LONDON — Marlon Humphrey had some downtime here this past week, which gave the cornerback time to think. He’d heard from family visiting for the Ravens’ game Sunday against the Tennessee Titans that there were plenty of fans in London, and he couldn’t imagine they were very happy with how Week 5 ended. Humphrey wasn’t happy; he’d allowed the go-ahead score late in a devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Somewhere along the way, Humphrey decided he needed a new look in London. Maybe it was retail therapy. Maybe it was an acknowledgment that his wardrobe needed something from the “Peaky Blinders” collection. But, by early Sunday evening, there was symbolism in his changeover. The Ravens had won ugly, 24-16, but at least they’d won, which meant there was one less thing Humphrey would have to lug onto the team’s long flight back to Baltimore. The fancy suit was going home; the Steelers’ stink wasn’t.
“Sometimes, heartbreaking losses, you can lose two from that,” Humphrey said. “Getting that slump off us from the last one, it’s really big. Obviously, we didn’t play perfect at all. But this can definitely be a step in that direction. We’ve just got to build off this one.”
At a 45-minute team meeting Wednesday, the Ravens talked about their potential and their reality, about the “fine line between good and great,” coach John Harbaugh said, “and breaking bad.” After five weeks, the 3-2 Ravens were only a good team, because a great team would’ve been 4-1, probably even 5-0. A great team would’ve closed out the visiting Indianapolis Colts in overtime in Week 3 and put away the Steelers by halftime in Pittsburgh.
Over 60 minutes Sunday inside a chilly Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the Ravens again fell into the kind of identity crisis that can come over NFL teams in mid-October. They looked like a good team against Tennessee, they looked like a great team, they looked like a team breaking bad, they looked like a team searching for the finest possible line to walk, from quarterback Lamar Jackson (223 yards passing, 62 yards rushing, 70% accuracy) on down.
The win the Ravens will return home with, having chased away some of the ghosts from their disastrous debut in London six years ago, is not a statement win. But it’s still a fourth victory in six games. Their good vibes and spot atop the AFC North would both clear customs. And besides, after last week, the Ravens could not be picky about whom they beat (a Titans team expected to be one of the NFL’s worst) or how they beat them (with a misfiring red-zone offense that leaned on the defense and six field goals by kicker Justin Tucker).
“We lost some games we should have won,” Harbaugh said of the Ravens’ early-season performance. “We played good football in stretches, but we made mistakes. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot way too many times. What success looks like right now is heart, the ability to overcome adversity, keep fighting till the end, find a way to win, make plays when it counts and to keep improving. We keep improving, at some point in time, you get over the top, you break out and you start winning by larger margins. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The Ravens’ problem entering halftime Sunday wasn’t their lead (18-3); it was that it wasn’t bigger. The offense opened the game with a drive to the Titans’ 1, then settled for a field goal. On its next possession, another long drive, another short field goal. It went on like this for much of the game, even after Tennessee’s offense got in gear, two of the NFL’s best red-zone defenses looking every bit the part.
The Ravens, who’d entered Week 5 leading the NFL in red-zone efficiency, finished 1-for-6 a week after turning just one of their three trips inside Pittsburgh’s 20 into touchdowns. Their lone breakthrough came on a broken play, Jackson finding wide receiver Zay Flowers for a 10-yard score in the second quarter, the rookie’s first NFL touchdown. The offense otherwise found its power switched off near the goal line. Harbaugh’s lone recourse was to call on Tucker, again and again. His six field goals, just two of which were longer than 29 yards, tied his career high.
“You strive for perfection every day in everything you do,” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “So obviously those are some things we got to clean up [in the red zone]. Communication’s always a key. When we are hitting on all cylinders, we can move the ball down the field on anybody, man. I truly believe that. So we just got to keep on stacking to figure out how we can game plan some things and get guys open, get guys on the same page and continue working on our crafts.”
Said Harbaugh: “We need to score points. That could have been a much more comfortable game for us if we’d done that.”
Instead, the Ravens played at times as if they were desperate for the rush of an adrenalized finish. After limiting Titans running back Derrick Henry for the game’s first two-plus quarters, they allowed a 63-yard run that swung the game’s momentum. Tennessee scored 10 points in 55 seconds, helped by a Jackson interception, to trim its deficit to 18-13 midway through the third quarter.
Later, after another pick by safety Geno Stone, his NFL-leading third this year, and two fourth-quarter field goals by Tucker, the Ravens again flirted with disaster. With starter Ryan Tannehill (8-for-16 for 76 yards) knocked out of the game by a ferocious Ravens pass rush (six sacks), the Titans had turned to their backup quarterback. But, even trailing 24-13 in the game’s waning minutes, that was not a death sentence.
After Malik Willis found rookie running back Tyjae Spears for a 48-yard catch-and-run, the Ravens had to again stiffen at the goal line, forcing Tennessee to settle for its third field goal in four red-zone trips. Not until Ravens tight end Isaiah Likely recovered the ensuing onside kick was the game’s result secure.
“We always say, if the offense can’t score, they can’t win,” said inside linebacker Patrick Queen, who helped limit the Titans to 233 yards of total offense. “As long as we do our job, keep them out of the end zone, we have a pretty good shot at winning.”
“Every time we get a win, I feel like it’s a step forward,” said defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, who had two sacks and four quarterback hits. “There’s definitely things we need to clean up, but definitely a step forward in terms of just execution — dominant, especially on defense.”
The Ravens’ margin for error started to thin in Sunday’s game, and it could feel only smaller in the coming days. Playing on what outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney called a “terrible” turf field, the defense lost lineman Brent Urban (neck), inside linebacker Malik Harrison (concussion), cornerback Kevon Seymour (ankle) and safety Marcus Williams (hamstring) to injuries, the severity of which Harbaugh said was unclear.
The Ravens will need all the good players they can muster to beat a great team, and the Lions, headed to Baltimore in Week 7, appear to be a great team. Detroit entered the weekend with a top-five offense and a top-five defense, as measured by DVOA. The Ravens have reached those heights this season, but streakily, only in fits and starts.
They won’t need to be perfect next Sunday. They will need to be better, though — better in all the ways that a teeth-grinding victory, rather than a harrowing defeat, suggested they were this Sunday.
“It’s always great to bounce back off a loss,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “Last week was heartbreaking, to say the least. We knew we needed to get back on track. Coming here was going to be a challenge for both teams, to be able to adapt and overcome. I’m proud of the guys, the way they handled everything and the challenges and coming out here and getting it done. And we have to make sure we grow on this and don’t go backwards.”
Safety Kyle Hamilton, who was ejected in the third quarter after a helmet-to-helmet hit on former Ravens wide receiver Chris Moore, said there was “nothing malicious about it, from my perspective. Wasn’t trying to hurt him, wasn’t trying to do anything bad, just trying to get the ball out.”
Hamilton watched a replay of the hit and acknowledged that the officials might’ve been right to throw a flag. He added: “It’s the call that was made. Is it made 100% of the time? I don’t know, but at the same time, it’s the call that was made, so don’t have really any quarrels with the call itself.”
The only thing stopping Ravens punt returner Devin Duvernay from an 87-yard touchdown return early in the second quarter was the guy who kicked him the ball: punter Ryan Stonehouse.
Unfortunately, for Duvernay, Stonehouse is fast, too. Duvernay reached a top speed of 19.82 mph on his 70-yard return, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. But Stonehouse got up to 19.76 mph, and he had enough of an angle to force Duvernay out at the Titans’ 17. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal on the ensuing drive.
Clowney’s big day
Clowney had two two sacks, four quarterback hits and, according to NGS, nine quarterback pressures. He had 22 pressures all of last season with the Cleveland Browns. “You can see it,” Harbaugh said. “The dreads are flying everywhere. He’s throwing his body around, had the sacks today, had the run stops today. He’s been a great addition to our team. He’s another guy who was always a Raven and didn’t know it until he got here.”