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With rookie QB at the helm, Baltimore's relied on a familiar strength: its defense

With rookie QB at the helm, Baltimore's relied on a familiar strength: its defense

The Baltimore Ravens defense over 13 weeks has been a brick wall.

The combination of veteran players with wisdom to share and young talent with fresh mentalities has created a defense that resembles historic ones of the past under first-year coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale.

On Sunday, the Ravens defense limited the Atlanta Falcons to 131 yards of total offense marking the fewest by a Falcons team since 1999, per Ravens PR. They also got to quarterback Matt Ryan three times, one of which turned into an 11-yard touchdown run by cornerback Tavon Young to seal the 26-16 win.

In the Falcons' first 11 games, Matt Ryan and co. hadn't been held to under 299 yards. On top of that, the Ravens have held opposing offenses to under 200 yards three times this season. Not bad for a defense that's primarily led by a 33-year-old Eric Weddle and a 36-year-old Terrell Suggs who's leading the team in sacks at 6.5. 

“We’ve learned over the course of the season when we play together, we win on first and second down and we be us on third down," Weddle said after the game. "That's being aggressive. Be in your face. Pressure. Different looks. Keeping the quarterback on his toes and we did that throughout the course of the game."

Ranked as the No.1 total and points per game defense heading into Week 13, a revamped offense that dominated time of possession in Sunday's game by almost double lent a helping hand in their success.

'Obviously, the offense helped us out," Weddle added. "The time of possession has been huge over the last three weeks. Keeping us rested. Keeping us fresh in the fourth quarter. I told the guys before that last drive, ‘We’ve been sitting down for 15 minutes, so we better have the energy. You better hit whatever you see these next few plays and let’s go win this game.’ It’s complementary football that we’re playing and just got to keep rolling."

"It’s true the best defense is a good offense," head coach John Harbaugh added. "Whether you’re scoring a lot of points or whether you’re eating up the clock, one or the other. The number of plays they are playing, the fact that they are fresh and well rested to get after people makes a big difference."

And that young talent that compliments the seasoned veterans includes 2017 first-round draft pick, Marlon Humphrey. Over the last several weeks, the cornerback has been matched up with some of the strongest receivers in the league and has come out on top, deflecting what could have been game changing plays. During Sunday's game, Humphrey didn't allow a single catch in his direction.

For a league that's becoming all about high scoring, offense dominating matchups like we saw Week 11 in Chiefs-Rams, having a defense average 17.8 points per game is something to be proud of. 

The Ravens have found the formal for success down the stretch of the 2018 season as they're currently half a game back of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North and hold the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. And as they head to Kansas City to take on the No. 1 ranked offense in the league, the faith in one another is apparent.

“Not even just the team, but our defense. They’re rolling," Lamar Jackson said. "Two consecutive weeks we have turnovers for touchdowns. That’s incredible. They’re getting to the quarterback. Just like I said before, our offensive line is doing a great job protecting up front and just helping come up with victories. It’s a team game, man. The whole team.”

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Lamar Jackson shows off accuracy by hitting a crossbar from 50 yards away

Lamar Jackson shows off accuracy by hitting a crossbar from 50 yards away

Lamar Jackson isn't letting the end of the Ravens' season impact his ability to wow us on the football field. 

Ahead of the Pro Bowl Skills Challenge set for Thursday night, Jackson showed off incredible arm talent by hitting the crossbar from 50 yards away. 

Not bad for a running back. 

This season didn't go as planned for the Raves. They won 12 straight games to finish the regular season 14-2 and Jackson had an MVP season. Everything pointed to at least a trip to the AFC title game until the Titans came into Baltimore and pulled off a shocking upset in the Divisional Round. 

Jackson later explained how he didn't leave his room after the loss, and who can blame him? He's now 0-2 in the playoffs and their latest failure came against a team that had to switch quarterbacks midseason. 

The future is still bright in Baltimore, and while the sting of the playoffs may still be there for Ravens fans, they can still watch their quarterback dazzle in the Skills Challenge and the actual Pro Bowl game on Sunday. 

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‘Depressed’ Lamar Jackson didn’t leave his room after Ravens’ playoff loss

‘Depressed’ Lamar Jackson didn’t leave his room after Ravens’ playoff loss

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

The Ravens had the No. 1 seed in the AFC locked up. Their quarterback was the presumptive MVP and they boasted a 12-game winning streak that was the longest in the NFL. It wasn’t a question of whether they’d beat the Titans in the divisional round, but how deep into the playoffs they could go.

Except that’s not what happened. The Titans stunned the Ravens on their home turf and won handily by the score of 28-12. After throwing just one interception over his previous 10 games, Lamar Jackson through two passes that ended up in the hands of Tennessee.

“I didn’t leave my room, to be honest,” Jackson told The Athletic during the Pro Bowl festivities in Miami. “I wasn’t frustrated. I was hurt. I was depressed. It was like, ‘I don’t even want to go outside right now. I’m not happy right now.’ There was nothing to celebrate.”

The loss marked the second-straight season in which Baltimore stumbled in its first playoff game. But this wasn’t the Ravens team of yesteryear. The 2018 Ravens went 10-6 with Jackson’s future at the quarterback position still being questioned by pundits. The 2019 Ravens went 14-2 while Jackson looked like one of the best athletes in the sport.

“I need to get better myself,” Jackson added. “I don’t put nothing on my teammates. We all just have to do our part. My job was to help my team, get my team in the red zone and score points. I didn’t do my job. We just got to move on. All season we were doing that. We’d drive down into the red zone and we’d put up points. For that game, we didn’t. We can’t put that on the defense. [Tennessee] only scored like 28 points. We should score more points than that.”

Surrounded by the fanfare that is Pro Bowl week, Jackson is all smiles as he hangs out in warm weather among some of the league’s biggest stars. But the young quarterback will have a lot to prove in 2020, as he’ll look to show that this Ravens was team was no fluke. And that he can lead Baltimore over the hump once the playoffs begin.

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