An emotional, uplifting victory on the road against a division rival strongly enhanced the Baltimore Ravens’ chances of reaching the playoffs and provided a positive vibe during a season marred by injuries, a three-game skid and an outbreak of COVID-19.
Now, with a soft schedule in front of them, the Ravens need to get healthy and finish strong.
Baltimore (8-5) used a brilliant finish by quarterback Lamar Jackson and a 55-yard field goal by reliable Justin Tucker to squeeze out a 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Monday night.
Jackson missed one series and part of another with cramps before emerging from the locker room to lead a pair of scoring drives in the closing minutes after the Ravens’ short-handed defense blew a 14-point lead.
Soon after the epic duel ended, Coach John Harbaugh declared, “It’s a game that’s going to go down in history. Our guys had faith and trust and belief, and sometimes, that’s what it takes.”
Baltimore’s defense barely made it to the finish after injuries in the backfield forced special teams standout Anthony Levine to join the fray and cornerback Marcus Peters to limp onto the huddle without consulting with team doctors.
“We had so many guys going down on defense, just trying to get 11 guys on the field was a challenge,” Harbaugh said.
The victory was Baltimore’s second straight following a three-game losing streak perpetuated by a bout with COVID-19 that depleted the roster and caused the rescheduling of matchups with Pittsburgh and Dallas.
Still, the Ravens are not assured a playoff berth, even if they win out against Jacksonville (1-12), the New York Giants (5-8) and Cincinnati (2-10-1). Baltimore is chasing several teams for a wild-card spot, including Miami, also 8-5 but currently with the tie-breaking edge because of winning percentage within the conference.
• The Ravens have activated wide receiver Dez Bryant from the reserve/COVID-19 list after a positive test sidelined him for the past two games.
JETS: The New York Jets released kicker Sergio Castillo after he missed three of his four field-goal attempts at Seattle last Sunday.
Castillo had been filling in for Sam Ficken, who’s on injured reserve with a strained groin but could be cleared to practice this week. The Jets also claimed kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers from Jacksonville on Monday, signaling Castillo’s likely departure.
STEELERS: The suddenly struggling Pittsburgh Steelers gave their battered offensive line a fresh face by signing Danny Isidora off Kansas City’s practice squad.
Isidora joins a group in need of healthy bodies. Left guard Matt Feiler was placed on injured reserve on Monday with a pectoral injury. His replacement, rookie Kevin Dotson, is battling a shoulder injury and right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor tweaked his ankle in a loss to Buffalo on Sunday night.
Isidora, a fifth-round pick by Minnesota in 2017, has made six NFL starts for three teams. Playing time, however, was hard to come by in Kansas City. Isidora has played just two snaps this season.
COWBOYS: Not only did owner Jerry Jones echo vice president Stephen Jones in doubling down on the team’s commitment to Mike McCarthy as head coach, he was truly offended by the suggestion of possibly making a change after one year.
Never mind that the Cowboys are 4-9 in 2020 one year after firing Jason Garrett for going 8-8 and giving McCarthy more power than any coach since Bill Parcells to make them Super Bowl contenders again.
But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, preventing McCarthy from implementing his new schemes in the offseason, and the loss of quarterback Dak Prescott and several other key players to injuries.
Jerry Jones says McCarthys won’t be one-and-done in Dallas.
“Not one time, not one time have I been in any discussion, had any dream, been sitting by myself, have I given a thought to anything but Mike McCarthy being our coach next year, and being our coach in the future,” Jerry Jones said on his radio show in 105.3 The Fan Tuesday. “How in the hell something like that could get going with a conversation with Stephen or anybody else about whether McCarthy is going to be the coach or not is ridiculous.
“Now, just think about it: we just made the move to start down the road with our coach, and we all understand that continuity, really sticking with a plan and having a long-term plan to put your team together around a particular coach and his style, his ability to just put a winning team on the field.”
AWARDS: Baltimore defensive end Calais Campbell is a three-time finalist with New England wide receiver Matthew Slater a finalist for a second straight year and third overall for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award announced by the NFL.
The award first created in 2014 is given each year to an NFL player best demonstrating on-field sportsmanship with fair play, respecting the game and opponents and integrity in competition.
Finalists include four players from each conference and were picked by a panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community featuring Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenberg and Leonard Wheeler.
Indianapolis defensive end Justin Houston and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Cameron Heyward are the other finalists from the AFC. The NFC finalists are Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David, Philadelphia center Jason Kelce and San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
The finalists will be listed on the Pro Bowl ballot under the NFL Sportsmanship Award category. Teams can’t vote for their own player.
BUCCANEERS: Running back Ronald Jones is scheduled to have a surgical procedure to have a pin placed in his broken pinkie finger.
Jones played the entirety of the Bucs’ 26-14 win over the Vikings on Sunday. He rushed 18 times for 80 yards and a touchdown.
BROWNS: Safety Andrew Sendejo sustained a concussion late in the fourth quarter after a collision at the goal line with Ravens rookie running back J.K. Dobbins, who gloated about the violent play on social media.
Sendejo got hurt when he couldn’t stop Dobbins on a 2-point conversion in Baltimore’s 47-42 win over the Browns.
Hours after the game, Dobbins posted about the play on his Twitter account.
“Boy better bring his big boy britches next time, because I’m coming strong every run,” Dobbins wrote before deleting his message.
After seeing fans respond to his tweet about Sendejo, Dobbins, who played at Ohio State and has numerous fans in the Cleveland area, walked back his message.
“It’s a competitive game,” Dobbins said. “People talk trash on the field all the time I respect bro like chill haha I hope hes okay.”
Sendejo has taken some criticism from Cleveland fans for his play this season. But the 11-year veteran has also come through in some big moments for a Browns secondary that has had numerous injuries.
Sendejo’s injury was the most significant for the Browns (9-4), who will visit the New York Giants on Sunday night.
RAIDERS: Rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was placed on the teams reserve/COVID-19 list, according to multiple reports, and will not be available to play on Thursday night against the Chargers.