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Instant observations: five things about the Ravens 27-17 loss

Instant observations: five things about the Ravens 27-17 loss

ARLINGTON, Texas – Five observations after watching Cowboys (9-1) roll to their ninth straight win, 27-17, over the Ravens:

1. The Ravens (5-5) stepped up in competition and it showed.

This could be a preview of what faces the Ravens down the stretch. They didn’t play poorly, but it wasn’t good enough. They still have three tough road games on their schedule – at New England, at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati. The AFC North is clearly up for grabs, but the Ravens saw what the team with the NFL’s best record looked like, and looked overmatched in the second half.

2.  Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is unflappable whether Tony Romo is in uniform or not.

Prescott keeps showing why this is his moment, his team. He was off target on several throws early, but once he settled down, he was superb. The Cowboys scored on every second half possession, and Prescott (27 for 36, 301 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) was the catalyst. He can throw on the run, he reads defenses calmly, and he scrambles when necessary. Most of all, he wins, and he is surrounded by tremendous talent. Romo was dressed for the first time all year after a back injury, but on this team, he is simply the backup quarterback. Prescott is the man, and the in the second half, the Cowboys’ offense took over the game and wore down the Ravens’ defense. 

3. Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant owned the red zone, without Jimmy Smith (back) in action.

The Ravens sorely missed Smith, their best and most physical cornerback. Bryant caught two touchdown passes, and on both of them, he simply outmuscled or outmaneuvered Ravens corners. On his first touchdown, Bryant basically boxed out Shareece Wright like he was an undersized point guard. On his second touchdown, Bryant muscled past Tavon Young to reach the end zone after Young tried to tackle him. The Ravens need a healthy Smith to matchup with top receivers. They must hope Smith’s back problems do not linger.

4. Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. is a player for the ages, regardless of his age.

Smith (eight catches, 99 yards, one touchdown) did everything in his power to bring the Ravens back. Not only did he surpass 1,000 catches for his career, Smith played with the passion he always brings. On the Ravens’ final scoring drive, he was hit hard twice after making the catch, but popped up each time unfazed. Smith cannot be intimidated. He should have a bust in Canton in his future, because his career is Hall of Fame worthy.

5.  There were some encouraging signs for the Ravens’ offense. 

Their 90-yard drive in the second quarter was probably their best of the season, and their 75-yard drive in the third quarter was nice as well. Joe Flacco (23 for 25, 269 yards, one TD, no interceptions) had a solid game at QB, but the Ravens’ offense didn’t have the ball enough in the second half. But the Ravens look like a better offensive team in November than they did in September and October.

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John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson's playoff performance

John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson's playoff performance

Coach John Harbaugh, just six days after his team’s disappointing 28-12 loss to the Titans in the AFC playoffs, has already had to defend his quarterback.

Faced with some criticism after Jackson finished 31-of-59 passing, and three total turnovers, Harbaugh mentioned how far Jackson has come in the last year — which also ended in an early playoff loss at home.

“It’s really interesting to look at Lamar Jackson, because look at the progress he made in the last year,” Harbaugh said Friday. “Because the same question, I think you might have asked it last year, how is he going to get better going forward? And he did a good job, right? He’s 23 years old. He’s younger than Joe Burrow. So, he has a pretty good head start right now.”

Jackson is now 0-2 in the playoffs with a 19-3 regular season record. 

He’s likely the MVP this season after he passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 yards, setting the single-season rushing record for a quarterback along the way. He led the NFL in passing touchdowns and carried the most prolific offense in the league to a league-best 14-2. 

Harbaugh isn’t worried that his quarterback, who is just 23-years-old, hasn’t found his playoff success yet.

“The Manning brothers combined to, they had five losses in their first five playoff games before they won one,” Harbaugh explained. (Joe) Montana, (Steve) Young and (Brett) Favre didn’t start a playoff game until their third season, (Drew) Brees and (Troy) Aikman, until their fourth season, and (Aaron) Rodgers until his fifth season.”

After the season ended, Harbaugh added that Jackson went to his office to discuss the offseason and what he needed to do to improve. 

While Harbaugh and the offensive coaching staff had a plan for Jackson to improve, Jackson “nailed” each and every single critique that the coaches had laid out for him.

“I’m really confident in Lamar and his understanding the things he needs to do to get better, and that he’s going to work really hard to keep building himself up as a player,” Harbaugh said.

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Harbaugh reflects on resting starters: 'I might go the other way' next year

Harbaugh reflects on resting starters: 'I might go the other way' next year

If the Ravens can pull off winning the AFC North division title three years in a row, their starters might be on the hook for Week 17 next time around.

In head coach John Harbaugh's season-review press conference on Friday, the Ravens leader of 12 years was asked if resting his starters in Week 17 vs Pittsburgh contributed to their AFC Divisional Round loss to the Tennesse Titans. 

"I mean, we didn't play well," he said.

Harbaugh went on to explain how he dove into the numbers of football's past in order to make decisions ahead of hosting the Steelers in their regular-season finale. The Ravens ultimately won 28-10 before two weeks off and then losing to Tennessee, 28-12.

"You look at the history, and I did that, went back and looked at the history," Coach Harbaugh said. "And the history is about 50/50. You know, teams have held their guys out and won and then won the Super Bowl. Teams have held their guys out and lost. It's gone both ways. We held our guys out and won and we won the Super Bowl [in 2012]. I was probably leaning on that in all honesty."

"Going forward after this, I might go the other way, you know?" Harbaugh offered. "Right now, if I had to do it today, and it's next year and we're in this situation, God willing we're in the same situation, we'll probably go the other way in all honesty."

Analytics can only tell you what has happened in the past, not what will happen next. A predictive guide at best, resting starters is likely best exercised as a case-by-case, team-by-team situation.

Since coming to Baltimore in 2008, Harbaugh has only been faced with this specific decision twice, establishing a 50/50 track record himself. It worked for the Ravens in 2012 as they went on to beat the 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII.

It did not work in 2019. 

"The disappointment ... is that we didn't play our best football," Harbaugh continued. "That's the thing that really sticks to us. We're way better than what we played in both those games, and we're gonna have to grow from that." 

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