Allegany Communications Sports

With their national-television 33-19 road win Monday over the San Francisco 49ers, the Baltimore Ravens won their fifth game in a row to stand atop the AFC with a 12-3 record.

The three losses — Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland — came by a combined 12 points and came after the Ravens had the lead at the 2-minute warning of each game.

That’s how close the Ravens are to being 15-0. It’s also how tenuous all of the talk about which team being the best in the NFL is, though the Ravens clearly pass the eye test for that distinction, at least until Sunday afternoon when they host the Miami Dolphins, the current No. 2 team in the AFC.

If the Ravens win the game against the fleet-footed Dolphins, they will clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC and homefield advantage through the playoffs, which, if you recall, they had in 2019-20 when they were unceremoniously booted by the Tennessee Titans in the first round.

Following the Dolphins, the Ravens close the regular season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who continue to crawl out of more graves than Bela Lugosi, all the while with their old friend Joe Flacco and the Cleveland Browns still breathing down their necks and in fine position to win the AFC North crown themselves, sitting two games behind Baltimore in the standings with two huge games still to go.

Thus, a Ravens win this weekend over Miami will ease a lot of stress because if we know anything about #NFLTheTVShow it is the only sure thing is there is no such thing as a sure thing.

That said, the Ravens hushed a lot of know-it-alls out there who flat-out promised they had no chance against the 49ers, the No. 1 team in the NFC and everybody’s anointed Super Bowl champ to be, including the oddsmakers, who closed the betting line Monday evening with the 49ers a 6.5-point favorite.

“We play a brand of football that people don’t want to play,” said Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen. “Everybody wants to be out here (being) cute, playing basketball on grass and stuff, and we (are not) with all that. You can do all that stuff; we’re just going to hit you in the mouth every play.”

Queen’s sentiment carries merit for the way the Ravens physically dominated the 49ers, but, in truth, San Francisco has not been one of those basketball teams on grass, as they have bullied their way in their own physical sense to most of their 11 victories this season.

There is nothing finesse about the 49ers. The Ravens just beat them at their own game.

In fact, Baltimore has been doing this all season in a very subtle way (unlike the 2000 Ravens, who were obvious), as its three most impressive wins of the season have come in how they absolutely dominated the NFC’s San Francisco, Detroit and Seattle.

The Ravens have seven wins by 14-plus points this season, all against opponents currently above .500. No team in NFL history has had more than five regular-season wins by such a margin against teams that finished that season with a winning record.

The Ravens have the second-hardest schedule statistically, with their opponents winning 56% of their games; plus, the second-largest point differential of 173, behind only San Francisco’s 177.

The Ravens had five interceptions on Monday night, two by safety Kyle Hamilton, who has steadily become one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Overall the secondary is solid, and the linebackers and defensive line are as good as any in the league.

Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is on his way to becoming an NFL head coach, as he has this defense flying around, swarming to the ball and keeping quarterbacks uncomfortable.

Monday night it was Brock Purdy, who was clueless against the Baltimore schemes and felt the wrath of the Ravens’ collective pass rush. Purdy’s performance was dismal, particularly in contrast to the performance of Lamar Jackson.

After a slow start, Jackson passed for 252 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 45 yards on seven carries; but the numbers don’t tell the story of the performance, which has boosted the Ravens quarterback to being the current betting favorite to win his second MVP award.

For the second straight week, Jackson conducted a clinic on keeping his feet moving in the pocket to extend plays, not only avoiding the pass rush, but buying his receivers more time downfield.

Such plays paid dividends to open the second half on a 39-yard catch-and-run to Gus Edwards and then, two plays later, a 6-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor.

As for the weekly MVP stuff that helps the talking heads fill the 24-hour newshole, pay no mind to it. Jackson is now the odds-on MVP, while just 72 hours ago, it was the 49ers’ Purdy or Christian McCaffrey. Should the Ravens lose this week to Miami it will be Tua Tagovailoa or Tyreek Hill. And what do we do with Josh Allen?

What say we just wait to see how the season plays out since there is still a whole lot of season left to play?

All in all, though, quite the statement made by the Ravens on Monday night. On Sunday, Miami will be in town to see if they can make it again.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT