Thrust into sudden action after an injury to Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson, backup signal-caller Tyler Huntley had one goal in mind.
“It was cold outside,” he said, “so I had to get warm.”
He meant it, literally and figuratively.
For three quarters against the visiting Denver Broncos — after Jackson went down with a knee injury (which isn’t of the season-ending variety, coach John Harbaugh said later) — Huntley frequently kept his hands in a pair of pockets stitched into his jersey between plays.
As he received the offensive calls in his helmet headset, it looked as if Huntley was simply taking a calm walk in the park, waiting to meet someone. Then he lined up behind center and gradually heated up, then got red-hot when it mattered most.
Huntley led the Ravens offense on a memorable 16-play, 91-yard, four-and-a-half minute fourth-quarter drive and he ran in the go-ahead touchdown from two yards with 28 seconds left to give the Ravens a 10-9 win over the Broncos on, yes, a chilly afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
Huntley, a third-year pro who is Jackson’s good friend and a fellow Florida native, also converted a fourth-and-two run inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line with a Jackson-esque shuffle. On the next play, he might have one-upped him, finding running back Kenyan Drake down the left sideline on a spontaneous pump-fake and 13-yard pass that set up the winning score.
Huntley finished 27-for-32 passing for 187 yards (with one interception), and ran for a team-high 41 yards on 10 carries.
“Things weren’t perfect,” said tight end Mark Andrews, “but for him to be able to come in — especially that last drive — and do what he did, and have the composure that he had, just shows you how good he really is.”
The dramatic touchdown, the only scored by either team, and Justin Tucker’s ensuing extra point, improved the Ravens record to 8-4, allowed them to narrowly avoid a second-straight loss to a three-win team and kept them in the AFC North lead.
“That was the kind of win you need to get in December,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
The Broncos fell to 3-9, with a 63-yard field goal try by their kicker Brendan McManus coming up well short in the final seconds, in a near replay of how Justin Tucker came up short from 67 yards last week in the Ravens’ soul-crushing and profanity-inducing loss to Jacksonville. This time, the Ravens only led for the final 28 seconds, but “We’ll take it,” Andrews said. “No matter how it comes, we’re going to take that all day.”
Especially given how the game began and went. It was a mostly sleepy start, and Jackson was sacked an uncharacteristic three times in the first quarter. The third knocked him out of the game entirely.
On the final play of the first quarter, Broncos outside linebacker Jonathan Cooper beat tight end Josh Oliver around the right edge and sacked Jackson as the quarterback felt the pressure and began to scramble left from the pocket.
As Cooper brought Jackson down from behind, his left knee crashed into the grass, and Jackson appeared to instinctively gesture toward his lower body as he flipped to his back. He got up under his own power and walked to the sideline.
The play set up a third-and-long to begin the second quarter. When it did, Huntley trotted on the field for his first action of the regular season. Meanwhile, the Ravens training staff evaluated Jackson and he soon headed to the locker room.
Harbaugh said after the game Jackson might miss a few weeks, but that he could also play next Sunday on the road against division rival Pittsburgh. More tests on Monday will determine the severity of Jackson’s injury.
“It’s going to be a number of days or weeks,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see if he can go back this week.”
All things considered, that’s welcome news for the Ravens, of course, though even with Jackson in the game Sunday, the offense didn’t look sharp. It mustered only 17 total yards against the NFL’s third-ranked defense before Jackson left.
Denver took a 6-3 lead into halftime on a McManus 41-yard field goal to cap an eight-play, 70-yard drive that began with Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson launching a 40-yard completion to wideout Jerry Jeudy while Wilson stood on his own goal line.
After he came in, Huntley looked like a guy who started three of the Ravens’ final four games last season, when Jackson went down for the year with a high ankle sprain. The playbook didn’t change, and Huntley looked comfortable. But he did throw an ugly interception that gave the Broncos a short enough field to build their lead to 9-3 with 3:58 left in the third quarter without mustering much offense.
On the ensuing drive, three plays after Huntley converted another fourth-and-short to the Broncos 42-yard line, the Ravens botched a trick play — with wideout James Proche throwing an interception in the end zone, where four Broncos defenders had converged near Drake.
Despite that, thanks to another generally dominant performance by the defense (which held Denver to 272 total yards and a lowly 2-for-12 performance on third-downs), the Ravens still had a chance late in the fourth quarter to go on a game-winning drive.
On a drive that started and their own nine and featured a fourth-and-one sneak by Andrews for a first down and was aided by a pass interference call on a Huntley throw in Andrews’ direction, the Ravens had the ball on the Denver 37 with 1:56 left. On the final drive, Andrews said Huntley “was calm, cool, confident, and acted like he’s been there before, which he has.”
Then Huntley, whose locker is next to Jackson’s at the team’s practice facility and M&T Bank Stadium, imitated the best of him. A run option to the left side for three yards on fourth down, when he needed two. Then the nifty pass to Drake. Huntley saw a linebacker jumping Drake’s out route in the flat, so he pulled down what nearly was a throw, then reloaded and tossed a strike to Drake further upfield.
“He kind of pumped it,” Drake said. “I looked up and saw everybody converge on me, so I just went up the field and he gave me a good ball.”
To cap off the sequence on the next play, Huntley bulled his way across the goal line with a cathartic 2-yard run.
He did what you want a backup to do — and then some. He offered a glimpse of hope that if Jackson ends up being out, the Ravens could still make a playoff run.
“I think I got warm enough,” he said.
When it was over, Jackson — who wasn’t in the locker room afterward and had vowed to try to avoid Twitter — went on the social media platform (again) to congratulate the teammates who finished the game.
If Jackson — who has dealt with hip and quad injuries in recent weeks — is out an extended period of time, Huntley will be called on again, beginning on Sunday in Pittsburgh. If so, he says he’ll be ready: “Just like every week, I’ll prepare. That’s all.”
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) did not play for the second straight game. Patrick Mekari, who started in place of Stanley, then injured his toe in first quarter. Rookie Daniel Faalele replaced him and finished the game.
Rookie defensive back Kyle Hamilton returned to the lineup after missing last week’s game in Jacksonville, but went down holding the back of his left knee early in the fourth quarter.
Then linebacker Patrick Queen suffered a right thigh bruise when he was kneed by teammate Justin Madubuike while they combined to make a tackle on a screen pass in the fourth quarter. Queen was driven off the field on a golf cart, but was upright after the game in the locker room and said he expected to be fine.
Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely suffered a right shoulder stinger on a hit early in the game-winning drive. He returned a few plays later to make a key catch that gave the Ravens a first down on the Denver 26-yard line with 1:50 left.
Yanda goes into Ravens Ring of Honor
The Ravens inducted former guard Marshal Yanda into the team’s Ring of Honor during halftime, with his name joining the likes of Hall of Famers Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Jonathan Ogden.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti presented a now slimmed-down Yanda with a ceremonial purple jacket and longtime general manager Ozzie Newsome introduced Yanda before he delivered a few remarks to the crowd.
Yanda played 13 NFL seasons, all with the Ravens, earning eight Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pro honors, while helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans at the end of the 2012 season.
“Everyone needs a chance and Baltimore gave me that opportunity, and I’m forever grateful,” Yanda said. “I got so lucky to be drafted to a winning organization... This is a great place to play football.”
Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.