Bills Prevail 23-20
The Ravens blew another big lead at home to a fellow AFC playoff contender, and there were a ton of reasons for this latest heartbreaker. There were two main things we should learn from this game at the end of the day: The Ravens can play with anybody this year. And the Ravens will never be a serious playoff contender unless they can learn to close out these games.
Let’s take a look at some grades.
The Bills have a very good defense, and the weather wasn’t ideal, but this was a sluggish performance. There were some good things, like that second possession of the game that resulted in a touchdown run by J.K. Dobbins, and a long drive in the fourth quarter in a tie game against a respected opponent. Alas, they generated exactly zero points in that final possession, and they had two turnovers in the second half, to go with precisely zero points on any possession in the second half. Average score.
This is the kind of game when you can really appreciate what a low floor Lamar Jackson has at quarterback. He was 20-29 passing, but only generated 144 yards on those passes. He had that early shovel-pass touchdown to Dobbins, and saw a few of his nice passes dropped. Still, it was his least-effective passing game of the year, and his second interception was the result of not finding a wide-open Duvernay earlier, and gave the Bills free yards to start that final game-winning drive. He did run for 73 yards, and made a spectacular highlight play spinning away from a Von Miller sack and somehow launching the ball downfield, where Duvernay made an exceptional grab off of Andrews’ hands. He wasn’t sharp today, but he made some spectacular plays.
Running Backs: B
Justice Hill has looked fast since the summer, and ran well again today before an injury took him off the field. Dobbins had those two touchdowns and generated 63 yards of offense. Pat Ricard did a nice job blocking and picked up a first down on third-and-short. He also had three catches. The group was effective today against a stout opponent. That’s progress. Let’s keep our fingers crossed on Hill.
Mark Andrews had two catches for 15 yards, and that should never be allowed to happen again. He also drew a pass-interference penalty when targeted another time. Rashod Bateman didn’t have a great game, dropping a few passes, including on a third-and-eight that could have been a big play in a seven-point game at the time. He finished with 17 yards on three catches. Duvernay was their best weapon, putting up 51 yards on four catches. He catches everything. Demarcus Robinson should have drawn a pass-interference penalty of his own at the end of the first half, but the call was missed.
Offensive Line: C
They did a better job with blocking in the run game, which is continuing a trend from last week. With rookie Daniel Faalele manning the blind side, there was a worry about how they would perform in pass protection, and they did give up plenty of pressure, but he held up fairly well, and received some help on the day. Kevin Zeitler was a big part in opening several of the running holes, and Tyler Linderbaum found himself on the wrong end of the penalty flag too many times. Jackson saved the numbers from being worse.
This might be based on a curve, because they’ve been pretty terrible for most of the season. And, yeah, I know they gave up a 17-point lead. But they did only give up 326 yards of offense to a very good Bills team, and you had the feeling Buffalo earned a lot of what they did get today. There were some missed tackles, largely on Josh Allen, but guess what? Dude’s good. Like, really, really good. They made the Bills fight today, and picked up two more turnovers.
Defensive Line: C
Justin Madubuike was consistently in the Bills’ backfield, and he is showing to be maybe the Ravens’ best player up front. Calais Campbell tipped at least two passes, including Marlon Humphrey’s first-quarter interception. Rookie Travis Jones made a nice run stop in the fourth quarter on a play that looked scary at first. Outside of Madubuike, it was a pretty pedestrian performance, but they weren’t a liability.
Odafe Oweh finally picked up his first sack of the season, but he was pretty active all day. He also forced a fumble and was in on Allen on several plays. He whiffed on a clean shot on him late that allowed Allen toe scrape for a touchdown run. Patrick Queen dropped another interception, but he did hit Allen a few times and looked fast out there. Still, tackling isn’t always easy for Queen. Jason Pierre-Paul played a lot more than I expected, and didn’t show a lot in terms of pressure, but he did flash with his speed and was active. Josh Bynes made a nice play on a pass breakup in the first half.
Defensive Backs: B
They were the beneficiaries of a few drops out there, but the defensive backfield played their best game of the season, holding Allen to 213 yards on 36 attempts. There could have been one, or possibly two, more interceptions, as well. Marlon Humphrey continued his strong season, getting a pick and showing sticky coverage. Marcus Williams made another great play today, ranging far to break up a deep sideline pass, and recovered a fumble. Marcus Peters had a nice pass breakup, and gave up a 23-yard pass late to Diggs, but that was one of those perfect-route-perfect-throw deals that just wasn’t going to be stopped. Kyle Hamilton had nice coverage on a third down pass in the third quarter to kill a drive.
Special Teams: B
Justin Tucker is great. And he was great again, nailing two field goals, including a 51-yarder. Rookie punter Jordan Stout had two decent punts, but I wish he hadn’t booted the second one through the end zone. It could have been placed better. Duvernay had a solid kick return to start the second half, when it looked like there was nothing available. The Bills had a good return following the Ravens first TD.
There were some things I liked, particularly on the defensive side. They didn’t give up very many easy plays out there, and the defense forced Allen to make game-changing plays. He did. On offense, Mark Andrews had one catch for three yards with three minutes left int he third quarter. I do not care what the defense was doing. Andrews is this team’s best weapon on offense not named Jackson, and they need to get him the ball. I didn’t love the call to go for it late, as I would have taken the points there and taken my chances. However, there were other things I liked even less during that series of events. If they knew they would be going for it if it got to fourth down, one would assume, why not just ram it up there with Ricard on second down? Then sneak it with Jackson on third? Or whatever? Just ram forward and do not lose yards. On fourth down, why not have Jackson use what makes him special and get him out of the pocket and on the move? Yes, Jackson could have hit Duvernay sooner, but I still didn’t love that play call, either.