16 yards. The Bengals’ longest run was six yards.
Green Bay 29, Detroit 22
– The Packers (5-6) are edging closer to playoff seriousness thanks to the improvement of Jordan Love, who has a 5-0 TD-int ratio in their past two wins. His best play was a 37-yard option sprint on third-and-short that kept the Lions at bay.
– It’s as true now as ever: The best way to deal with Jared Goff is to pressure him, preferably up the middle. Rashan Gary, maybe warming up for alma mater Michigan’s showdown game on Saturday,, sacked Goff three times. One of those sacks popped the ball loose for Jonathan Owens to scoop and score, giving Green Bay a 20-6 lead. Gary forced another fumble and hit Goff three other times. It canceled a 470-yard day for the Lions’ offense.
– Detroit (8-3) ranks 22nd in points allowed per game and the arrow is pointing down. Their last five opponents are 13 for 16 in the red zone, and the Lions are minus-5 in turnover margin in the last three weeks. Four of the Lions’ next five are on the road.
San Francisco 31, Seattle 13
– Seattle’s loyal “12s” must have thought the 49ers were operating with a baker’s dozen on defense. San Francisco (8-3) did not give up an offensive touchdown, had six sacks, and didn’t allow a run over 11 yards. Nick (We Got The Right) Bosa sacked Geno Smith twice and hit him five times. Since the 49ers observed a bye after a 3-game losing streak, they are 3-0 and have outscored their victims 82–20.
– The Seahawks scrambled to within 24-13. Early in the fourth quarter, Zac Charbonnet was tackled for a four-yard loss by new 49er Randy Gregory, and Bosa and Aric Armstead sacked Smith for 11 yards. San Francisco got the ball on its own 36 and pranced to a touchdown in six plays, with Brock Purdy throwing a 28-yarder to Brandon Aiyuk.
– The Seahawks (6-5) are not in good shape. Their next three are at Dallas, at San Francisco and Philadelphia at home. They have lost three of their past four, nosing out Washington 29-26 for the only win.
Miami 34, N.Y. Jets 13
– Jaelen Phillips had two sacks and three tackles-for-loss, and the Dolphins would have traded at least a couple of those to have him back for the stretch run. He tore his Achilles and is out for the year. But Miami has played without him before, and Jevon Holland returned a Hail Mary interception 99 yards for a score. The Dolphins had seven sacks Friday and have held five straight opponents below 100 yards rushing.
– Miami (8-3) has a good chance to play all its AFC playoff games in the sunshine. Its next three games are against Washington, Tennessee and the Jets, and they play Dallas and Buffalo at home, sandwiched around a trip to Baltimore.
– Tyreek Hill and Jalen Waddle had 100-yard receiving days for Miami. As for the Jets, Tim Boyle got 179 yards out of his 38 pass attempts, and the Dolphins held Garrett Wilson to 44 yards in seven catches. New York (4-7) has gotten four offensive TDs in its past five games.
Dallas 45, Washington 10
– The Cowboys (8-3) stretched their point-differential to plus-162, although the teams that they’ve beaten have a combined win percentage of .298. They exceeded 40 points for the fourth time, and had four sacks of Sam Howell. In their past three games (Giants, Carolina, Washington) they have 16 sacks and have given up zero. Micah Parsons has five and a half of those.
– The final touchdown was a 63-yarder on an interception by DaRon Bland, his fifth of the season. That ties the NFL record. It’s also two more defensive TDs than any other NFL team, and equals Travis Kelce’s total. It also equals Bland’s interception total after three years at Sacramento State and another at Fresno State. He was a no-star recruit from Modesto and has seven interceptions this season, 12 in 28 games with Dallas.
– Washington fired defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio after the game, and it would surprise no one if head coach Ron Rivera, who has control of the roster, is next. True, it’s a little duplicitous to fire Del Rio after management traded Chase Young and Montez Sweat, but Washington has given up 105 points in sliding from 4-5 to 4-8. Miami is next.
Atlanta 24, New Orleans 15
– He won’t be Rookie of the Year, but Bijan Robinson is proving that it isn’t automatic folly to take a running back with the No. 8 pick of the first round. He scored on Desmond Ridder’s 26-yard pass and on a 10-yard run, and has run for 705 yards this year with 240 yards receiving. The catch from Ridder put Atlanta up 21-12 in the fourth quarter as the Falcons had their most decisive win since the season opener.
– Atlanta and New Orleans are 5-6 in the turtle race that is the NFC South, and the Falcons have the tiebreaker edge with upcoming games against the Jets on the road, Tampa Bay at home, and at Carolina. Safety Jessie Bates, formerly of Cincinnati, has been a savvy free agent buy, and on Sunday he returned an interception of Derek Carr for a touchdown, and jarred a fumble loose from Taysom Hill when it appeared the Saints would take the lead.
– The Saints weren’t playing with a full deck, since Chris Olave suffered a concussion near the end of a 106-yard receiving day, and tackle Ryan Ramczyk also went down. They were 0-for-5 in the red zone Sunday and lost their fourth game in six.
L.A. Rams 37, Arizona 14
– Kyren Williams’ muscle memory was too much for the Cardinals. He rushed 20 times for 158 yards in the first Rams-Arizona game, but hurt his ankle and missed the next four. On Sunday he ran 16 times for 143 in the rematch, along with six catches for 61, and two touchdowns. He and Royce Freeman have healed the Rams’ run game.
– Matthew Stafford is having a nice comeback season for the Rams. Here he threw a season-high four touchdowns and had only eight incompletions. After Arizona came up empty on a fourth and two from its own 48, Stafford went 4-for-4 for a touchdown, a 15-yarder to Williams. That put the Rams ahead 21-8 late in the second quarter.
– The Rams kept Kyler Murray from running (one carry, two yards) and held him to 256 passing yards in 45 attempts. They also have 10 sacks in their past three games, and at 5-6 they’re knocking on the playoff door again.
Indianapolis 27, Tampa Bay 20
– After the Colts went for a fourth-and-six on the Tampa Bay 40 and failed, Baker Mayfield hustled the Buccaneers to a touchdown, on a 23-yard pass to Mike Evans, and they only trailed 20-17 early in the fourth quarter. Then the Colts then got to a fourth-and-one on Tampa Bay’s 49 and went for it again. With short-yardage personnel in the game, Gardner Minshew faked and threw 30 yards to tight end Mo Alie-Cox. Jonathan Taylor got the last yard and the Colts won their third consecutive giame.
– The Colts’ physical style is paying off. They sacked Mayfield six times and hit him three other times. Offensively, Taylor and Zack Moss ran 23 times for 146 yards, and Indianapolis would be the last team in the AFC playoff grid ITSET (If The Season Ended Today).
– Tampa Bay (4-7) has lost seven of eight, and Mayfield has been sacked 13 times in the past three weeks. Rachaad White was the highlight on Sunday with a 100-yard game in 15 carries, the first this year for a Tampa Bay runner.
Tennessee 17, Carolina 10
– The Panthers and Titans were on relatively even terms until one familiar play separated them. Down 7-3, Bryce Young was sacked by Arden Key on his own 15 yard line and fumbled to Jeffrey Simmons of the Titans (4–7). Two plays later Derrick Henry got a 10-yard touchdown. Carolina got to within 17-10 in the third quarter and had the ball, but Denico Autry’s sack of Young stopped that drive, too. Young has been sacked 40 times, four on Sunday. David Tepper, the Panthers’ excitable owner, fired coach Frank Reich, whom he’d hired 11 games ago.
– Carolina (1–10) ran 67 plays to Tennessee’s 53 and, with the exception of a 91-yard touchdown drive, permitted Tennessee only 173 yards. The Titans converted two of 11 third downs. But the Titans had nine tackles for loss, with Simmons and Autry getting three apiece.
– Rookie Will Levis was efficient, going 18 for 28, but the offense revolved around Henry, who had both touchdowns and has now run for 9,000 yards in his career.