After the Ravens’ best bleepin’ performance of the season, coach John Harbaugh handed Todd Monken a game ball. It had been a masterpiece of an afternoon — 503 yards of total offense, five touchdowns, a comprehensive 38-6 win over the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions — but the last thing the aw-shucks offensive coordinator needed was a round of locker room attaboys.
So Monken defaulted to his normal factory settings. He said “a few choice words for the guys, which was fun,” Harbaugh joked.
“Monk just likes to cuss a lot,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said with a grin Sunday. “We’re used to that, so it’s all good.”
Really bleepin’ good. And just in bleepin’ time. The Ravens had waited seven weeks for an offensive performance as masterful as Sunday’s. That it came against the toughest defense they’ve faced all season made it all the more remarkable.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson finished 21-for-27 for 357 yards and three touchdowns, just one completion shy of his third career game with a perfect passer rating. The Ravens rushed for 146 yards against a defense that hadn’t surrendered 100 rushing yards in a game this season. They averaged 9.1 yards per play against a defense that came into Week 7 allowing almost half that (4.7 per play). And they did it with a verve and ease that suggested, as Jackson said afterward, “the sky is the limit.”
“Today was lights out, just by Lamar, Coach Monk, from the top down on the offensive side of the ball,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who had four catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns. “Those two guys were elite.”
That was the hope when the Ravens (5-2) signed Jackson to a five-year, $260 million contract extension this spring. His effectiveness as a passer had waned in his final season with former coordinator Greg Roman. Monken, hired in February after his second straight national championship at Georgia, was supposed to be the antidote, a clear-eyed communicator with a more sophisticated playbook.
But growing pains persisted over the season’s first six weeks. It was the Ravens’ defense that carried them to the top of the AFC North. Monken and Jackson and the pieces around him were still figuring things out. One day, it would be how to hold on to the ball. Another day, it would be how to score in the red zone. In their two losses, white-hot starts for the offense devolved into puttering mediocrity.
On Sunday, there were no such problems. The Ravens opened the game with touchdowns on their first four drives. With their defense dominating again, Jackson didn’t even need to finish the game. His last snap came with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Ravens about to take a 32-point lead.
“They kicked our ass,” said Lions coach Dan Campbell, whose 5-2 team had won four straight games by double digits. “It’s a credit to them. Lamar beat us. He hammered us with his arm. He threw the ball extremely well. He ran when he needed to, and we did not handle it well.”
Every lever Monken pulled in the first half seemed to bring the Ravens one step closer to a jackpot. On the opening drive, there was the 46-yard completion from Jackson to rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers, left wide open over the middle by a Lions defense overly focused on Andrews. There was also the 7-yard touchdown by Jackson, whose fake handoff on a fourth-and-1 bootleg left Detroit so bamboozled he strolled in behind left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the much-needed red-zone score.
From there, the Ravens played as if they had a list of grievances to address. Jackson jump-started their second drive with third-and-long and second-and-long completions to wide receiver Rashod Bateman, whose slow start this season had come under increasing scrutiny. Jackson ended the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass, his inimitable elusiveness earning every last tick of the nine-plus seconds he had to find wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the end zone.
The Ravens’ third drive was a spread-your-wings special, with the offense moving from near midfield to the red zone via a career-long 28-yard catch-and-run by fullback Patrick Ricard and a fancy-looking 9-yard shovel pass to rookie running back Keaton Mitchell, his first NFL touch. Two plays later, Jackson found Andrews on an 11-yard play-action touchdown pass featuring the kind of split-zone flow that Monken weaponized at Georgia.
Not until the Ravens’ fourth and final first-half touchdown drive did the offense look like its old smashmouth self. Jackson ran for 9 yards on a read-option keeper. Then running back Gus Edwards rumbled for 20 yards off right tackle. Then running back Justice Hill took an option handoff for 27 yards. Their six-play, 80-yard march ended with a pitch to Edwards, who wasn’t touched on his 2-yard touchdown run as he ran behind right tackle Morgan Moses and Stanley, who’d swung around to form an unbalanced line.
“He’s a hell of a coach, man,” Moses said of Monken. “He’s dialed in. He’s in tune. And the best part of it: He listens to the players. He listens to what we like to do and things like that. And there’s things that he’s like, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to do this regardless,’ but when you’ve got a player’s coach like that, man, there’s no doubt that the effort’s going to be there. It’s just about executing. And when we can execute, man, this is what it looks like.”
Said Stanley: “He’ll never point the finger at us. He’s always thinking about what he can do better to put us in a better position, and to play for a guy like that is a blessing. He’s always in there trying to dial up something to make us better.”
A 28-0 lead was not cause for blinking red lights. The Ravens just kept trying new things, better things. Their longest play of the game was an 80-yard catch-and-run by Edwards, who early in the third quarter faked a handoff, leaked out as if he would block for Jackson, then slipped into the second level, completely uncovered. Two plays later, the Ravens had their fifth touchdown and a 35-0 lead.
“Those plays are great plays,” Harbaugh said, “but they were executed well,” and that, of course, will remain the Ravens’ biggest challenge as they plunge ahead into the middle of the season. In Jackson, they have one of the NFL’s most dynamic talents, a quarterback who can make bad plays good. In Monken, they have a coordinator increasingly in sync with the offense’s operations, cognizant of its weapons and its weaknesses alike. But their quality has not always been consistent.
“We just need to keep doing it week in and week out,” Jackson said. “Not just one game, and next week or the following week it’s ‘Oh, where did the offense go?’ Stuff like that. I don’t like seeing stuff and hearing stuff like that, because I believe we have a great offense.”
The Lions wouldn’t dispute that. Neither would anyone who watched.
Mitchell played two snaps on offense and 10 snaps on special teams before leaving the game late in the third quarter with a hamstring injury.
Stanley led the way for Jackson on his 7-yard touchdown run, blocking safety Kerby Joseph out of the back of the end zone before tossing him onto his back.
“I know my boy Marshal Yanda was here, and I was saying, ‘What would Marshal do in this situation?’ Stanley said, referring to the legendary Ravens guard, who was on hand for Terrell Suggs’ induction into the Ring of Honor. “I tried to channel my inner Marshal Yanda on that.”
Jackson wasn’t sacked and was pressured on just 29% of his drop-backs — not that he seemed to mind when he did feel the heat. On those eight pressured drop-backs, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, he went 6-for-8 for 144 yards and a touchdown.
“First of all, Detroit has a great defensive line, while I believe our offensive line blocked their tails off — Mo [Moses], Ty [Tyler Linderbaum], John [Simpson], [Kevin] Zeitler, Ronnie,” Jackson said. “Those guys blocked their tails off. With the time that I had, I just had to get my receivers, tight ends, running backs, fullback the ball. … The sky’s the limit for our offense. We just need to keep doing it.”