As Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus’ 63-yard field goal attempt fell well short of the goalposts Sunday afternoon with time expiring at M&T Bank Stadium, all was momentarily forgotten.
The scoreboard showed the final score, 10-9, with Baltimore on top, retaining its grasp on the AFC North lead. The Ravens’ faithful roared.
But it took a broken road to get to the final whistle. Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a knee injury, sitting the final three quarters, and the Baltimore offense was stilted without him. Poor decisions twice led to puzzling interceptions and the offense struggled to sustain drives. At times, the announced crowd of 70,443 booed the home team.
“Obviously, we didn’t really perform how we wanted to today,” Ravens rookie center Tyler Linderbaum said, “but when it came down to crunch time, we got the job done, and the defense played awesome.”
Through the game’s first 59 minutes, the Ravens managed a single trip to the red zone, coming away with just three points. But just in time, the Ravens manufactured a 16-play, 91-yard drive — including by a nifty pump fake and completion by backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, who then scored with 28 seconds left on a 2-yard run.
For the majority of the game, the Ravens’ offense struggled, as they scored just twice on 11 possessions. Last week in Jacksonville, the Ravens had significant trouble converting touchdowns in the red zone. That wasn’t the problem Sunday — simply getting into the red zone was.
“We kind of [were] shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties, taking sacks, loss of yards,” Linderbaum said.
If the Ravens (8-4) are without Jackson, one of the league’s top weapons, the offense could continue to struggle in the coming weeks. And other questions linger, too. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is a candidate for the Stanford coaching job, leaving open the possibility that the Ravens could have a new play-caller before season’s end.
Baltimore averaged just 4.1 yards per play Sunday. On designed runs (which exclude scrambles by the quarterback), it has averaged a paltry 3.7 yards per carry over the last three weeks.
Third downs were a challenge, too, as the Ravens converted just three of 13 against the Broncos (3-9), who boast one of the league’s top defenses.
Huntley had bright moments, completing 27 of 32 passes for 187 yards, but one costly interception. Another Baltimore drive stalled after a doomed trick play, when wide receiver James Proche II threw into double coverage for an easy Denver pick.
When Jackson is healthy, his playmaking ability is so dynamic that the Ravens’ offense always feels on the cusp of a big gain. However, he might not return next week — coach John Harbaugh said the injury would not end Jackson’s season, but he didn’t yet know when he’d be able to play — meaning the Ravens could visit the Pittsburgh Steelers next week sans their star.
If that’s the case, they’ll need to find a way to score more than 10 points, a season low, without him. Tight end Mark Andrews said, going forward, the offense needs to be more efficient.
“We’re not going to get too down because we know we have a dangerous offense,” he said. “I’m excited about the future of this, [and] for us as players and our coaches to keep on striving to be better. That’s what is beautiful about this team. We have a bunch of guys that want to be great.”
“It wasn’t a pretty day for us overall,” right guard Kevin Zeitler said, “but give a big shoutout to our defense for taking us into the fourth quarter and giving us a chance. However long we need Tyler [Huntley] for, we are in good hands.”
The Ravens went 1-3 in Huntley’s four starts last year when Jackson was injured, each of which was decided by three or fewer points, including a comeback win against the Chicago Bears.
“Obviously you can’t replace Lamar Jackson,” said cornerback Marlon Humphrey, “but I feel like we have a starting quarterback at our No. 1 quarterback and our No. 2 quarterback.”
A dual-threat quarterback like Jackson, Huntley allows the Ravens to use similar play-calling with either player, and Linderbaum, the center, said his exchange with the quarterback — whether it’s Jackson or Huntley — is no different.
But if Jackson is hindered going forward, so, too, might be the Ravens’ offense. And Baltimore might need to, again, scrape together a win without its top weapon.