Another Ravens collapse was inevitable, but few thought it would be against Jacksonville.
Maybe it wouldn’t have left such a bitter taste if it had come against Cincinnati, Kansas City or Buffalo, but it was the Jaguars — the now-4-7 Jaguars.
Trevor Lawrence entered Sunday known as a quarterback who struggles to read the entire field. He played most of the game without his top running back, Travis Etienne Jr., who left in the first quarter with a foot injury.
Up 27-20, the Ravens should have put this game into the win column.
Instead, they lost, 28-27, as Lawrence engineered a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones Jr. with 14 seconds left. Adding further insult, Lawrence then completed the game-winning 2-point conversion on a pass to Zay Jones.
With the addition of middle linebacker Roquan Smith, the Ravens defense had shown significant progress in its previous two games, against New Orleans and Carolina, but Smith doesn’t play safety, and he doesn’t play cornerback — which is becoming a liability. It was only a matter of time before an opponent exploited the unit’s lack of speed and inability to cover.
Lawrence looked like Tom Brady on the final drive. On a fourth-and-5 from the Jaguars’ 30, he threw a 10-yard pass to Marvin Jones to beat a blitz.
He also had a 17-yard pass over the middle to Christian Kirk and 8- and 29-yarders to Zay Jones before the touchdown. Lawrence finished the game 29-for-37 for 321 yards and three touchdowns.
The Ravens’ pass rush showed out against the Saints and Panthers, but the Jaguars neutralized it Sunday with a good game plan that focused on getting the ball out quickly.
The weak link in the Ravens’ defense has been discovered.
“Generally, they completed some big passes on us, so that’s what it boils down to,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “When they had to, they had some chunk passes and got down the field.”
You could see this coming. Opposing teams have zeroed in on veteran cornerback Marcus Peters ever since the team’s Week 2 loss to the Dolphins. He’s always been the gambling type, which is why he was once one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, but he’s being burned by his inability to recover when taking those chances.
Brandon Stephens is a better safety than cornerback, but the Ravens have to play him on the outside because rookies Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams aren’t ready. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey had a strong game, but his versatility and tackling ability are better suited near the line of scrimmage than outside.
Safety Marcus Williams will help shore up the back end once he returns from a wrist injury, but he doesn’t play cornerback either. The Ravens are and will remain vulnerable in the secondary, especially when their pass rush fails to get to the quarterback.
“We got lackadaisical out there,” Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston said. “There was a lack of communication. The little things — I think that’s what you’ve got to do to play a complete game. You’ve got to do it for four quarters, not three, and we didn’t do it for four quarters.
“You just learn from it. I don’t think you get down. It should be motivation to keep moving forward. That’s all that matters. We get in the dance [playoffs], we’re going to shake something. We’re good. Like I said, it’s growing pains. We’re still learning, we’re still figuring stuff out.”
The offense could have helped the defense out by catching more passes and scoring touchdowns instead of kicking four field goals. Quarterback Lamar Jackson would have been a big help, too, if he hadn’t overthrown receivers on two would-be touchdowns, one to tight end Josh Oliver and another to wideout Demarcus Robinson.
But this is a team that has lived on its defensive reputation for the past 20 years. It had the Jaguars in a vulnerable spot and couldn’t deliver.
It was inevitable.