BALTIMORE — The Ravens found themselves in unfamiliar territory on Sunday — deadlocked in a game with second half implications that mattered to the result.
For the first time in weeks, the Ravens needed to play Lamar Jackson and the rest of the starters until the final whistle in one of the team’s most dramatic wins of the season.
After a string of dominant wins since the bye week at the end of October, the Ravens played their first one-possession game since a home game against the Bengals on Oct. 13.
Baltimore didn’t need a blowout win for its eighth-straight, though, as it beat San Francisco 20-17 on a last-second field goal from Justin Tucker at M&T Bank Stadium.
“These games are needed,” Michael Pierce said. “When you’re trying to go on a run and get to the playoffs, you never expect a blowout, and you need to be in those tight games to see how players respond at some point. Today was pivotal, and I think a lot of guys proved that we can step up when the time calls for it.”
And for the first time in weeks, the Ravens weren’t in control of the game from the start.
The run defense allowed Raheem Mostert to run wild, as he finished with 174 yards on 19 carries — a 7.7-yard average. The 49ers rushed for 174 yards as a team.
“They have a good running attack, you can see that today,” Domata Peko Sr. said. “They didn’t try to run too much up the middle, because they know we’ve got some big dudes in the middle. I feel like they got us in the first half with the edges, but I feel like in the second half, we made some adjustments and were able to shut it down for the most part.”
Jimmy Garoppolo finished 15-of-21 for 165 yards passing with a touchdown, and moved the ball well enough to keep the Ravens’ defense on its heels.
A Garoppolo sack-fumble in the first quarter gave the Ravens a short field and later a touchdown, and a blocked 51-yard field goal from Robbie Gould prevented more 49er points.
In short, the 49ers gifted, and left points on the field.
“This definitely makes us look at ourselves,” Brandon Williams said. “We have some things to work on and keep getting better. We can learn from this game and keep moving.”
The Ravens struggled offensively, too, as they managed just three second half points — Tucker’s last-second field goal.
“This is the NFL, so each and every game, you’re going to go in prepared, ready for a dogfight,” Lamar Jackson said. “This one here, it was a dogfight that came down to fourth down (and a) field goal. We were ready, but at the same time, you’ve got to get ready each and every game because you don’t know what (will) happen.”
Jackson didn’t post stellar numbers for the first time in weeks, as he finished with just 105 yards passing and 101 yards on the ground. His passing total was the lowest of the season.
He also committed his first turnover since Oct. 6 in Pittsburgh with a fumble deep in San Francisco territory.
“I wanted to get back on the field as fast as possible,” Jackson said of his fumble. “Our defense did a great job of holding them, helping me out, helping our offensive guys out, myself more. But it was my fault, so I’m hot about that right now. If I keep the ball in my hand, you know, we’re going to score.”
San Francisco’s defense, one of the best units in the NFL, held Jackson and the normally potent Ravens offense at-bay for a majority of the game.
Baltimore had just 283 total yards, its second-lowest total of the season. It also managed just 178 yards on the ground, the fourth-lowest of the year.
“We don’t really know how other teams are going to game plan us,” Marshal Yanda said. “Everybody has a little bit of a different idea on how to stop us. That was definitely what they wanted to do. Give them credit, they played us tough. It was a tight possession ball game. We’re excited to get that win.”
The 49ers were aggressive in all facets on defense, routinely having defensive ends crash hard on Raven running backs and forcing Jackson to keep the ball.
While Jackson rushed for 101 yards, which moved him 63-yards away from breaking Michael Vick’s all-time rushing record in a season for a quarterback, Jackson’s gains seemed to be by-design.
“That’s just their scheme, that’s what they do, they’ve shown that on film,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “The quarterback-driven stuff, they’ve always sent the defensive end at the running back. We expected that, every NFL team that plays them expects that.”
But despite all the miscues and adversity, the Ravens found a way to win despite being out-gained since Oct. 20 in Seattle. Jackson was out-dueled in the passing game by Garoppolo and the turnovers broke even.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Mark Andrews said. “There’s been a lot of tough spots. You see this game, it was a dogfight. There was multiple times it could’ve gone either way for both teams. Just being able to fight through that adversity and continue to play efficient football on all sides of the football, it was awesome to see.”
While the Ravens escaped with a three-point win against an injured 49ers team, there’s still the looming possibility of a Super Bowl rematch, no matter how far away that might seem.
And should it come to something like that, the Ravens know these types of games are beneficial in the long run.
“Obviously, you have to win the close ones,” Yanda said. “At the end of the year, when you play really good teams like that, you are not going to blow out a team like that. That’s part of it. You have to protect the football, score points when you can and play as a team.”
Through the Ravens’ last five games entering Sunday, they’d out-scored opponents 202-62. While those victories had come against four teams with winning records, that’s almost assuredly not going to be the case as the season winds down.
But the Ravens, now 10-2 and firmly in the driver’s seat for a first round bye, have proven they can win games that end up on highlight reels or last-possession games in the cold rain.
Winners of eight-straight, the Ravens just proved they don’t always have to win pretty.
“We’ve been killing people by 20-points, 30-points, putting up 40 every game,” Peko said. “It’s not going to be like that the whole time. This was a good test for us where it’s a swing here, a swing there, but we got the last punch in and knocked them out.”
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