As the Ravens walked off the field victorious, the scoreboard didn’t much matter to the celebratory Baltimoreans.
The Ravens beat the Cowboys 34-17 on Tuesday at M&T Bank Stadium, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they had won by three or by 56. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Ravens ran for the 294 yards they did, or if they’d run for any other obsolete number.
It didn’t matter that the pass rush struggled for the majority of the night. It didn’t matter that, for the first time in more than two weeks, the Ravens are on the verge of having a full roster once again. The offensive line, back together again, was congratulated by quarterback Lamar Jackson on the bench in the dying minutes, but it wasn’t so much of celebration as it was acknowledgement of a mission accomplished.
None of the details on the field mattered simply because the Ravens won. In doing so, they kept pace in an AFC playoff picture that went their worst-case scenario in Week 13. At 7-5 the Ravens are still on the outside looking in, but with four games left, they kept themselves afloat in the AFC. For this week, that was all they could do.
“It’s a win that we really, really had to have,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It was a must-win. We went out there and got it against a very determined team, a very talented team and a well-coached team who played really hard. I thought we made plays when we had to make plays.”
The Ravens are ninth in the AFC’s playoff picture with, on paper, their most difficult and important game of the season next Monday against the 9-3 Browns. Then, the Ravens will get a bit of a reprieve against the Jaguars (1-11), Giants (5-7) and Bengals (2-9-1) to close out the season.
As it stands now, none of those games are necessarily or mathematically must-win games. But with one more loss, and potentially even without a loss, the Ravens may have to play four-straight “must-win” games to end their wild 2020 season.
“We’ve got to take it day-by-day,” defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said. “We’ve got to keep winning games — that’s it. We’ve got to worry about Cleveland now, and that’s it. That’s all that matters. We’ve got to beat Cleveland. That’s all that really matters. I’m not worried about anything else, other than beating the next team, and winning the day and winning that day at practice.”
The details on the field were encouraging in spots, as quarterback Lamar Jackson entered the lineup once again and though he totaled just 201 yards of offense (107 passing and 94 rushing), he looked crisp, comfortable and fluid, which is more than he could say about some of his previous performances this season.
His 20-yard pass to Marquise Brown in the back corner of the end zone was one of his prettiest passes of the season. His escapes from Cowboys defenders made Jackson look like his MVP-self once again, as the Ravens barreled their way to 294 yards on the ground in no small part to Jackson’s legs, and the threat of his legs.
“It felt like I didn’t play a whole season,” said Jackson, who missed last week’s game against the Steelers with coronavirus. “I was like, ‘It feels good to be back with my guys.’ Even in practice, walking into the locker room and stuff, I was like, ‘Man, I couldn’t wait to see you, your faces.’ It was like two weeks that I didn’t see those guys. I couldn’t wait to get out there and perform for those guys, because I know how much it would mean for us to win games — for sure.”
The Ravens’ run game was dominant all night as Gus Edwards ran for 101 yards, Jackson ran for 94, J.K. Dobbins ran for 71 and Mark Ingram ran for 28. Ingram was the “least” efficient of the Ravens’ backs and still ran for 4.7 yards per carry.
Even without Dez Bryant, who was pulled off the field due to a positive COVID-19 test during pregame warmups, the Ravens showed signs of finding their groove once again.
“Any win is a big win for us,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “It was just the next game that we needed. We still didn’t play how we wanted to play, but we got the win, and that’s what we were happy and excited about. So, we’re going to celebrate this win, but we know at the end of the day, there’s some stuff that we have to clean up on the field.”
With tight end Mark Andrews, wide receiver Willie Snead and outside linebacker Matthew Judon all eligible to come off the COVID list for next Monday’s game against the Browns, the Ravens will get some much needed firepower back on both sides of the ball.
The Ravens were always expected to beat the Cowboys, especially a team with an offensive line derailed by injuries so far this season and a starting quarterback on the bench in Dak Prescott. In a week where so many AFC teams, and the wrong teams for the Ravens, won big games, the Ravens needed to simply keep pace. But in a lot of ways, that made the game that much more important.
The details didn’t matter Tuesday, but optimism grew for Jackson and the running backs and concern grew for the pass rush. Those details will come into focus in Cleveland, against a team suddenly in a position to make a run for a division crown for the first time in 31 years, eight years before Jackson was even born.
But at this point, it’s win at all costs for a team that’s fighting for their playoff lives. That’s the only detail that matters now.
“Just keep building, staying focused on our craft,” Jackson said. “Everyone just has to do their assignments. I feel we could pull it off. We’ve got the Browns right now — a great team. We’ve got to come to play. We’re going to Cleveland, we’ve just got to be ready to play football.”