The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers have spent most of the season rudely beating up their opponents. Last week, the Niners destroyed the Green Bay Packers 37-8 and the Ravens humiliated the Los Angeles Rams 45-6. Those teams are “good” in that they are realistic playoff contenders, but they were each shoved into their lockers in front of a national television audience. Baltimore and San Francisco deserve each other, and on Sunday Godzilla finally got to tango with Mothra. The Ravens beat the 49ers, 20-17 and, mercifully, no cities were leveled in the process.
Baltimore clinched the win via a last-second Justin Tucker field goal in the rain. If it seems unfair for the Ravens to have the most accurate kicker in NFL history in addition to a great defense and the league’s most exciting quarterback, that’s because it probably is. They’ve won eight games in a row, and the 49ers were the first team since early October to come within two touchdowns against them. Tucker hasn’t had to attempt a stressful kick in months, but he delivered on Sunday in the biggest game of the season.
There’s no shame in losing to the Ravens in Baltimore, and the 49ers had opportunities to sneak away with the win. San Francisco was without first-choice running back Matt Breida, but the offense still managed to move the ball with Raheem Mostert, who racked up 146 yards and a touchdown. Head coach Kyle Shanahan was smart and aggressive (unlike some of his peers), and his gutsy decision-making was rewarded when the 49ers scored on fourth-and-2 during their opening drive.
The contest was so evenly balanced, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson actually had to play the entire game. He usually gets to rest in the fourth quarter due to his propensity for blowing out opposing teams, but Baltimore needed Jackson until the very last second, when he led the drive that set up Tucker’s kick.
San Francisco held Jackson to his most blasé game in a while, though for him blasé still results in an unprecedented performance. He rushed for 101 yards and 1 touchdown, becoming the first NFL quarterback to have four 100-yard rushing games in a season. I’ve gushed about Jackson before (many, many, times), and I promise to stop writing about him as soon as he stops playing like a jetpack-aided Joe Montana. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet.
Jackson is only 62 yards short of Michael Vick’s single-season quarterback rushing record. If he continues at this pace, he should easily break that mark against the Bills next week, in just Baltimore’s 13th game of the year.
Despite the loss, the 49ers can fly back to California knowing they hampered Jackson more than any other team this year, and his 105 passing yards were the fewest he’s thrown for since becoming the Ravens’ starter last season. They also forced him to lose a fumble, which I didn’t realize was allowed?
That’s brazen larceny by Marcell Harris, the kind of daylight purse-snatching TripAdvisor users warn you about in their reviews for the Roman Colosseum, and it resulted in Jackson’s first lost fumble of the season.
Sadly for the rest of the league, San Francisco didn’t really provide a “blueprint” for stopping Jackson and the Ravens’ offense. The 49ers simply have a bunch of extremely fast and talented defenders who can keep up with Baltimore’s similarly terrifying offensive weapons. That can’t be taught by watching tape, so everyone else in the NFL should probably just find the nearest Zoltar machine and get to wishing.
The 49ers played a nearly perfect game, which is good enough for a 3-point loss when you’re playing against the Ravens. If they are to exact revenge on Baltimore then it will have to come in the Super Bowl. Until then, both teams must return to their regular season routine of winning games by 30 points. The fair fight was fun while it lasted.