Ravens are dangerous playoff contender by putting foot on gas

ATLANTA -- Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens have formed the most dominant rushing attack in the NFL. The Ravens top the league in both fewest yards and points allowed.

Baltimore is also second-to-none when it comes to being aggressive. Case in point: the attack-mode mentality on offense, defense and special teams in the 26-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

From a fake punt to an all-out blitz to a fourth-down gamble, the Ravens are playing like they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Who can really blame this team? It was three weeks ago during the bye, when John Harbaugh was fielding questions about his job security and the Ravens' season was being written off after Joe Flacco was spotted walking with crutches.

Embracing the must-win mantra, the Ravens (7-5) have won three straight games to become a legitimate and dangerous playoff contender. Baltimore trails the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1) by just a half-game for first place in the AFC North and holds a one-game lead for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.

The Ravens' chances of making the playoffs are at 64.4 percent. Their odds to win the division are 21 percent.

"Nobody in the locker room doubted that we are doing whatever we are going to do," coach John Harbaugh said. "We’re not done. We’re 7-5, you know? We’re not sitting here 12-0. We’re still fighting for our lives."

The debate over Baltimore's quarterback situation -- stick with Jackson or go back to Flacco -- has become a heated one among fans. There is no such question about the fight in this team, and it starts with Harbaugh's coaching style.

It started early in the second quarter, when the Ravens called a fake punt on fourth-and-7 at midfield. Punter Sam Koch, who has thrown to receivers at times during pregame warm-ups, threw a 21-yard pass to Chris Moore.

The trickery didn't result in points for the Ravens (the Falcons returned a fumble for a touchdown two plays after the fake punt), but it struck a tone that was carried throughout the game.

"That shocked me," Jackson said.

The Ravens were just as relentless on defense. After Baltimore extended its lead to 19-10 midway through the fourth quarter, defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale came after quarterback Matt Ryan on the first play.

Baltimore blitzed seven players, leaving four defensive backs in man-to-man coverage with no help deep. Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor stripped the ball, and cornerback Tavon Young returned the fumble 12 yards for the touchdown.

"Golly, what a great call," safety Eric Weddle said while exuberantly re-enacting the play at the lectern. "First down, we're out there, oh, man, zero blitz. I'm out here covering Julio [Jones]. And then, boom, sack, of course Tay [Tavon Young] picks it up, touchdown. I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh.' It's so crazy, man. It's awesome."

It soon became the offense's turn to put the foot on the gas. The Ravens faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 46-yard line with two minutes left to play. Ahead by 10 points (26-16), the conservative play would've been to punt and pin the Falcons deep in their own territory.

But Baltimore lined up and Jackson went behind the left guard for a 2-yard gain. Jackson knelt twice, and the Ravens had their first three-game win streak since November 2017.

"I love the call," left tackle Ronnie Stanley said of going for it on fourth down. "We’ve been running the ball; it put the game in our hands. We’re up two possessions -- why not? It’s been a physical game, and you got to run the ball to finish it out. I think we’re a physical team, and we definitely took a more physical approach going into these games."