If the Ravens and 49ers meet in the Super Bowl, we know who will be favored. In Baltimore’s biggest test since playing the Patriots last month, the Ravens passed with flying colors with a 20-17 win over the now 10-2 San Francisco 49ers. One week after the Ravens beat the defending NFC champion Rams 45-6, they beat the team favored to win the NFC this season. Just as importantly, they showed they can pull out a victory when everything isn’t going their way.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson completed 14 of 23 passes for 105 yards (4.6 yards per pass) with one touchdown and no interceptions. He ran 16 times for 101 yards (6.3 yards per rush) with one score and lost a fumble—his sixth of the year and first recovered by the defense. The cold and rain at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday was a major factor in his subpar passing numbers. Jackson lofted a few throws that sailed over open receivers. A few of his on-target passes were dropped, perhaps because the balls were soaked. At one point, Jackson’s wristband holding his laminated play-card appeared to fill with rainwater. He still managed to find tight end Mark Andrews for a 20-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter.
After the game, Jackson told reporters the weather was “horrible” and “it was ticking me off.”
Whether because of the weather or the game plan, Jackson and the Ravens made their impact in the running game just one week after the quarterback threw five touchdown passes. Baltimore ran 38 times for 178 yards (4.7 yards per carry). The Ravens lead the league in rushing attempts (37 per game), rushing yards (208), and rushing touchdowns (18). Jackson dipped and darted through the 49ers’ star-studded defensive line, including a fourth-and-1 conversion at his own 44-yard line with less than five minutes left and the game tied at 17. The Ravens went on to kick the game-winning field goal on that drive as time expired. Jackson has plenty of highlights this season of him juking defenders out of their cleats, but the rain and so-so conditions of the field made Jackson even more likely to send defenders to the turf.
Jackson became the first QB in league history with four games of more than 100 rushing yards in the same season. Jackson now has 977 rushing yards on the season, the second most ever for a quarterback. He has four more games to get 62 rushing yards and break Michael Vick’s record of 1,039 yards from 2006.
The Ravens weren’t the only team affected by the rain. Jimmy Garoppolo completed 15 of 21 passes for 165 yards (7.9 yards per attempt), his second-lowest yardage total of the year, ahead of only his 151 yards in a 9-0 win during a torrential downpour against Washington (the 49ers have not had good weather in the DMV this year). Like Baltimore, San Francisco turned to its running game. Running back Raheem Mostert ran 19 times for 146 yards (a stupendous 7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown. Mostert’s stellar day made up for the absence of Matt Breida, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and the lack of production from Tevin Coleman, who had just five carries for 6 yards. Mostert now leads all qualifying running backs in yards per carry (5.9).
Richard Sherman (knee) is walking with a significant limp. He said he may not participate in every practice this week, but he will play vs. #Saints.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 1, 2019
The 49ers gained 331 yards in total, the first time the Ravens were outgained by their opponent in six weeks. That was quite the change for Baltimore, who had beaten its previous four opponents 172-46 and outgained them 1,722 yards to 1,102. But Baltimore beat the 49ers at the margins. Each team lost a fumble, but the 49ers turned an excellent strip of Jackson into a field goal while the Ravens turned their strip-sack of Jimmy Garoppolo into a touchdown. The Ravens lead the league in time of possession this season and controlled the ball again on Sunday, when they held the ball for 32 minutes. In the second half, the 49ers had just three drives to Baltimore’s four, as the Ravens closed the game with a six-and-a-half-minute drive of 12 plays going just 34 yards before Justin Tucker kicked a game-winner into the rain and wind as time expired.
The win moves Baltimore to 10-2 on the season, three games ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North with four weeks to go, and firmly in place for a first-round bye in the AFC. Meanwhile, the 49ers drop to 10-2 and face the New Orleans Saints next week (it will be the first time a team will ever face three teams in a row with a winning percentage above .800 this late in the season in the Super Bowl era). If the Seahawks beat the Vikings on Monday Night Football, the 49ers will fall to second place in the NFC West. In 48 hours, the 49ers could go from the no. 1 seed to the no. 5 seed in the NFC.
The 49ers and Ravens have similar strategies on offense: run the football (they are the top two teams in rushing attempts and rushing yards), control the clock (top two in time of possession), and attack downfield with play-action passes (Baltimore runs the most run-pass options; San Francisco has one of the top play-action offenses). With such similar game plans, playing each other was like that new Will Smith movie where he has to fight himself. The Ravens’ 37-20 victory over New England remains their most impressive of the season, but beating a team with such a similar style is a different kind of statement win. If the Ravens do make the Super Bowl, which is in Miami this year, they have a strong chance of playing the 49ers. Hopefully the weather will be better.