You want to know the key adjustment of the game? It might have been from Sara Zeitler.

With the Ravens knotted up in a 10-all battle with the upstart Houston Texans at halftime, the wife of right guard Kevin Zeitler tweeted she made everyone in her section switch seats.

Later, when a 34-10 victory had been safely secured, a number of Ravens chuckled at the superstition — but did not necessarily discount its power.

Said Kevin Zeitler: “Apparently it worked.”

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Added fullback Patrick Ricard: “Seemed like we played a lot better in the second half. ... I’m sure that helped us.”

The bulk of the credit, of course, goes to the Ravens. They had hotshot Houston offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik in a headlock all day, then pounded the ball down the Texans’ throats in the second half with Lamar Jackson in a starring role, continuing an MVP campaign even after voting officially closed.

But call it karma, call it mysticism, call it forces unknown — something spiritual happened Saturday in the divisional round as the top-seeded Ravens exorcised demons that have been haunting them for four years.

When asked if he had been reminded of having only one playoff win in four games in his career, Jackson laughed: “You know I heard that. I see it. I ain’t even gotta hear it.”

You know it and I know it, even if the Ravens are tired of hearing about it. Up until the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, Baltimore’s divisional-round disaster against the Tennessee Titans the last time they were a 1-seed loomed over this city for the last three weeks. The so-called “rest versus rust debate” was all but nonsensical — any team would love to have a bye week to heal — except the last time they got one before the playoffs, the Ravens blew it.

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“I just think, for those who were here, it’s not something you forget, but it wasn’t really at the forefront of our minds,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s just a different team. It’s a different opponent, but it’s not something that you want to experience again.”

The 2023 version is built differently than the 2019 version, and we know that with certainty now. But, if you were feeling the jitters leading up to this week in a game in which the Ravens were favored by nearly double digits, you were not alone — most of us remember when Tennessee beat those odds.

When the Titans tried to overthrow Olympus, the Gods imprisoned them in Tartarus, deep within the earth. But after the Titans overthrew the Ravens four years ago, they’ve been living in our guts ever since, denying Baltimore fans the ability to enjoy a great team without that gnawing sense of doubt.

Begone, foul spirits. Fly to the dustbins of history and haunt us no more.

You could tell tension was gripping this crowd of 71,018 even more tightly than the subfreezing temperatures. Baltimore has seen the Ravens romp through the regular season before only to come up short in the postseason.

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It was a particularly quiet second quarter. The Ravens’ offense ran up against three straight three-and-outs, and Steven Sims tied the score at 10 with a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown. Jackson had already led an impressive touchdown drive with a play-action pass at the end of it, but the offensive line was overwhelmed by the blitz.

We had seen throughout the regular season that team was different — more mature, more varied and malleable. Yet, for many cynical Ravens fans, the heart could not accept any reasoning the brain could present.

Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards (35) rushes forward during a playoff game against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on January 20, 2024.
Running back Gus Edwards gains some of his 40 yards as the Ravens racked up 229 rushing yards against the Texans. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

We had to see it. Finally in the second half, there was irrefutable proof.

Getting the ball out of the locker room, the Ravens adjusted to the Texans’ pressure and no one was more integral to that than Jackson. After a fiery halftime speech — Jackson claimed it would be “inappropriate” to repeat the language he used in public — he got to work throwing the ball quicker and continuing to run right through the middle of Houston’s vaunted run defense.

Back-to-back touchdown drives showed the Ravens were serious. Then an 11-play, seven-minute drive in which the Ravens ran nearly every play was the final, echoing confirmation that Baltimore is still every bit the juggernaut it was against Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco and Miami.

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“We was rusty, it was windy, it was cold as heck out there — everything played a factor,” Jackson said. “But the thing I’m proud about our team is we came out second half and did what we were supposed to do, put points on the board.”

It was never a fair comparison between eras. Only five starters on offense and defense remain from 2019. Even the player shouldering the biggest brunt of that history has evolved. A second-year Jackson is a much different player than a sixth-year Jackson, as the Texans painfully learned. He can spread the ball outside the numbers, but he still can kill you with his legs. His 23-yard dash up the middle in the first quarter should have been the reminder, but Houston couldn’t do anything to stop him.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (24) tackles Houston Texans running back Devin Singletary (26) during a playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 20, 2024.
Ravens outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney tackles Texans running back Devin Singletary. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

His stellar play this season is also paired with a burning sense of purpose that teammates say just feels different.

“There’s something in him right now,” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “It’s been in him all year, but there’s something really in him right now, and I’m with it. I’m with it.”

You never know exactly when a narrative is completely stamped out, but it felt like the end of the road for this one, especially for Jackson, who doubled his postseason touchdown count. Now in the AFC championship, he’s reaching the playoff stages that match a quarterback of his caliber, and he’s two wins from delivering on the Super Bowl promise he made on his draft night.

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With a Mount Rushmore of Baltimore sports figures at M&T Bank Stadium — Ray Lewis, Cal Ripken Jr. and Carmelo Anthony among them — there was a sense that Jackson was running on the field to one day take a place alongside them, as long as he completes this year’s promising quest on top.

The holdovers from 2019 are also happy to move on. Ricard is looking forward to a week when the Ravens’ previous playoff disappointments don’t bubble back up to the surface.

“This time, it’s like, ‘We’re going to do everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen again and just shut everyone up,’” he said. “Just sick of hearing it. It happened four years ago. A lot has happened since then.”

It has been a long time. And, thanks to the Ravens’ latest win, it finally feels firmly in the rearview.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum. 

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