INGLEWOOD, Calif. — In the afterglow of another win, Lamar Jackson struck an appropriately seasonal tone. The Ravens had beaten the Los Angeles Chargers on “Sunday Night Football,” 20-10, and their defense had clamped down on star quarterback Justin Herbert, and their offense had finally put the game away in the fourth quarter, and, for all that, Jackson was thankful, very thankful indeed.

“Our defense was playing lights out all night, and we weren’t doing what we usually do — putting points on the board for those guys,” he said. “But I’m grateful that we have a great defense, because, without them, I don’t know how this game would have went.”

The game could’ve gone another way, because these Ravens, maybe more than any team, know just how much can be frittered away in the final quarter of any NFL game, no matter how well those first three quarters went. Play poorly enough for long enough, and every lead becomes a sandcastle, just waiting to be reduced by a wave of ill-timed mediocrity.

But on Sunday night, inside SoFi Stadium, the Ravens held strong. They kept the Chargers, and their own worst tendencies, at bay. On the possession that could’ve doomed them to yet another late deficit, the Ravens allowed just one first down before blitzing Herbert and his offense off the field. On the subsequent Ravens drive that, if bottled up, could’ve kept the Chargers’ comeback hopes alive, wide receiver Zay Flowers scored on a jet sweep handoff from 37 yards out with just over 90 seconds remaining.

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“The narrative is not something we really care about,” said coach John Harbaugh, acknowledging the questions the Ravens have faced after late-game shortcomings in narrow losses to the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. “It’s the fact that the guys stepped up and won the game. We’ve won nine games, and all of those games had to be closed out in the fourth quarter one way or another. A couple of them were closed out in the third quarter. Three of them weren’t. We want the three back, but we got the one tonight, and I’m proud of the guys for that.”

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 26: Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers scrambles against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter in the game at SoFi Stadium on November 26, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Baltimore's defensive front forces Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert to scramble. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Ravens (9-3) will fly home for their long-awaited bye week in an enviable position. They lead the AFC, a half-game ahead of three 8-3 teams, and have a 1.5-game advantage in the AFC North. According to The New York Times’ playoff picture, the Ravens are virtual locks to make the playoffs (about 98%), heavy favorites to win the division (about 74%), and squarely in the mix to claim the conference’s top seed and earn a wild-card-round bye (about 16%). Not a bad place to be just a few days after Thanksgiving.

Even on a night with as many surprises as Sunday, when the Ravens struggled against a woeful Chargers defense and kicker Justin Tucker missed a 44-yard field goal in the clutch, there was reason for this team to count its blessings. Here’s a handful:

Zay Flowers, who somehow might’ve upstaged his two touchdowns — a 3-yard connection with Jackson in the second quarter and the put-away score late in the fourth quarter — with his two touchdown celebrations.

First, he threw a ball as a bride might throw a bouquet of flowers — get it? — that left guard John Simpson snagged out of midair in the end zone. Flowers acknowledged later that the choreography was lacking. Jackson, a close friend, was harsher in his critique.

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“The first one was horrible — I told him,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know what was going on, so I was just standing there, like, ‘All right, come along with it.’ When I saw what happened, I was like, yes, that was ass.”

Next, Flowers did his best Cristiano Ronaldo impression, booting the football past a diving Odell Beckham Jr. on an imaginary penalty kick before imitating the Portuguese soccer superstar’s iconic jumping “Siuuu” celebration.

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“I play ‘FIFA,’” Flowers explained afterward, referring to the popular soccer video game franchise. “I’ve been playing ‘FIFA’ a lot.”

Flowers’ final stat line was not gaudy — five catches for 25 yards, plus the long run — but he still leads the team in catches (58), receiving yards (613) and good vibes. Late in the game, he even got the attention of Miami Dolphins star Tyreek Hill.

“Zay Flowers is Him,” Hill wrote on X (formerly Twitter), and the label seemed to fit, no matter the definition.

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Jadeveon Clowney, who was a magnet for turnovers, showing no sign of a second-half slowdown. The outside linebacker was around the ball when inside linebacker Roquan Smith, another standout Sunday, ripped the ball away from Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen late in the second quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Clowney was around the ball again when Herbert fumbled — because he was the one who’d knocked it loose, beating Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins, stripping Herbert as he wound up on third-and-long, then pouncing on the ball to end any hopes of a Chargers field goal.

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“It was huge,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “That’s plays you dream about. For him to go in there and do that, it gave us all the boost that we needed. All of the stops that we were getting, honestly, we were just doing what our coach was telling us to do and doing our job at a high level.”

Clowney was around the ball on the Chargers’ final doomed play, too, coming in unblocked on fourth-and-19 and forcing Herbert to throw up a prayer to Allen that never reached him. It was his sixth quarterback pressure of the night, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. It was just another day at the office for Clowney.

Mike Macdonald, who, after an iffy two-game stretch for the defense, was back to scheming his way to the top of coaching hot lists.

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The Chargers finished with just 4.2 yards per play, more than a yard below their seasonlong average, and had four turnovers, plus two turnovers on downs. Macdonald was at his most diabolical when the Ravens needed it the most, turning to a tried-and-true zone blitz that freed up slot cornerback Arthur Maulet for a free shot at Herbert on fourth-and-6 near midfield with less than two minutes remaining.

“Mike does a good job putting us in perfect position to make plays,” Maulet said. “It was a gotta-have-it play. Just timed it up well. The D-line did a good job to let me be free. I’m just doing my job.”

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Said Harbaugh: “There were times when I wanted pressure in my mind, and he played coverage, and it worked out. There were times when I wanted coverage, and he wanted pressure. I’m not saying a word. I’m just saying in my mind, thinking, ‘Maybe I’d do the other thing,’ and I thought Mike was just tremendous in this game. He called a fabulous game, and you can’t call a better game than he did tonight.”

Accurate spots, but only because the bad ones make you appreciate all the other ones. Jackson seemed miffed by the officials’ decision not to award him a first down on a second-quarter scramble, which cost the Ravens after running back Gus Edwards’ subsequent fourth-and-1 carry was denied. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor also was unlucky not to move the sticks on a long third-quarter catch.

Afterward, Jackson was asked whether there was poor communication from the game’s officials on the down and distance.

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“I didn’t say that,” Jackson said, laughing. “You said that. Don’t try to put that on me. But it’s a part of the game. Things will happen fast, so sometimes it is what it is, but hopefully we get the first down next time and make it easier on the refs, if anything.”

Lamar Jackson, who reached 5,000 career rushing yards on Sunday, only his 82nd game, the fewest for a quarterback in NFL history. Harbaugh called it a “historic statement.” Jackson, never too keen on individual milestones, called it “cool” as he left his postgame news conference, offered no elaboration, then headed back to the locker room.

The bye week, which is finally here. The Ravens are one of the last teams in the NFL to get a week off this season, and their timing is splendid. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who missed his second straight game with a calf injury, should be back. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, playing through a knee injury, should be healthier. Ravens coaches, stuck in the week-to-week grind of game planning and practicing, should have time to reflect and adjust.

The team will need every advantage it can wring from this respite. On the other side is a murderers row of opponents: the Los Angeles Rams, who just obliterated the Arizona Cardinals; the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars; the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers; the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins; and the finally-fired-Matt Canada Steelers, still squarely in the mix in the AFC North.

“Definitely need that break,” Queen said. “You could go around the whole room, everybody has something banged up. Our team will fight through it, push through it, just overcome adversity. Everybody is dealing with something. I’m pretty proud of this team. Happy for this bye week. Time to go relax.”

jonas.shaffer@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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