Opinion: With another improbable win, the Baltimore Ravens appear to draw on divine intervention
Another week, another big comeback win for the Baltimore Ravens.
This time, the Ravens stung the Chicago Bears and notched their NFL-high fifth victory this season after trailing in the fourth quarter.
So, what’s new?
They did it without Lamar Jackson, rolling with young Tyler Huntley in his first NFL start. They did it despite getting scorched for a 49-yard touchdown on a fourth-down heave by Andy Dalton inside the final two minutes. With Jackson suffering from an illness that apparently is not related to COVID-19, they did it with spit, grit and prayer.
Maybe it’s divine intervention.
When I texted congratulations to John Harbaugh afterward, the Ravens coach went straight spiritual in texting back his response.
“Another miracle,” Harbaugh wrote. “Only God does things like that!!”
Funny, during his postgame news conference Harbaugh talked about the text messages he receives after victories … and how few he gets after losses. Surely, his phone was blowing up after the 16-13 victory was stamped by a 5-play, 72-yard game-winning TD drive that left 22 seconds on the clock and was engineered by a second-year quarterback who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. And he was consistent with his belief in a higher authority.
“I’m not afraid to stand up here and say that,” Harbaugh told reporters. “We keep fighting. We keep persevering … You keep responding and then you let God do the rest. I really believe he’s got your back.”
CHAOS CONTINUES: 32 things we learned from Week 11
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With players and coaches on every team in the league professing their spirituality, it’s difficult to view faith as a swing factor on any given NFL Sunday. I mean, I’m imagining there are a bunch of praying Jacksonville Jaguars, too. Yet there’s no denying that there is something fascinating within the DNA of the Ravens (7-3), who have conquered an assortment of challenges throughout a season that began with the top three running backs suffering season-ending injuries over the span of several days before the opener.
“There’s some things going on with our team that we talked about at the beginning of the season that have really been eye-opening and awesome,” Harbaugh said.
He also mentioned an exchange with Ravens GM Eric DeCosta, who told him, “It was dark there for a couple of moments. But then we saw the light.”
Still, it’s possible that the Ravens – who no longer have the shutdown defense that was the franchise’s hallmark for so many years, too often living and dying by the blitzes dialed up by D-coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale – have run out of miracles.
Have you seen the remaining schedule? Besides five division battles against the Browns, Steelers and Bengals, the Ravens also draw the Packers and Rams.
Then again, there have been teams that seemed destined for something special. And there’s no use trying to predict what will happen in this “week to week” NFL, where on Sunday the Titans lost to the Texans and the Bills were drubbed on their own turf by the Colts, leaving Bill Belichick & Co. in first place in the AFC East. And then there are the Ravens, who just bounced back from a pitiful loss at Miami.
“There’s been so many crazy things happening this year, nothing is really too crazy,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said.
In addition to Jackson’s setback, the Ravens were without top receiver Marquise Brown, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and two cornerbacks, Jimmy Smith and Anthony Averett, who went down in practice last week.
“Just all around, it seemed like we didn’t flinch,” Humphrey said.
Some things seem prophetic. Humphrey mentioned how during the team’s Saturday night meeting, Harbaugh urged the special teams to block a punt on Sunday. Sure enough, Jaylen Ferguson deflected a punt in the fourth quarter that set up one of Justin Tucker’s three field goals.
Jackson, though, wasn’t at that Saturday night meeting, which was another sign of his shaky status. Humphrey wondered after seeing Jackson curled up in his seat throughout the team’s chartered flight on Saturday, a day after it appeared the former NFL MVP had rebounded from the illness that kept him out of practices on Wednesday and Thursday.
Harbaugh said that Jackson didn’t test positive for COVID-19 and that he wasn’t diagnosed with the flu. But the symptoms, including congestion and dehydration, returned for the trip to Chicago.
“I’m sure if he doesn’t clear up, they’ll keep testing, but I’ve got to think it’s going to clear up,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll pray for that.”
The Ravens hoped that Jackson would show progress on Sunday morning. Instead, he felt worse.
Huntley was walking to the team bus that was headed from the hotel to the stadium when he received a text from Jackson read: “Go do your thing today. I’m going to be watching.”
Huntley’s reply: “All right. Let’s go.”
Although Huntley was impressive during the preseason, before Sunday he had thrown just 16 passes in mop-up duty of real games. Apparently, no sweat – especially on the 29-yard completion to Sammy Watkins that set up Devonta Freeman’s game-winning TD run.
“If I was feeling the pressure,” Huntley said, “we probably wouldn’t have even won this game.”
Added Humphrey, “A lot of times when you think about the Ravens, you think about Lamar Jackson, because he’s done so much for us. He’s such a great player, such a great guy. But it was special to see ‘Snoop’ (Huntley) step up, a couple guys on defense step up.”
Someone asked Huntley if it was a benefit that the Ravens won without Jackson, their ultimate miracle worker.
“Yeah, it’s a benefit,” said Huntley. “He’s human, too. So, he needs his rest. Anytime he’s not feeling too well, that’s what we hope for.”
Huntley completed 26 of 36 passes for 219 yards, with an interception and no TD passes. His efficiency rating was a modest 76.0, but he also became just the third quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 200 yards with a completion rate of 70% or better, while also rushing for at least 40 yards in their first NFL start.
Mindful of his contribution, the Utah product also recalled what it was like to go undrafted last year, to get passed over for seven rounds by all 32 teams.
“It just felt like I would never get to this point and I’m here,” Huntley said. “So, I’m blessed.”
That’s as good of an explanation as any for him – and for his team.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: With Lamar Jackson out, Tyler Huntley helps Ravens win vs. Bears