The Ravens played rude hosts to another NFC contender, riding their overpowering defense and a neatly varied running game to blow out the Seattle Seahawks, 37-3.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
The Ravens are for real
Kyle Hamilton dropped to the turf for pushups — penance for an interception he did not make — as general manager Eric DeCosta looked on in mock disbelief.
Was this a tense moment in a touch-and-go game between postseason contenders?
Not at all. It was visual proof of just how loose the Ravens felt late in the third quarter after their defense had spent the afternoon beating up another NFC heavyweight.
Just as the Detroit Lions had two weeks earlier, the Seahawks traveled to Baltimore a confident team, winners of five of their past six games and first in their division. They left thoroughly beaten, testifying to the home team’s quality.
“They just went to work, and we didn’t stop them,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We couldn’t make any first downs and couldn’t convert on third down. So, it’s just a really hard, long day against a really good team. They took it to us.”
After declawing the Lions, 38-6, the Ravens were reluctant to sing their own praises. They seemed less so this time, recognizing that they had not just won decisively but had beaten up an accomplished opponent on both sides of the ball.
They ran where they wanted on offense, permitted no breathing room on defense. The all-for-one spirit — Hamilton’s pushups, defenders pursuing the ball like their hair was on fire when the game was already out of reach, teammates crashing bodies as they thrilled to Odell Beckham Jr.’s first Ravens touchdown — evoked memories of the 2019 team, which won 12 in a row to close the regular season.
The difference, said holdovers from that team, is this one might be more balanced with more mature leaders.
“I said this in camp; I think this is the most talented team I’ve been a part of, the team with the most potential since I’ve been here,” veteran left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “I still believe that to this day. I just think in every position group we have, we don’t really have any weaknesses.”
The Ravens will quickly revert to not getting ahead of themselves. They’ll ignore the power polls that come out over the next few days, proclaiming them the NFL’s best. They’ll remind us how fleeting this exultation will be if they’re flat next Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
John Harbaugh was ready with that context even as he dispensed plaudits to more than a dozen players during his postgame news conference.
“As a coach, it’s fulfilling because all the things you work on, and all the things that guys work on, you see it transferred onto the field in a game,” he said. “The guys have success doing the things that you want, but you also understand that it’s one win. You don’t get credit for more than one win, no matter what the score is.”
It’s folly to think any other way in a season that has already featured its share of narrative swings.
That said, run-of-the-mill teams do not handle a pair of division leaders by a combined score of 75-9. The Ravens are very, very good, and they know it.
They ran over Seattle with diversity more than raw power
They had complained a week earlier that perhaps Todd Monken kept his run game in the holster longer than he should have against an Arizona defense that kept dropping eight into coverage.
Seattle, eighth in DVOA against the run, presented a more formidable test on paper, but the Ravens cut to the chase this time around. After two unsuccessful drives to start the game, they unhinged a hot defense with variety. Would it be Gus Edwards slamming into a gap or Lamar Jackson keeping the ball to knife into open space? Rookie Keaton Mitchell entered in the second quarter like an adrenaline shot to the heart, averaging an absurd 15.3 yards per carry in his first extended dose of NFL work.
In the first half alone, the Ravens ran for 121 yards to Seattle’s 30, rolled up 17 first downs to the Seahawks’ four. Those numbers would only mushroom from there. They finished with 298 rushing yards, the fourth-most in the 28-year history of a franchise known for ground assaults.
“There were moments there where we just ran the ball five-plus times in a row and kept getting first down after first down,” Stanley said. “That can be demoralizing for a defense.”
Even without right tackle Morgan Moses, who ceded his snaps to dependable Patrick Mekari because of a shoulder injury, the offensive line paved the way for the Ravens to do as they pleased.
Fans hoped DeCosta would add a marquee back such as Derrick Henry or Josh Jacobs at the trade deadline. But if Edwards is this efficient in the red zone, Jackson this big a threat every time he takes off, Mitchell this difficult for defenders to pin down, they were better off not expending the resources.
The edge rushers have wildly exceeded expectations
On Seattle’s first two possessions, when the game still felt like a defensive struggle between equal opponents, Jadeveon Clowney stuffed running back Kenneth Walker III twice and deflected a third-down pass.
After an odd fumble by Beckham on what seemed the Ravens’ final drive of the first half, Kyle Van Noy took center stage, roaring off the edge to drop Geno Smith on second down and stripping him on third down. That turnover wiped away Beckham’s sin and handed the Ravens the field goal they had seemingly squandered.
“I think that’s the turning point in the game,” Harbaugh said.
On a day when the Ravens’ defense shined in every way imaginable, the veteran outside linebackers DeCosta signed in August (Clowney) and September (Van Noy) set their course.
Odafe Oweh also continued his forceful comeback from the ankle sprain that cost him four games with two tackles and a sack.
The Ravens added four sacks to their league-best total. Seattle went 1-for-12 on third down. Aside from a 50-yard strike to DK Metcalf in the second quarter and a 35-yard hookup with Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the fourth, Smith, one of the NFL’s most accurate passers, put no positive imprint on the game.
We could credit any layer of coordinator Mike Macdonald’s defense for this crushing performance. Geno Stone made his league-leading sixth interception. Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens checked a pair of excellent wide receivers. Justin Madubuike recorded a sack for the sixth straight game, a Ravens record.
“A big part of what you saw today with that was I think the complementary football between the coverage and the rush,” Harbaugh said. “The coverage got the quarterback to hold the ball, and then the rush got there a number of times.”
But it was a day to sing hosannas for the outside linebackers deemed inadequate by so many analysts who surveyed the team’s roster before the season.
The Ravens showed interest in the top edge rushers available at last week’s trade deadline but were unwilling to pay too steep a price in part because the Clowney and Van Noy signings have paid off handsomely.
“Who needs training camp?” the 32-year-old Van Noy said afterward, drawing laughs.
“We knew who we had, the experience that they’ve got, how they still play to this day,” linebacker Patrick Queen said. “It’s everything that we practice, everything that we preach.”
Beyond the pass rush, Queen pointed to the Ravens’ success neutralizing Walker as an outside threat. He came in averaging 4.4 yards per carry but finished with 16 on nine attempts.
“We talk about dominating, and that’s kind of something that we really lean on each other for, and we mean it,” Van Noy said. “We don’t just go out there to win; we want to dominate.”
This was a day to lift up struggling Ravens
Three days before he faced the Seahawks on his 31st birthday, Beckham faced questions about his frustrations. Why had he slammed his helmet on the sideline during a win over the Arizona Cardinals in which he caught no passes on four targets?
“I’ve got high expectations, high standards, but ultimately, it’s a team game,” he said.
Such diplomacy aside, it was apparent how hungry Beckham felt to break out and how hungry his teammates were to facilitate his first touchdown as a Raven.
When the moment finally came in the fourth quarter Sunday, it hardly mattered that the Ravens didn’t need the points or that the throw came from Tyler Huntley instead of Jackson. Joy radiated off Beckham, who had not scored since the first quarter of Super Bowl LVI, nearly 21 months earlier. Huntley was so happy he bowled Jackson over in the celebration.
Beckham had briefly seemed in danger of more frustration after he lost his handle on the ball while spinning to the ground late in the second quarter. But that mishap ultimately mattered little on a day when he reached season highs with five catches and 56 yards and topped his cake with the long-awaited touchdown.
“To see him come back — that’s what you expect out of a player like that, a veteran player who has done it before,” Harbaugh said. “Odell ran a great route [on] a double move back out to the corner.”
Tight end Isaiah Likely has dealt with his own frustrations this season, albeit well outside the spotlight that shines perpetually on Bateman. The training camp star of 2022 had caught all of four passes in the first eight games of his second season.
Which was why Harbaugh made a point of shouting out the three first downs Likely converted on a four-catch afternoon, including a rugged 17-yard catch and run to jump-start the Ravens’ first touchdown drive.
The Ravens have to keep winning because so is everyone else in the AFC North
The Ravens have peaked higher and faltered less than their three divisional foes, but that does not mean they’re running away with the AFC North.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) often resemble a sputtering jalopy in a world of electric sports cars, but they keep winning.
The Cleveland Browns never seem to know who’s going to play quarterback in a given week, but they moved to 5-3 with a shutout of the hapless Cardinals.
After a ragged start, the Bengals (5-3) are playing like it’s 2021, saying their blessings for quarterback Joe Burrow’s mended calf.
The Ravens will lead by 1 1/2 games when they begin their second run through the division Sunday against the Browns. Projection systems, whether you favor ESPN, The New York Times or Aaron Schatz’s DVOA, strongly favor them to hold that lead.
But they know one stinker could reduce their lead to negligible.
“We’re just worried about playing to our potential,” Stanley said. “We know we play in the toughest division in the NFL. We’ve always had that mindset. We believe we should be undefeated at this moment in time, but we’ve just got to keep pushing to play to our potential.”
Browns at Ravens
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 4 1/2