INDIANAPOLIS – There was one primary difference Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Reigning MVP Lamar Jackson is on the Baltimore Ravens’ roster.
Despite a Herculean effort from the defense – especially in the first half – the Indianapolis Colts didn’t have a definitive answer for the 23-year-old quarterback in a deflating 24-10 loss.
“I think it was just little mistakes, little errors, that we could have cleaned up, and they took advantage of it,” defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “Against a team like that, you can’t have any mistakes. They’ll make you pay.”
Jackson’s numbers weren’t eye popping.
He finished 19-of-23 for 170 yards through the air and rushed 13 times for a game-high 58 yards and a score. But he was lethally efficient.
The Ravens took control of the game with a pair of scoring drives that combined for 24 plays and took 13 minutes, 38 seconds – nearly a full quarter – off the game clock.
The recipe was simple. After the Colts (5-3) shut down the running game in the first half, Baltimore (6-2) found a different way to move the chains, milk the clock and put points on the board.
“I give credit to the Ravens,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “I give credit to Lamar Jackson. I give credit to their coaches. They came out in the second half (and) they went to a short, controlled passing game. And they effectively got some momentum using a short, controlled passing game, and that’s what we wanted to force them to do. And they were able to sustain a couple long drives doing that. So that’s what you gotta do to win games, and that’s what they did.”
It’s what Indianapolis lacked.
The offense never found a rhythm, squandering the defense’s first-half heroics. The Ravens entered with the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL but gained zero yards in the first quarter and just 18 in the first half.
At halftime, Baltimore was averaging just 2.2 yards per play. And yet the Colts held just a 10-7 advantage on the scoreboard.
There was one big drive – an eight-play, 65-yard march capped by a 1-yard touchdown by rookie running back Jonathan Taylor for a 7-0 lead with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter – and one big mistake.
That also was down to Taylor, who fumbled at the end of a 9-yard run that would have given Indianapolis a second-and-1 at the visitors’ 36-yard line. Instead, cornerback Marcus Peters knocked the ball loose from behind just before Taylor’s knee hit the ground, and safety Chuck Clark scooped it up and returned it 65 yards for a game-tying score.
Taylor had just one carry the rest of the way, and the Colts’ offense was never the same.
It was the 16th fumble forced by the Baltimore defense this year and the 13th recovered. So Indianapolis came into the game putting a premium on ball security.
“But we gotta recover from that against a good team, and we had opportunities to recover from that,” Reich said. “We weren’t able to finish it.”
Peters also was involved in the other big game-changing sequence.
The Ravens drove to the 3-yard line with the opening possession of the third quarter, but Buckner jarred the ball loose on first-and-goal and linebacker Bobby Okereke recovered and returned it to his own 23-yard line.
It appeared the Colts had dodged a bullet until the next snap.
Quarterback Philip Rivers looked to take a shot downfield but underthrew wide receiver Marcus Johnson. Peters got his hands on the ball, but it appeared to be knocked away by Johnson at the last moment and was initially ruled incomplete.
The call was reversed on replay, and Baltimore took over at its own 46-yard line. Ten plays and 5:15 later, running back Gus Edwards – who was responsible for the fumble – run in from the 1-yard line for a 14-10 lead.
The replay reversal was controversial – to say the least – but Buckner said it shouldn’t have mattered.
“I’m not a referee,” he said. “I can’t make that call. We just have to adjust. We have to sudden change, and we gotta answer as a D.”
The offense had no answers, either.
Indianapolis responded with a three-and-out and finished the third quarter with 1 yard on four plays from scrimmage. A tired defense couldn’t hold up and surrendered a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Jackson’s 9-yard touchdown run and gave Baltimore a commanding 21-10 lead with 11:08 left in the fourth quarter.
The Colts outgained the visitors 339-266 and ran three more offensive plays (66-63). But they had just 138 yards in the second half – including 63 on a meaningless final possession – and were just 2-for-12 on third-down conversions.
After looking sharp in two previous victories, Rivers often was off target. He wasn’t sacked against a fearsome Ravens pass rush, but he finished just 26-of-44 for 227 yards and the controversial pick.
The running game averaged 5.3 yards per carry, but that came on just 21 attempts spread among four ballcarriers. Jordan Wilkins led the way with 39 yards on 11 carries.
“I think that our defense played well,” rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said after catching four passes for a team-high 56 yards, “and I feel like they gave us chances, and I think that we’ve just gotta do better for them and keep them off of the field.”
Baltimore dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 33:26, and Justin Tucker capped the scoring with a 48-yard field goal with 2:08 remaining.
Rodrigo Blankenship kicked a 43-yard field goal to put the Colts ahead 10-7 with 45 seconds left in the first half. That proved to be the team’s final points.
“It’s one we let get away,” Rivers said. “It’s one that they earned. They beat us. But it’s not anything that just – shoot, we gotta just pick up and move forward.”