The Baltimore Ravens faced the Las Vegas Raiders in what proved to be one of the most awkward NFL games in some time. People argue over whether the NFL or college football is superior all the time — it’s a nauseating conversation. But on Monday night, we got a college football game at the NFL level, and it was magical. It felt like I was watching a play, with the game materializing in three separate acts.
Act 1 | Ravens and Raiders play college ball
The first three quarters of this game were surreal. It truly appeared that we were watching a college game. Obviously, the Ravens have an interestingly constructed offense surrounding QB Lamar Jackson.
The Ravens averaged 6.1 yards per carry in the first half. Ty’Son Williams was shot out of a cannon on a 35-yard touchdown scamper. Jackson was maneuvering around in the pocket with obvious discomfort from the right side of the line.
His receiving corps, many who hadn’t been around much for training camp due to injury, looked to be on a different page from the former MVP. However, he still somehow finished the half going 11-of-15 for 128 yards and a touchdown.
At halftime, his QBR was over 70, and he was completing passes at a higher rate than expected.
Derek Carr struggled to find the side of the barn early
Derek Carr had a hilariously bad first half against the Ravens. He’s the reason this felt like a college game. At the half, he owned a second-percentile completion percentage over expectation. He completed passes at a rate of 20.9% less than expected. It was spectacularly horrific. Twitter was ablaze with calls for former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota.
Even from a traditional standpoint, his performance was laughable to that point. He was 12-of-25 for 127 yards. The offense was hilarious because they just continually slung it 10+ yards downfield, watching the ball eventually hit the turf. Carr’s average depth of target (aDOT) was a healthy 12.7 yards in the first half.
It looked like Carr and TE Darren Waller needed marriage counseling for a while. They kept trying to fix their connection in the first half but could only hit on 4 of 11 targets.
Carr felt like the quarterback prospect we watch on Saturday that “has upside” as a passer but can’t hit the broad side of a barn. For a quarterback who finished 11th in QBR last season, his 33.1 rating at the midway point was nearly half of what he produced a season ago — but it felt even worse.
The game didn’t feel close
Statistically speaking, there weren’t massive discrepancies between the two teams in the first half. The Ravens outgained the Raiders, but the Raiders produced more first downs.
Heck, the score at the half was 14-10, but it felt like a 24-10 game. Listening to the absolute whirlwind that was the Manning broadcast probably didn’t help. Peyton’s chaotic energy and obvious disdain toward some of the happenings when the Raiders were on offense made the game feel even more awkward.
Act 2 | The back and forth
Despite points being relatively hard to come by for a while, the two sides joined hands in a more serious game for most of the second half. There isn’t much to report from the third quarter. There were only five total possessions, and the AFC foes only scored 3 total points.
Then, the fourth quarter showed up, and the drama started.
In a 17-10 game with just over 12 minutes remaining, Jackson fumbled on a 2nd-and-6 scramble, resulting in a turnover for Baltimore.
That’s when things got interesting. The Raiders got the ball at the Ravens’ 41-yard line and scored in five plays. Josh Jacobs finally got free for a 15-yard touchdown plunge.
On the Ravens’ next offensive drive, the offensive line finally found a way to protect Jackson long enough to deliver passes without besiegement. He tossed a Dilfer dime to Sammy Watkins on a 49-yard bomb over the shoulder. Latavius Murray finished off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run to put the Ravens up 24-17.
Carr turns into Brady
Nobody has better numbers in the final four minutes of games than Carr. EPA is an outstanding metric because it brings wide-ranging context to quarterback play in particular.
Although the drive began with around six minutes left, it didn’t stop Carr from letting his hair down, putting on his heavy socks, and absolutely slinging it. He went 6-of-8 on the drive, including a 37-yard deep crosser to Henry Ruggs, who was invisible for most of the contest.
Of course, Carr capped off the drive by completing two 10-yard passes to Waller, the second of which was the game-tying score. They scored with just under four minutes left.
Jackson and the Ravens fought their way downfield and kicked the go-ahead field goal. They left just 37 seconds on the clock for Carr. But there was a problem.
The Baltimore Ravens defense did things backwards
For the entire broadcast, the Manning brothers kept pounding the Ravens’ man-coverage drum. It’s what they do. It’s what they’re best at. Seeing the Ravens back off late in the fourth quarter confounded the two, as it did the rest of us at home.
It’s at least partially why the Raiders were able to drive down the field on the previous drive. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and Co. must’ve taken note. With just 37 seconds remaining and no timeouts, the Ravens showed up in Cover 5. That means the five underneath defenders play man with two safeties splitting deep zones. They played the same coverage on the next play but only rushed three, which added a defender to the middle of the field. This allowed Carr to step up and deliver a triple-digit fastball.
It’s what the Ravens do, but it was the wrong time to do it. They should have stayed true to themselves on the previous defensive drive and kept things in front of them on the final drive.
Carr delivered a 20-yard strike to Bryan Edwards, who must’ve appeared from the clouds right before the drive because he didn’t exist in the offense before that point. After a spike to stop the clock, they connected again for 18 yards, setting up Daniel Carlson’s 55-yard FG to send the game to overtime.
Act 3 | This game is on drugs
And now we’re back to a college football game. After an 11-yard strike to the once invisible Edwards, the Ravens stopped the Raiders on the next run for a loss of 2.
Baltimore got some late pressure on the next rep, but Carr delivered a shallow crossing route to Hunter Renfrow, who somehow manages to look like an adolescent and a father of five. What should have been a minimal gain turned into a 27-yard stinger.
For some unknown reason, All-Pro-caliber cornerback Marlon Humphrey lost his mind and let Renfrow tiptoe down the sideline for the big play.
After a 6-yard gain from Kenyan Drake and throwaway, Carr once again found Edwards, this time for 33 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
OR SO WE THOUGHT!
The goal line … stand?
The Raiders rushed the field, the fans were going ballistic, and the referee was repeating “the game is not over” over his microphone. They needed to review the play because Edwards’ knee hit the ground as he extended over the goal line.
The review proved that he hadn’t crossed the plane, and the game was not over. However, the Raiders now had the ball at the 1-yard line. The Ravens now had to keep the Raiders from gaining 1 yard on four consecutive downs.
OR SO WE THOUGHT … AGAIN!
After Carr tried to sneak his way in on first down, the Raiders inexplicably chose to attempt a hard count to draw the Ravens’ defense offsides.
The reward would have been less than a foot and a half distance. The risk was 5 yards in the opposite direction. Why are we slapping our mother for a Klondike Bar? They aren’t even that good.
So, the Raiders inevitably Raidered, and rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood jumped the gun. Then things got incredibly … college-y. After an incomplete pass to Renfrow, a slant route to Willie Snead went through his hands, off the face of DeShon Elliott, and into the hands of Baltimore cornerback Anthony Averett in the end zone for an INT.
What was nearly a guaranteed Raiders’ win now looked like momentum would carry to the opposite direction.
Raiders defense made big plays in big moments
The Ravens started driving. After an incompletion, Jackson completed a 10-yard pass to Watkins for a first down. Then, they ran Murray off the right guard for 3 yards. The next play was a strike to Mark Andrews, who was also largely invisible throughout the contest. But Johnathan Abram hit him as he secured the pass, and the ball hit the turf.
The next play turned the tides once again.
Just when the Raiders absolutely needed a play, none other than Carl Nassib was the catalyst. Alejandro Villanueva struggled in his Ravens debut. Las Vegas ran a stunt with Maxx Crosby diving inside to the guard and Nassib looping around the outside.
Only Williams stood between Jackson and Nassib. The running back was no match, and Nassib blew him up and caused a fumble that the Raiders recovered.
What was Gruden thinking?
The Raiders started on the Ravens’ 27-yard line, needing only a field goal to win the game. After a gain of 1 on first down, Gruden brought the kicking team out to attempt a 43-yard FG with four whole minutes left in overtime.
Fortunately for him, a delay of game penalty forced a change of plans. Carlson wasn’t ready, as he was over by the kicking net. So, instead of running the ball to set Carlson up for another big field goal, Gruden and the offense decided to … drop back and pass the ball?
It was an unbelievable string of decisions that made absolutely no sense but worked in their favor. Baltimore went Cover 0, meaning they brought the house with no safety help and man coverage on the outside.
Renfrow rubbed Humphrey, which gave Zay Jones enough space to run a deep crosser unimpeded for the win.
This train wreck of a Monday Night Football game was finally over. But the questions about what exactly happened remain.