As the Eagles began their two-point conversion play, one that could’ve tied the game with less than two minutes to play, Ravens edge rusher Matthew Judon stepped up and made a play.
Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz ran a read-option play, but couldn’t make the decision whether to keep the football or not because Judon met him face-to-face. The Eagles didn't gain a yard when they needed two.
Linebacker L.J. Fort was right behind Judon, as the Ravens’ defense held on the most important play of the game to preserve a 30-28 lead, the eventual final score, in a road game the Ravens were oh so close to blowing.
The preceding few drives up until that final conversion play, however, weren’t ones to look fondly on for the Ravens. In fact, Judon’s stop was one of the few plays in the fourth quarter the Ravens were able to feel good about.
“These are the kind of games that build character,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “This is a championship character that’s built in moments like this. This team, they have winners.”
The Ravens, despite holding leads of 17 (at halftime), 18 (at the end of the third quarter) and 16 (with seven minutes to play) nearly blew what looked to be a solid performance from start-to-finish.
The Eagles, led by Wentz, scored 22 fourth quarter points and nearly erased a multiple-score deficit in a matter of minutes with big plays down the field, and big mistakes from the Ravens.
Up by eight points as the clock wound down, the Ravens used up less than a minute of game time before they punted the ball back to the Eagles. Cornerback Marcus Peters was whistled for a defensive pass interference penalty on the ensuing Eagles drive, which was their final one of the game, to put them in the red zone.
It was a sloppy ending to the win almost any way you slice it.
“We have to learn to finish, man,” safety DeShon Elliott said. “We have to learn to finish (and) continue to work on our communication and tackling. I know it’s early, but when you have a lead like that, you can’t let off the gas pedal. We let off their necks. I feel like we have to be better than that.”
Elliott was part of the secondary that was opportunistic in forcing potential turnovers (Elliott forced two fumbles and cornerback Marlon Humphrey forced one) but also allowed numerous big plays to happen.
Eagles wideout John Hightower hauled in a 50-yard reception, which might not have been his longest of the day were it not for a bad drop on the Eagles’ first drive of the game. Miles Sanders had a 74-yard run, and though he fumbled, it was picked up by the Eagles for a touchdown.
“We have a very extensive and very difficult defense, so sometimes communication can be iffy,” Elliott said. “But we can’t settle for that. We can never have busts. We have too many great players, too much talent in our back end to have any type of bust. So, I’ll put that on myself, because I need to help communicate. And there were probably a couple times out there where I could have communicated better for everybody else and communicated better for myself.”
For the poor second half defensively, the offense wasn’t much better in the way of getting out of its own way.
The Ravens committed 12 penalties for a total of 132 yards as a team, a large chunk of which came offensively on pre-snap penalties. The Ravens gained 355 yards, including 182 on the ground, but struggled to prevent costly mistakes.
“It’s always unfortunate when we shoot ourselves in the foot,” right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “That’s something that Coach ‘Harbs’ (John Harbaugh) has been on us about since day one — since I’ve been here — even before I’ve been here. We’ve got to do a better job of making sure that we play more efficient and don’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”
For Lamar Jackson’s part, the former MVP quarterback played well and threw for 186 yards on 16-of-27 passing with a score. He added 108 yards on the ground, including a 37-yard run up the middle for a touchdown to give the Ravens an 18-point lead.
Despite the mistakes, the dominant pass rush which sacked Wentz six times — of which three of which came from Campbell — and more even nature of the target share in the passing game is sure to please Ravens fans and add another element to the team’s bye week evaluations.
After all, the Ravens are 5-1 headed to their most important game of the season against the Steelers on Nov. 1, a game that will be for first place in the AFC North. For 32 teams in the NFL, that’s a scenario that’s accepted without hesitation each time.
But the Ravens, who have struggled at various points offensively and now defensively, know they’ve got more to prove and more to show. After last season’s 14-2 mark on the back of record-shattering offensive numbers and a top defense to boot, repeating last year’s performance was almost impossible on paper.
The Ravens have won three straight games, the latest of which wasn’t the game filled with the most eye candy in the world. Sunday’s win was their first by single digits since Week 14 of last season, which snapped a seven-game streak of double-digit victories.
So while the performances can get better, they’re still walking into the bye week exactly where they want to be. Only this year, there’s more to clean up.
“We want to be perfect,” Brown said. “We want to be the best offense to touch the field in the world, consistently — play-in, play-out, series-in, series-out. We’re just not there yet. We understand that we’ve got a lot of work to do. But at the end of the day, we’re chasing perfection.”