An im­per­fect win, a per­fect record

Sloppy or not, Ravens are 3-0 for third time in fran­chise his­tory

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - By Jeff Zrebiec jeff.zrebiec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec­sun

JACK­SONVILLE, FLA. — One of th­ese days, this pat­tern of play the Ravens seem to spe­cial­ize in fig­ures to cost them. There will be no blocked kick to shift the mo­men­tum in their fa­vor. The Ravens won’t have the lux­ury of putting the game on the re­li­able right foot of Justin Tucker. The de­fense won’t be able to close the deal by forc­ing a late-game turnover.

One of th­ese days, the talk in their postgame locker room will be about a game that got away and the mis­takes that doomed them. The Ravens surely know that in tempt­ing fate over the first three weeks, they are open­ing them­selves to a re­ver­sal. They just don’t seem to care, and af­ter a sea­son in which they lost nine games by one pos­ses­sion, why should they?

The Ravens make win­ning look aw­fully hard at times, yet as they de­parted EverBank Field late Sun­day af­ter­noon af­ter a 19-17 vic­tory over the still-win­less Jack­sonville Jaguars, they were 3-0 for the third time in fran­chise his­tory and in sole pos­ses­sion of first place in the AFC North.

“We’re 3-0. Hey, we’re not go­ing to apol­o­gize for that,” Ravens right guard Mar­shal Yanda said. “Our de­fense played their tails off to­day. They played lights out.”

Justin Tucker pro­vided the win­ning points by split­ting the up­rights on a 54-yard field goal that might have been good from 65 yards. Weak-side line­backer Zachary Orr then se­cured the vic­tory by in­ter­cept­ing a pass from quar­ter­back Blake Bor­tles near mid­field with 25 sec­onds to play.

“All I can say is, that’s amaz­ing,” said Ravens coach John Har­baugh, who worked the locker room af­ter the game, stop­ping to speak with as many play­ers as he could reach. “That’s awe­some, in­cred­i­ble. For us, it’s a fab­u­lous vic­tory, and I’m ex­cited we won the foot­ball game.”

This one, played be­fore an an­nounced 60,127, was zany even by Ravens stan­dards. And we’re talk­ing about a team that won a game against the Cleve­land Browns last Tucker smiles af­ter his 54-yard field goal, his fourth of the game. Line­backer Zachary Orr fol­lowed by in­ter­cept­ing Jaguars quar­ter­back Blake Bor­tles near mid­field with 25 sec­onds to play. sea­son on a touch­down re­turn of a blocked field-goal at­tempt with no time on the clock, and a team that lost a game to th­ese same Jaguars when an officiating er­ror gave Jack­sonville an un­timed down and a chance at a game-win­ning field goal.

In the last nine­plus min­utes Sun­day, the Ravens’ Devin Hester, pos­si­bly the great­est re­turner of all time, muffed a punt that led to the Jaguars’ kick­ing the go-ahead field goal. Quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, who set a team record by com­pet­ing 21 con­sec­u­tive passes, threw two seem­ingly back-break­ing in­ter­cep­tions in a span of three plays.

Bor­tles had two in­ter­cep­tions in the fi­nal four-plus min­utes, and Ja­son My­ers, who dealt the Ravens a gut punch last year with his game-win­ning 53-yard field goal with no time on the clock, had his at­tempt from 52 yards blocked by de­fen­sive end Brent Urban. Orr re­cov­ered the ball and ad­vanced it to the Ravens’ 43-yard line.

Flacco found Steve Smith Sr. for 5 yards on fourth-and-2. Four plays later, Tucker was lin­ing up for the win­ning field goal.

“While we would like to blow ev­ery­body out and beat the brakes off ev­ery­body we Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 41⁄ play, we know re­al­is­ti­cally, we’re the Bal­ti­more Ravens, [who] play AFC North, black-and-blue di­vi­sion foot­ball,” Tucker said. “We just have to be ready to end the close games and put the dag­ger in them our­selves.”

The Ravens might not be the NFL’s most un­likely 3-0 team. The com­bined record of their three op­po­nents is 1-8, af­ter all. But they cer­tainly look like the hard­est 3-0 team to fig­ure out.

Their mis­take-filled per­for­mance Sun­day — they were called for eight penal­ties and turned the ball over three times — is a case study. From the lat­ter stages of the first quar­ter to the early part of the third, Flacco ap­peared to be in com­plete con­trol. He com­pleted 18 of 22 at­tempts in the first half and scored the vis­i­tors’ only touch­down on a 7-yard scram­ble. But for much of the sec­ond half, he failed to con­nect with his re­ceivers and con­sis­tently put the ball in harm’s way.

“We have to play a lit­tle bit cleaner, and on of­fense, we have to find ways to get more points,” said Flacco who fin­ished 29 of 40 for 214 yards, no touch­downs and two in­ter­cep­tions. “We played a solid three quar­ters of foot­ball, but we’re not scor­ing.”

De­fen­sively, the Ravens pass rush was nonex­is­tent for three quar­ters de­spite the Jaguars’ miss­ing two starters on the of­fen­sive line. In the fourth quar­ter, the Ravens sacked Bor­tles four times; Ter­rell Suggs got two of them.

“Our de­fense stepped up to get the sacks, to get the in­ter­cep­tions, to block the field goal, all of the things that led to win­ning in the fourth quar­ter, do­ing the things we had to win in the game in the end,” Har­baugh said. “That’s the story. I do be­lieve we’re a bet­ter de­fense.”

Even the Ravens’ nor­mally solid spe­cial teams group played its part in the Ravens’ fail­ing to widen an early 10-0 edge, and ul­ti­mately los­ing a 16-7 third-quar­ter lead. The Ravens were called for three penal­ties on spe­cial teams, and they al­lowed a 42-yard punt re­turn in the sec­ond quar­ter that set up the Jaguars’ first touch­down. There was also Hester’s muffed punt.

But when the game was in the bal­ance, the Ravens got a blocked kick for the sec­ond straight week and Tucker’s late field goal.

“We know when it’s close, we have the tal­ent and re­silience to come back and win the game,” Urban said. “Any way pos­si­ble, we’re look­ing at it. I think we have a lot more con­fi­dence late in the game now. It shows by a win like this.”

The Ravens know the ques­tions aren’t go­ing away. They again weren’t able to run the ball con­sis­tently, gain­ing 84 yards on 22 car­ries. The pass­ing game has been in­con­sis­tent, as tar­gets such as Ka­mar Aiken, Crock­ett Gill­more and Maxx Wil­liams strug­gle to get in­volved. The pass rush has been spotty, and cor­ner­back Sha­reece Wright has been picked on the past two games, with Allen Robin­son catch­ing two touch­downs against him Sun­day.

None of those things mat­tered much to the Ravens late Sun­day as they again found a way to win. They’ve had plenty of blem­ishes on their play, yet none on their record.

“This was a game that did go the other way last year,” Smith said. Check out a photo gallery from the game and cov­er­age of other games from around the NFL. Watch video of Mike Pre­ston’s in­stant anal­y­sis and of Justin Tucker talk­ing about kick­ing in close games.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHOTOS

Ravens wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. (89) gains 5 yards on a fourth-and-2 catch be­fore be­ing tack­led by the Jaguars’ Paul Posluszny, top, and Dwayne Gratz in the fourth quar­ter. The re­cep­tion was part of the drive that set up Justin Tucker’s go-ahead field goal.

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