The Ravens, again playing without quarterback Lamar Jackson and many of their starters, extended their preseason winning streak Saturday to 23 games behind a strong debut performance from wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and a gritty defensive effort.
Here are five things we learned from their 17-15 victory over the Washington Commanders:
Whether it matters or not, the Ravens didn’t take any shortcuts to another unbeaten preseason.
John Harbaugh’s heard the question too many times to count by now. When your team wins 23 straight games over six preseasons, the longest streak in recorded NFL history and an object of fascination in the wider sports world, reporters tend to bug you about the greater meaning of it all.
“Like I say all the time, ‘There’s significance and meaning to everything in life,’” Harbaugh said Saturday. “The guys that were out there playing, I promise you, it’s significant to those guys who played in the game and found a way to win the game.”
The game was significant enough to the announced 70,411 in attendance — maybe a quarter of whom actually came out to M&T Bank Stadium — that when Commanders rookie quarterback Sam Howell missed deep on a throw to wide receiver Matt Cole, well covered by safety Ar’Darius Washington, a surge of sound reached the press box. It wasn’t like the Ravens had beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime on “Monday Night Football.” But for a preseason game, it was still decently loud.
It’s a waste of time to compare preseason successes, but the Ravens’ 3-0 record this month might have been their most impressive August of the streak. Harbaugh took no shortcuts. He sat his big-name starters in all three games and rested some lesser-known starters Saturday, even giving rookie punter Jordan Stout the night off.
Late Saturday, with their streak in jeopardy and their defense running out of bodies, the Ravens didn’t panic. They played with three inside linebackers on their final defensive series because they had to. They played rookie wide receiver Raleigh Webb as a deep safety because they had to.
“Raleigh had played safety a little bit in college, and said he could do it,” Harbaugh said. “So we put him out there, and he did all right.”
When Howell’s final pass fell incomplete, safety Tony Jefferson ran along the sideline to celebrate with the Ravens’ last-gasp defense. By then, they were running on fumes. Harbaugh joked afterward that some of the team’s defensive linemen played so much that he worried the team would need defibrillators. But the Ravens played on, and they won again. And so the streak goes on. And so the questions will continue. That’s fine in Baltimore.
“It was survival of the fittest at the end there,” Harbaugh said. “We do talk to the guys about, ‘When you get tired, the value of fatigue is in preparation.’ So you have a long practice, a tough practice … really focus on your execution and your technique toward the end of those practices, and hopefully those guys thought about that out there in the fourth quarter today.”
Ben Powers and Isaiah Likely didn’t play Saturday, and that’s probably a good thing.
The Ravens entered August with the usual barrel of questions hanging over the early days of training camp. Among the most pressing: Who would win the left guard competition? Among the most interesting: Just how good was rookie tight end Isaiah Likely?
Near the end of August, the answers seem conclusive. Ben Powers, who started 12 games at left guard last season and was the early front-runner in camp, didn’t dress for Saturday’s game, a privilege afforded to a bunch of projected starters. Also in sweats was Likely, who ranked among the NFL’s receiving leaders after two preseason games with 12 catches on 12 targets for 144 yards and a touchdown.
Powers getting the night off two weeks before the Ravens’ season opener would’ve seemed unlikely not long ago. But Likely, too? That was unimaginable in May, when the most buzzworthy thing about the No. 139 overall draft pick was that the Ravens wanted Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin there — until the Steelers took him at No. 138 overall.
But in camp and two preseason games, Powers and Likely did enough to get spectator status Saturday. If the left guard battle is indeed over, Powers won it with savvy and stamina. He was solid throughout camp, avoiding penalties — something Tyre Phillips struggled with — and taking snaps at center to bolster his game-day value. Powers was also available, which Ben Cleveland, for the second straight camp, was not.
Likely, meanwhile, made himself indispensable with catch after catch. In mandatory minicamp, he seemed to earn Jackson’s trust with a handful of impressive grabs. In camp, he toasted defensive back Brandon Stephens during the second practice for a long catch-and-run score, then spent the next few weeks finding creases in zones and shaking defenders in man-to-man coverage. In the preseason, he turned himself into a viable fantasy football target.
So on Saturday, he sidled up to star tight end Mark Andrews and enjoyed the view.
Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson gave the Ravens a debut performance to remember.
Signing Robinson did not require a king’s ransom. The former Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders (briefly, anyway) wide receiver joined the Ravens on Monday on a one-year, $1 million deal, nearly $900,000 of it guaranteed, a much-needed insurance plan given the state of their depth chart. James Proche II (soft tissue) hasn’t practiced in over two weeks. Tylan Wallace (knee), held out again Saturday, played in only one quarter this preseason.
But after only three practices together, the Ravens still wanted to see Robinson in game action. He’d played just 19 snaps in the Raiders’ preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings, catching two of three passes for 28 yards. He was released before the NFL’s second weekend of games. In Baltimore, there was a lot to learn.
“We have a big [play]book, and we have a lot in right now,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “We’re kind of still in camp mode in terms of repping our stuff and trying to get good at it. So I’m sure he’s trying to figure out what to do as much as anything, but he looks good out here.”
He looked great out there Saturday — or, maybe more accurately, he looked like an established complementary wide receiver running circles around the kind of cornerbacks and safeties who play the bulk of a team’s snaps in its preseason finale.
On his first big play, a 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown punctuated by Deion Sanders-esque high-stepping, Robinson cooked an overeager Washington secondary with a slant-and-go double move down the left sideline. He made quarterback Anthony Brown’s first drop-back of the game a bountiful one, handing the Ravens a 7-3 lead in the second quarter they wouldn’t relinquish.
On Robinson’s second big play, the Ravens went back to the same well with a different bucket. After an out-and-up double move, again down the left sideline, Robinson didn’t have a defender within spitting distance when he secured the catch. The 52-yard connection set up the Ravens’ second touchdown drive, and three plays later, Brown scrambled in from 6 yards out for a 17-6 lead midway through the third quarter.
Robinson wasn’t all precision and big plays. Early in the third quarter, he got open on third down for a fade to the corner of the end zone but failed to get both feet inbounds after securing possession. The Ravens instead settled for a 38-yard field goal from kicker-punter Cameron Dicker and a 10-6 lead.
But the results — four catches for 135 yards and a touchdown less than a week after arriving in Baltimore — were more than encouraging. He’s still learning the playbook, after all.
“I’m not going to say I know everything, so I still have a lot of learning to do,” he said. “But I know enough to go out there and make a couple plays, for sure.”
These Ravens can’t say no to a wide receiver like that.
Roster battles at inside linebacker and along the defensive line went up a level in the preseason finale.
Kristian Welch didn’t care about playing it cool. After a nine-tackle, 2 1/2-sack performance against Washington, the Ravens’ third-year inside linebacker and special teams standout acknowledged the stakes. He might’ve been playing for his job Saturday. He might’ve also just secured a roster spot Saturday.
“It’s important,” Welch said. “I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an important time of year for, really, I don’t know what percentage … a large percentage of the team. You just go out there and not try to get too involved. Let the game come to you. Prepare off the field, watch the film, get your playbook and everything you can do to put yourself in the position to make plays.”
There were not a lot of roster spots up for grabs entering the Ravens’ preseason finale, but try telling that to the reserves who took the field. Teams don’t win as many preseason games as the Ravens have, or as comprehensively as the Ravens have, with a laissez-faire attitude among their no-name ranks.
At inside linebacker, where one of the team’s most interesting roster battles has developed, Welch flew around as a blitzer. Rookie Josh Ross, likely his top competition for a spot as the Ravens’ fourth inside linebacker, finished with a team-high 11 tackles.
Along the defensive line, where rookie tackle Travis Jones’ minor knee injury might have opened a roster spot, Isaiah Mack and Aaron Crawford continued their push to make an NFL roster Tuesday — if not the Ravens’, then someone else’s. Mack had a half-sack. Crawford had a tackle for loss. His late-game groin injury might have simplified the Ravens’ thinking, but there was a lot to consider. This time of year, there always is.
“Once we see the tape, it might be a decision or two,” Harbaugh said. “You have to decide, not just between guys at a position, but how many guys you keep at one position across to another. Special teams plays a big factor in that. So we’ll just see where we go tomorrow and the next day.”
The Ravens’ roster situation entering Week 1 isn’t perfect, but it could also be a lot worse.
Throughout the offseason, and then into training camp, the Ravens heard questions about their pass rush, about their wide receivers, about their injuries, about their quarterback’s future.
Two weeks from their season opener, those questions still remain. And they’re not insignificant ones. But the Ravens, crucially, leave their preseason schedule without much more trouble than when they entered it.
Sure, there were injuries. Jones, one of the team’s most impressive draft picks from an instant-impact rookie class, is expected to miss three to five weeks with a knee injury suffered in the Ravens’ second preseason win. Rookie tight end Charlie Kolar is still recovering from sports hernia surgery. Cornerback Kevon Seymour (ankle) and Crawford took knocks Saturday that might pop their roster bubble.
But the Ravens will enter Week 1 with a roster brimming with talent both young and old, on both offense and defense, with good health for many and steadily improving health for the rest. They will be substantial road favorites against the likely Zach Wilson-less Jets on Sept. 11, even as left tackle Ronnie Stanley and running back J.K. Dobbins work their way back into game shape.
And with the injury luck they’re due after last year’s movie-level disaster, the Ravens’ roster could be in even better standing come October. By then, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser could be ready to complete his comeback from a torn Achilles tendon. The countdowns for running back Gus Edwards (knee) and rookie outside linebacker David Ojabo (Achilles) might have already started, too.
Whatever’s built around it, the foundation for a successful Ravens season is already in place. No matter how many times the Ravens run for 200 yards this season, this is a passing league. And in Jackson, they have a quarterback who earned rave reviews in camp for his arm strength and improved accuracy. They have an offensive line that should give him time to go through his reads. They have a potential star pass rusher in outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. And they have one of the NFL’s deepest and most versatile secondaries.
It’s too early to know whether that’s enough for a Super Bowl. But in late August, it’s a good start.
Sunday, Sept. 11, 1 p.m.
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