Ravens’ first priority in playoff bid: Beat the NY Giants
|Toronto Star 24 Dec 2020 at 16:58|
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens have emerged from a COVID-19 outbreak to average 40 points and nearly 400 yards during a three-game winning streak that has put them in position to charge into the post-season with confidence.
Problem is, the Ravens still need some things to fall their way to qualify for the playoffs.
Baltimore (9-5) can beat the visiting New York Giants on Sunday and Cincinnati in the season finale and still fall short of an AFC wild card. Outside help is needed, but Jackson — the Ravens’ gifted quarterback — won’t be checking out the scoreboard while dealing with the fading Giants (5-9).
“We’re just going to let it take care of itself,” Jackson said. “We’re not focused on the outside, or other teams and stuff like that. We’re focused on ourselves.”
The Ravens appeared sunk after losing three straight while several key players, including Jackson, languished on the reserve/COVID-19 list. During that time, two games were rescheduled and Jackson didn’t play in a 19-14 loss at Pittsburgh that ended Baltimore’s shot at defending their AFC North title.
Jackson returned to help the Ravens beat Dallas 34-17, storm past Cleveland 47-42 and manhandle Jacksonville 40-14. Over that span, he has thrown six TD passes and run for four scores.
“They obviously went through that three-week stretch where they played on kind of not normal weeks -- short schedules, long schedules, guys being pulled out for COVID,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “They’re getting guys back now healthy. They’re really hitting their stride.”
It’s a pivotal game for New York, too. The Giants followed a four-game winning streak with back-to-back losses to fall a game out of first place in the NFC East.
“It’s honestly win at all costs, win by any means, do your job, execute at a high level,” defensive back Logan Ryan said.
ANOTHER RUNNING QB
The Giants will hit the trifecta on running quarterbacks when they face Jackson on Sunday.
New York started off the month against Russell Wilson and Seattle. The following week it was Kyler Murray of the Cardinals.
Jackson — who ranks 12th in the NFL with 828 yards rushing and seven touchdowns — might be the best of the bunch.
“I think this guy is a unicorn in terms of how he can play and how he really makes explosive plays with his legs, along with the arm strength and the plays down the field he’s capable of making,” Judge said.
BEST FOR LAST
The Ravens are 12-2 in December over the past three seasons, 11-1 in games started by Jackson.
In those 12 games, Jackson has thrown for 1,999 yards, run for 949 and tossed 22 touchdown passes compared to only three interceptions.
This December thing isn’t just a recent occurrence. Baltimore is 23-8 at home during that month under coach John Harbaugh.
The Giants offence has struggled all season, and things have gotten worse. New York has scored 13 points in the last two games, and 30 in the last three.
New York’s offence is ranked 31st overall, including 29th in passing. The quarterbacks have thrown for nine touchdowns, including one in the last five games. In the last three games, the Giants have scored a total of three points in the first half.
New York hopes to have quarterback Daniel Jones back this week. He missed two of the last three games with ankle and hamstring injuries.
HELP ON THE WAY
Top cornerback James Bradberry should be back for the Giants this week after missing last week’s 20-6 loss to Cleveland because of a close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.
With Bradberry out on Sunday night, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield hit 27 of 32 passes for 297 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Jackson may have to work harder with Bradberry on the field.
Outside linebacker Kyler Feckrell, who had eight starts, has been cleared to practice after spending the past three weeks on injured reserve with a calf injury.
Harbaugh and Judge got their current jobs after serving as special teams coaches, which is not exactly the customary route to joining the NFL head coaching fraternity.
Harbaugh ran the special teams for Philadelphia and Judge was hired by the Giants following a gig as an assistant with New England.
“I don’t want to get into too much of the hiring of who’s overlooked, whoever it may be. I’ve always been told if you’re good, they’ll find you,” Judge said. “Obviously, John was a very accomplished coach himself. He coached defensive backs (with the Eagles) for a year, but he was obviously one of the top special teams coaches for a long time.”