Finally, with a little more than seven minutes left in the game, Lamar Jackson lowered his left shoulder, leaned into a Carolina Panthers defender and bulled across the goal line, the first player from either team to do so all afternoon. Then he emphatically spiked the football into the purple-painted turf, releasing nearly four quarters’ worth of pent-up frustration.
“The end zone was right there, and we hadn’t put any points up,” Jackson said afterward. “I was just being competitive.” So, after faking inside to running back Kenyan Drake, Jackson headed around the right end and lowered the boom into Panthers safety Xavier Woods, getting one hard-fought yard, which was enough to score.
And enough to give the Ravens (7-3) just enough cushion to claim their fourth win in a row.
That’s what kind of day it was. On a frigid afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens beat the visiting Panthers, 13-3, winning a game they were expected to (as 13-point betting favorites), but the performance certainly wasn’t one that portends a deep playoff run.
Still, it was a win.
“It’s November, December football,” Jackson said. “You just find a way to win to get in the playoffs. That’s what it’s about right now. Some of them are going to be ugly. Some of them are going to be pretty. But a win is a win.”
Maybe it was the 13 days off since their last game, or that Jackson was sick with a stomach bug leading into this one (he said afterward that he was feeling “great” on Sunday), but the Ravens offense never really warmed up against the Panthers, (3-8) who have the NFL’s 25th-ranked defense and are clearly in rebuild mode, having traded away former star running back Christian McCaffrey last month.
On the bright side, though, the Ravens defense continued its recent run of impressive performances, forcing three turnovers in the fourth quarter. “It wasn’t pretty,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, “but our defense stepped up.” The unit limited the overmatched Panthers, quarterbacked by former Cleveland Browns lighting rod Baker Mayfield, to 205 total yards. It felt as if the Ravens offense could score any points at all they would win.
Indeed, that was the biggest point raised in the home locker room at halftime, when the Ravens led by a slim 3-0 margin. “If they can’t score, they can’t win,” said linebacker Patrick Queen, who had nine tackles on his own and helped on three other stops in his second game playing alongside Roquan Smith, the NFL’s leading tackler.
That approach — score some points, any at all, and it will be enough — may conjure comparisons to the 2000 Ravens who won a Super Bowl. Certainly the 2022 edition, led by Jackson, a generational talent and former MVP who can run and throw, doesn’t really have visions of being like Trent Dilfer and company, or do they? As the season goes on, injuries have forced them to grind out points.
The Ravens’ preferred primary wideout, Rashod Bateman, is out for the year with a broken foot. Tight end Mark Andrews, the leading receiver overall and Jackson’s go-to target, is nursing shoulder and knee injuries, the latter of which clearly bothered him as he limped around at times in his first game in a month. J.K. Dobbins, who was supposed to be the starting running back, remains out with a knee injury after having scar tissue removed several weeks ago.
“I don’t think we ever had a game where we scored this amount of points in a victory,” Jackson said. “Hopefully it doesn’t happen like that the rest of the season.” But if they want to make a deep playoff run and push into Super Bowl contention, the Ravens might end up having to do just what they did to win this game, or at least a version of it.
The Panthers stifled the Ravens’ typically productive option run scheme with a mixture of looks, switching coverage responsibilities between linebackers and ends, Harbaugh said. Jackson finished with only 31 yards on 11 carries (he looked like he might have been sick, but again, said he wasn’t) and running back Kenyan Drake had a team-high 46 yards. “We just weren’t real precise on offense,” Harbaugh said.
The upshot is that the Panthers’ defensive approach, which crowded the line of scrimmage, opened up outside passing lanes for Jackson, including on his first throw to wideout Demarcus Robinson. Robinson sparkled with nine catches and 128 yards, just the second 100-yard receiving game of the seven-year veteran’s pro career.
Andrews, for his part, crossed the 4,000-yard receiving mark for his career with 63 yards on six catches, including a pair of grabs on a crucial 12-play, 67-yard, seven-minute fourth-quarter drive that ended with another Tucker field goal that gave the Ravens a 6-3 lead. That drive actually looked like it might end with the game’s first touchdown, but it stalled on a delay-of-game penalty with Jackson under center.
When the play clock ticked to zero and a flag was thrown, Jackson, seemingly exasperated, booted the football in his hands toward the end zone. “Anything that doesn’t go our away frustrates me,” he said. “Delay of game, anything. If it’s not going our way, if we’re not scoring, I’m going to be pissed. I want to win, the right way.”
Amid the sequence, Andrews scooped the ball from near the end zone, presumably to avoid another penalty. And two plays later, Tucker, the guy who is supposed to kick, gave the Ravens the three-point lead, which would have been enough for a win.
Which left one unanswered question. Jackson kicked the ball with his left foot. He throws with his right hand. “Yeah, I’m left-footed. Who told you?” he said, before realizing what he just said. “Oh, I forgot I did that.”
Stanley, Hamilton leave with injuries
A pair of key Ravens, one each side of the ball, exited the game with notable injuries and did not return.
Rookie defensive back Kyle Hamilton injured his knee tackling Panthers wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. in the third quarter. The Ravens training staff helped Hamilton off the field, where he was evaluated and later headed to the locker room. “I hope he’s OK,” veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “He’s been playing really good football.”
Later, left tackle Ronnie Stanley hurt his ankle as Jackson crashed into his leg while being sacked. Stanley walked off the field gingerly, but Jackson said he looked good after the game and joked that Jackson should just not fall on him again.
In his post-game press conference, Harbaugh said he didn’t have status updates on either Hamilton or Stanley. We’ll learn more this week.
Former University of Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore had three catches for 24 yards for the Panthers. ... One of the more entertaining parts of the game, if you were listening, was right tackle Morgan Moses disputing referee Jerome Boger about a face-mask penalty with the Ravens driving in Panthers territory in the third quarter. “What?!” Moses yelled, loud enough for Bolger’s microphone to pick up the argument, as the play in question was shown on one of the giant scoreboards in the stadium.
Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore Magazine, US Lacrosse Magazine, and several other publications.