BALTIMORE – Five things we learned watching the Ravens hang on, defeating the Eagles, 27-26. With the victory, the Ravens (8-6) still control their playoff destiny, heading into a Christmas showdown in Pittsburgh against the Steelers:
1. The Ravens walked a tightrope, and almost fell off.
A loss would have been devastating to the Ravens’ playoff hopes, and it almost happened. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz scrambled for a four-yard TD with four seconds to play, and the Eagles decided to go for two points and the win. Wentz’s two-point conversion slant pass was incomplete, and the Ravens escaped. But they almost lost a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, against an Eagles team (5-90 that is going nowhere. Not impressive.
2. The Ravens’ distaste for running the football is baffling.
Joe Flacco threw a terrible fourth-quarter interception, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg made a terrible play call. The Ravens were leading, 27-17, and had moved to the Eagles’ 11-yard line with 6:21 left in the game. Why not run the football, burn the clock, and at worst attempt a field goal. Instead, Flacco dropped back to pass, looked like he never Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks, and threw the ball into Hicks’ hands. Instead of getting a touchdown or a field goal, the Ravens got nothing out of the drive, and had to hold on for victory. When Marc Trestman was fired as offensive coordinator, the Ravens were supposed to make a stronger commitment to the run. It hasn’t happened.
3. The Christmas Day showdown in Pittsburgh will be must-see TV.
The Ravens are still in control of their playoff destiny, and Steelers (9--5) vs. Ravens will be like a playoff game. The winner will control the AFC North lead heading into the final week of the season. Open your presents early. You won’t want to miss it. The
4. The Ravens’ run defense got a wakeup call.
The Eagles gashed the Ravens with successful running plays and time-consuming drives, and running back Ryan Mathews (20 carries, 128 yards) was the biggest beneficiary. If the Ravens had this much trouble stopping Mathews, how will they deal with Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell on Christmas?
5. Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. made another huge play.
With the Ravens trailing 14-13 late in the first half, Smith streaked down the right sideline and took a perfect lead pass from Joe Flacco for a 34-yard TD. The reception moved Smith into seventh place on the NFL’s all-time list for receiving yards. The touchdown also put the Ravens ahead for good. Smith says his ankle is fully healed and that he feels healthy. It shows, and they will need more big plays from him in Pittsburgh.