With the win against the Jaguars, the Ravens still hold a No. 3 ranking in the AFC North. Next, the Ravens return to their backyard to face off with the Giants on Dec. 27 at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

In one of their least challenging matchups this season, the Baltimore Ravens staged an offensive flurry to cruise past the Jacksonville Jaguars, 40-14, at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 20.

Throughout the season, Baltimore has established itself as the most lethal rushing team in the league. However against the Jaguars, the Ravens relied more on their passing game, which of course was steered by quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Though he started the afternoon with an interception to Jaguars safety Josh Jones, Jackson bounced back and finished with 17 of 22 completions for 243 yards and three passing touchdowns to lead the Ravens to their third consecutive win. He also scored his seventh rushing touchdown of the season.

Jackson’s ability to get everyone involved on offense: running backs, receivers and tight ends, will prove especially pivotal in the coming weeks, and to a greater extent if the Ravens secure a wild card spot in the postseason.

The Ravens were expected to win big over Jacksonville, one of the worst defenses in the NFL. However, they approached this game no differently than any other, as seen by their intensity in the first half when they built a 26-0 lead, quickly putting the game out of reach for their opponent. 

Ravens Coach John Harbuagh was pleased to see his club follow the game plan all afternoon. “We talked about playing a clean game. We talked about playing a fundamentally-sound game and we talked about playing a physical game, and they did that. Our players did that,” Harbaugh said after the win. “They responded in a big way, and that’s to be commendable.”

Offensively, the Ravens recorded 409 total yards, 159 yards of which came from rushes.

Since Jackson’s return from sitting out the Pittsburgh Steelers game, the Ravens have been on a roll. Picking up a sizable home win over Jacksonville was a much-needed confidence booster as they strive to clinch a playoff spot for the third straight year.

In his first game back from being on the COVID-19/Injured Reserve list, receiver Dez Bryant caught his first touchdown pass in more than three years on an 11-yard reception in the second quarter. Prior to Dec. 20, the last touchdown Bryant scored was on Dec. 10, 2017, when he played for the Dallas Cowboys.

“Like I said, it’s always been my duty to just do my job to the best of my ability, especially for Lamar and the rest of the guys on that offense,” the 32-year-old said. “One thing that I do love about this team is that it’s real team ball. When one succeeds, we all succeed.”

A well-rounded, efficient afternoon on offense, defense and special teams is an encouraging sign for the Ravens, a club that perhaps didn’t foresee themselves fighting for a playoff spot early on in the season.

With the win, Baltimore improves to 9-5 overall. Because the Cleveland Browns also won that evening, over the New York Giants to improve to 10-4, the Ravens still hold a No. 3 ranking in the AFC North.

The divisional top-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a playoff spot, along with the Kansas City Chiefs (13-1) and the Buffalo Bills (11-3). As of now, the Ravens are tied with the Miami Dolphins for the No. 7 seed in the AFC. 

With two weeks remaining on the regular season schedule, this is what must happen for Baltimore: it must win against the New York Giants next Sunday and the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 3 to conclude the regular season, and another higher ranked team that hasn’t clinched a playoff spot – being the Titans, Colts, Dolphins, Browns – has to lose either one of both of the next two games.

But for now the Ravens will set their focus on the Giants, who are on a two-game losing streak, scheduled for Dec. 27 at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.