Marlon Humphrey might have saved the Ravens season … or at least given them a reprieve.
Facing a potential devastating loss in Pittsburgh, Humphrey forced a fumble on a reception by JuJu Smith-Schuster on the second possession of overtime.
That set up a 46-yard winning field goal by Justin Tucker that gave the Ravens a 26-23 victory
Not only can the Ravens (3-2) exhale, they have a chance reclaim first place in the AFC North if the Browns lose to San Francisco on Monday night.
“What an awesome play,” coach John Harbaugh said. “You make plays like that in a rivalry like this, in a game that means so much early in the season, that’s what big-time players do. Big-time players make big-time plays in big games. That’s what Marlon Humphrey just did.”
Still, the players and coaches will have a lot to learn from the game film in Pittsburgh this week.
Lamar Jackson had one of the worst games of his young career, completing 19 of 28 pass attempts for 171 yards with three interceptions (54.9 quarterback rating) that led to vital points for the Steelers. Jackson didn’t get much help from his receivers as both Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle tipped passes that led to turnovers. Jackson held the ball too long several times and was sacked five times, including a critical takedown in overtime that led to a 4-yard loss.
“I just have to do better and just move on,” Jackson said.
Teams have figured out that if they stack the line to stop the run and then drop two safeties deep, the Ravens will have trouble moving the ball. When Pittsburgh used six defensive backs, the Ravens gashed them for yards and the Steelers quickly reset with reinforcements on the defensive line.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is consistently tweaking the offense and that will have to continue as teams adjust to Jackson, who still made several deft runs (14 carries for 70 yards) that extended drives.
The Ravens’ secondary struggles in games against big-time playmakers like Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield are somewhat understandable. They also had some trouble containing Pittsburgh backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, who left with a concussion, and rookie third stringer Devlin Hodges. Opposing receivers are still finding ways to run free downfield.
”I think the biggest thing that I took away from the past two weeks,” Humphrey said, “we’re making small mistakes, and teams are just exploiting them.”
That’s an issue that needs to be corrected. The secondary suffered another blow when safety Tony Jefferson suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fourth quarter.
“Just to see him go down like that, it’s definitely a blow to the team,” free safety Earl Thomas III said. “I live next to him so I know I’m going to check on him. But it definitely hurts the team.”
The Ravens coaching staff also will face some questions this week about their decision-making.
Harbaugh declined a holding penalty against the Steelers on a 3rd and 17 in the fourth quarter. Had the Ravens taken the penalty, Pittsburgh would have been facing a 3rd and 27 from their own 39. Instead, punter Jordan Berry was able to pin the Ravens on their 1-yard line. Running back Gus Edwards narrowly avoided a safety, but the Steelers took advantage of a short field and Chris Boswell hit a go-ahead 37-yard field goal with 2:37 left in the game.
The Ravens also need to work on discipline. While some of the calls against the Ravens were questionable, according to officiating analysts, they had 11 penalties for 92 yards. That’s an area of focus each week.
“We just stepped up in so many different situations,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of things were going against us. Our guys kept their poise. Our guys didn’t get overwhelmed by the moment. They found a way, ultimately to win the game.”
There is still time to get better. The Ravens, however, have a tough schedule with games against the Patriots, Seahawks, Texans, Rams, Bills and Browns still ahead.
This shaping up to be another roller-coaster ride.