LANDOVER — To extend their preseason winning streak to an ever-more-ridiculous 25 games Monday night, the Ravens would have had to beat a Washington Commanders team starting its first-string quarterback and replacing him with a quarterback who nearly beat the Ravens last season.
The Ravens would have had to win with their own top two quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley, unavailable. And a would-be touchdown pass turning into a remarkable interception. And their cornerback depth reduced to almost nothing in the game’s final minutes.
By night’s end, the Ravens’ historic seven-year streak, a source of organizational pride in Baltimore and sarcastic jokes everywhere else, had reached its breaking point. Commanders kicker Joey Slye’s 49-yard field goal in the final minute gave Washington a 29-28 win at FedEx Field, spoiling strong nights on offense from Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers and tight end Travis Vokolek and from a reserve-laden defense that largely held its own against Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett.
“You’re proud of [the 24-game winning streak], of course, you appreciate it, but the thing that you’re proud of is, all those games are mostly just like that,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Some of you in here want to write about [the preseason] and say it doesn’t mean anything, because you never played the game. You never were out there. You never were fighting for a spot on the team. And then you have the audacity to say that the effort that somebody puts into that to win and fight and win a game like that is meaningless. Tell me that was meaningless out there, what you just saw.”
The Ravens will close out their preseason schedule Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Here’s a look at the risers and fallers from Monday’s game.
WR Zay Flowers
The first-round pick played just six snaps Monday. Flowers packed a half’s worth of highlights, if not more, into that playing time. On his first target, he turned a 6-yard pass into an 11-yard gain and a first down. On his second target, he caught a short pass from quarterback Josh Johnson in the flat, turned upfield, broke a weak arm tackle from rookie defensive back Jartavius Martin and coasted into the end zone.
Flowers had 21.8 yards after the catch on the 26-yard catch-and-run, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, a promising sign for a Ravens offense looking to put its playmakers in space this season. Last year, under coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens had just four plays all season with a receiver gaining over 21 yards after the catch. As Johnson said afterward: “Zay is different.”
TE Charlie Kolar
Kolar had a quiet preseason opener, held to two short catches in a hurry-up setting, and an inauspicious start in Monday’s game, when he dropped a catchable pass on Johnson’s first drop-back. He made amends on the Ravens’ second drive, catching a pass up the seam for 28 yards. On the third drive, he got open again for a 33-yarder from Johnson.
Kolar, who finished with two catches for a team-high 61 yards, isn’t quite the blocker he needs to be to steal snaps from second-stringer Isaiah Likely. But with his 6-foot-6 frame and catch radius, Kolar can be a useful option in the slot, just as he was at Iowa State.
“It’s nice to put good film out there, which we did today,” Kolar said. “It sucks to come up short, but we control what we can control. We did some good stuff in the run game, and it was awesome to see the tight ends have success.”
TE Travis Vokolek
Vokolek wasn’t a big-time receiver in college. Or even a medium-time receiver. His most productive season came last year at Nebraska, when he had 20 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs. The Ravens signed him after the draft because of his size and blocking potential.
Throughout limited training camp repetitions, though, Vokolek’s flashed a couple of times as a reliable target over the middle. In the Ravens’ preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, he connected with quarterback Tyler Huntley for a nice 23-yard catch. On Monday, Vokolek finished with three catches for 28 yards and two touchdowns, the last coming amid a thicket of Commanders defenders. If he makes it to the Ravens’ practice squad, he could be a nice developmental piece.
DB Ar’Darius Washington
Washington almost never left the field in the first half, even after the Ravens’ “starters” retreated to the bench. He buzzed around the field against the Commanders’ talented receivers, stopping quarterback Sam Howell on one third-and-6 scramble to force a first-quarter field goal and hanging tough in coverage. According to NGS, Washington was targeted seven times and allowed five catches, but for just 32 yards. He also had a downfield pass defense late in the fourth quarter as an injury replacement that Harbaugh called “one of the best plays you’re ever going to see.”
Washington entered camp on the bubble, but the former undrafted free agent has probably sealed a spot on the 53-man roster, if not a starting job. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald praised the 5-foot-8 Washington’s development and toughness last week, saying he “plays like a big player.”
QB Josh Johnson
Johnson is still a long shot to make the Ravens’ roster, but he bolstered his case to every quarterback-needy team outside Baltimore. After a mediocre start against Philadelphia, Johnson finished the first half 10-for-12 for 145 yards, two touchdowns and an unlucky interception against the Commanders’ second-string defense. He added three carries for 12 yards.
Johnson had some mistakes — he missed wide receiver Tylan Wallace, running wide open down the left sideline, on the opening drive — but he operated the offense with confidence in settled and hurry-up settings. If his second-quarter p had turned into a 21-yard touchdown, as the odds suggested it would, Johnson would’ve finished with a perfect passer rating.
WR James Proche II
For all of Proche’s athletic shortcomings, Ravens coaches could usually count on his hands. That hasn’t been the case this year. He had some uncharacteristic drops in offseason workouts before stabilizing in training camp. In the preseason opener, Proche fumbled his second punt return opportunity, which the Eagles recovered and nearly turned into a touchdown.
On Monday, Proche couldn’t bring in a catchable jump ball over Martin, who had his back turned to the ball in the end zone. Somehow, the pass ended up as an interception, which Martin returned 59 yards to set up the Commanders’ first touchdown. The Ravens’ drive had also started at their own 2-yard line after Proche watched a punt drop and then die inside the 5.
CB Kyu Kelly
The fifth-round pick from Stanford didn’t enter the Ravens’ preseason opener until the fourth quarter, then finished the game with just 17 defensive snaps. Kelly’s debut Monday came earlier, but he looked out of his depth against the Commanders’ first-string offense.
Kelly was called for defensive holding on a second-and-17 scramble by Howell, allowed a 21-yard completion to 2022 first-round pick Jahan Dotson later in the drive and had his good coverage against wide receiver Dyami Brown fall apart at the worst possible time on Howell’s 11-yard touchdown pass. According to NGS, Kelly allowed five completions on seven targets for 59 yards overall, though he did stop Commanders fullback Alex Armah short of the goal line on a would-be game-tying 2-point-conversion attempt.
The Ravens don’t typically cut bait with healthy draft picks after their first year. But Kelly has struggled all training camp, and their cornerback puzzle doesn’t have any easy solutions.