There was a moment midway through the second quarter where we got clear insight into the Ravens’ character.
Lamar Jackson was laughing with a teammate as he was walking into the field with the Ravens trailing 6-0.
On their previous possession, his miscommunication with running back Mark Ingram led to a fumble and the Browns’ first touchdown.
Jackson exuded confidence and he must have seen some cracks in the Browns’ defense that led to his carefree attitude.
Jackson threw a pair of touchdown passes to Mark Andrews with just 1:18 left in the half that stunned the entire city of Cleveland. That led to a 14-6 lead at the half and the Ravens never looked back.
The Ravens clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs for the first time in franchise history with the 31-15 victory. Baltimore seems to be playing at a different level from the rest of the league, but this is no time to get complacent.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” coach John Harbaugh said about the top seed. “It’s something I’m sure we’ll always take pride in. It’s something to look back on at some point. But right now we’re looking forward.”
The victory over the Browns came at a cost.
Running back Mark Ingram suffered a mild calf strain, which can generally take two to four weeks to heal. Harbaugh was confident the injury was not too serious, but don’t expect to see Ingram in the season finale against the Steelers.
After that game against Pittsburgh, the Ravens won’t have to play again until Jan. 11 or 12.
“There are no kind of structural issues or anything like that. His calf was cramping,” Harbaugh said about Ingram.
Tight end Mark Andrews also had to limp off the field late in the fourth quarter, but he was able to return to the game.
Harbaugh needs to make some decisions about resting some of his players in the finale against Pittsburgh, most notably quarterback Lamar Jackson, who took several hard hits against the Browns.
“I’ll sit down with the leadership council tomorrow before we meet,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll probably talk about that. I’ll be really interested in what the players think about that, [and] the coaches. One thing I want to emphasize is that no matter what we do, the emphasis is going to be on winning the football game. We want that 14th win.”
Nonetheless, the Ravens have nothing to gain with the playoff standing against Pittsburgh. However, the Ravens (13-2) can set a franchise record for wins and can extend their record-win streak to 12 games.
Jackson has already said that he wants to play against Pittsburgh. However, he has likely secured league MVP with his performance against the Browns. Jackson was 20 of 31 for 238 yards with three touchdowns (120.1 qbr). Jackson has thrown for 36 touchdowns on the season, which is a franchise record. Jackson also ran for 103 yards on 17 carries
“Of course [I want to play],” Jackson said. “But, it’s coach’s decision.”
Still he understands the importance of some time to heal before the playoffs begin. The healthiest teams generally go the farthest in the postseason and the Ravens have been able to stay mostly injury-free for much of the season.
“It’s going to help us a lot to recover,” Jackson acknowledged.
After Harbaugh meets with the players. it will be a critical decision as far as who will play against Pittsburgh. The Steelers need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Ravens don’t have that problem.
Maybe it’s time to play it safe.