The Noooobody! answer from the Ravens players was audible from outside a raucous locker room, providing a fitting capper to how an over-the-top excited coach let his emotion bubble over on Cincinnati’s home field. John Harbaugh wasn’t holding it in then, nor would he hold it in as he asked his players, “Who’s got it better than us?” at the top of his lungs.
It was a tribute to his dad in his dad’s home state, a few hours down Interstate 75 from where Jack Harbaugh now lives, and his brother, Jim, coaches and where the boys grew up with that family rallying call. It was also, just as much, a nod to the Ravens of the past.
And, now, the present.
Beating the Bengals in that building, to be sure, gave the Ravens plenty to celebrate on their own—Joe Burrow was 3–0 against Harbaugh’s crew at Paycor Stadium coming in.
But more than just that, it was how the Ravens did it, as Harbaugh called it in the postgame, “Jack Harbaugh Football.” Baltimore got the ball, leading 27–24 with 3:28 left and, as the old Bo Schembechler assistant might’ve drawn it up, went Ten Year War on the two-time defending AFC North champions.
- Gus Edwards off left guard for two yards.
- Devin Duvernay around right end for seven.
- Lamar Jackson scramble for 12 more. First down.
- Jackson keeper for a yard.
- Duvernay off right end again for eight.
- Edwards with five yards on third-and-1.
"That felt great, finally pulling off a game with the offense being on the field,” Jackson told me, as he made his way to the buses for the airport postgame. “The defense did a great job. All three phases did great today.”
Jackson’s point—as significant to the Ravens that they did it was just how they did it.
Remember, the quarterback has a new contract, a new coordinator, and a bunch of new weapons around him in 2023. That, of course, leads to other questions on just how different the Baltimore offense, and operation, is going to be than it was over Jackson’s first six seasons in the NFL. And it’s what makes this season in Baltimore so interesting.
Yet, after two weeks, the Ravens have put everyone else on notice that, well, the old bully on the block is still roaming the streets.
Even with the new play-caller, bells, whistles and receiver talent, that vintage Baltimore ethos has gone nowhere. What the coach’s kid who became a Super Bowl champion called Jack Harbaugh Football, with pride, on Sunday is, of course, Ravens football, too. And Jackson’s excitement over how the Ravens closed the Bengals out is proof positive.
Jackson, for his part, can’t wait to see where the changes can take the Ravens.
But neither he, nor Harbaugh, nor anyone else in that locker has forgotten who they are.
We’re through an even 30 games, and that gives me, and you, plenty to get to in today’s MMQB. Among those things …
• How Pete Carroll’s Seahawks came alive after fading late in Week 1 against the Rams.
• How Sean McDermott and the Bills managed a tumultuous week.
• The Cowboys’ defense, the Dolphins’ offense and a whole lot more in the Takeaways.
But we’re starting with the Ravens, and the reminder we all got about a team that may have been forgotten a bit in the preseason discussion in the loaded AFC.
It’s been only four years since Jackson became just the second unanimous MVP in NFL history after putting together one of the most singularly productive seasons a quarterback ever has, and the Ravens have made the playoffs in two of three years since.
So it’s not like what Harbaugh and GM Eric DeCosta went to fix this offseason was broken.
Poaching Todd Monken from Georgia to replace Greg Roman—who installed one of the NFL’s most complex and unique run games—and then adding Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor and first-round pick Zay Flowers to the passing game was about evolving the team’s offense. The question going into the season, from there, and it was a fair one, was how Monken would meld his offense with what the Ravens had been in the past.
After all, the one NFL offense he’d called plays for, the 2018 Buccaneers, finished fourth in the league in pass attempts, even with a revolving door at quarterback. And a reason for the Ravens bringing him in was, indeed, his expertise in that area.
It hasn’t, as it turns out, taken long for the rest of us to get answers on that, and the answers are as subtle as a roundhouse to the jaw. Through two weeks, the Ravens rank fourth in the NFL in rush attempts. And Sunday, Monken called a near 50-50 run-pass game, with Baltimore’s 37 carries on the afternoon going for 178 yards. That led to 33 minutes of possession for the visitors, limiting an explosive Bengals offense to six possessions, which most certainly was a factor in it taking until the second half for Burrow to find his stride.
It also didn’t take long for the Ravens to declare what they were doing Sunday—a 13-play, 70-yard drive to open the game emphatically showed their cards. By the time the Bengals got the ball, more than half the first quarter was gone, and the score was 7–0.
“I just believe that our offense was locked in,” Jackson says. “We were just trying to do the right thing. Move the chains, trying to stay from third-and-long and second-and-long because that’s a great defense we faced today. That’s why our team did a great job.”
And, yet, while this was old-school Ravens, there were hints of Monken’s influence sprinkled throughout.
Maybe the biggest hint came on Baltimore’s first offensive snap of the second half, with the Ravens leading 13–10 after a physical back-and-forth first two quarters. On the play, after Geno Stone picked off Burrow and gave the visitors possession at the Baltimore 38, Jackson and Monken leaned on something they, and Flowers, had seen before the break.
“That guy’s explosive,” Jackson says about Flowers. “Early in the game, they went Cover Zero [no deep safety] on us, and I actually ended up running that play when I saw the Cover Zero. The next time I saw it, I was telling them, and we were both seeing it at the same time, If I see it again, if we get that chance on that post again, we’re going at it.”
When they called it again, though, Jackson continued, the Bengals were in Cover 3, and that meant Jackson had to make a tighter throw than anyone expected, and have faith the rookie be where he needed to be, between two Bengal defenders 50 yards downfield—“they actually drove on the crossing route to Bate [Rashod Bateman], and [Flowers] made a great catch.”
Three snaps after that, on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Jackson fit a ball in to Mark Andrews on a rub route (“I just had to get good placement on the ball and let him do the rest”) to put the Ravens up 20–10. And after the Bengals answered, it’d be another third-down dime from Jackson that’d give Baltimore the separation it needed.
This one was to another new weapon of Jackson’s. Facing third-and-5 from the Bengals’ 17, and leading 20–17, and with five rushers coming, the quarterback delivered a dime over Agholor’s inside shoulder and just out of the reach of Cincinnati’s Chidobe Awuzie to give the Ravens points they’d wind up needing—again, beating a really good defense in the passing game.
“Same thing again, kept them in man coverage—No. 22 guarding Nelly [Agholor], that’s a great corner. That’s one of their best corners,” Jackson says. “Nelly just ran a great route, and I just had to put the ball where it needed to be. He did the rest.”
And if you mix all of that with what we saw at the end of the game, you can see where Jackson, and these Ravens, might be more dangerous than they’ve ever been.
Since drafting him in the first round five years ago, the Ravens have put a lot into building around Jackson. And this, of course, is the next phase of it.
But all of that hasn’t come without some bumps along the way. Jackson had been eligible for a life-changing, second contract for over two years when he signed his five-year, $260 million deal in March. And while he won’t say it, playing the way he does, with the workload he’s shouldered, couldn’t have been easy with everything he had on the line personally.
So when I asked him about it, he did say that his new circumstances have brought him a level of peace that maybe he didn’t quite have before.
“I’m very comfortable,” Jackson says. “We got the contract situation behind us. It’s nice to know that the organization believes in me, my teammates believe in me. I just got to stay focused and just keep doing what we’re doing, keep building, keep winning.”
And now, he’s doing it with a team that’s doubled down, with the staff changes, and with the roster tweaks, on helping him take his next steps as a quarterback, which should, in the long run, help him play a game more conducive to carrying his career into a second decade.
Which, of course, is nice and all.
But, as Sunday showed us, won’t change the Ravens. And Jackson, for his part, has become such a big part of this organization, that it sure sounds like he wouldn’t want it to.
“We have great backs, a great offensive line,” Jackson says. “Like I said earlier, we played a great defense today. We just did a great job …”
The quarterback, then paused, and took stock, and went right back to how the Ravens started and finished the game. “The toughness has been there—obviously,” he says. “As the season goes on, we feel good about the toughness.”
As they should.
And, clearly, as the Harbaughs, plural, do.