It finally happened!
After a three-year drought, two straight years of heartbreak to divisional rivals, and one intense end of season game, the Baltimore Ravens finally return to the playoffs. The Ravens controlled their own destiny on Sunday, as it was a win-and-in scenario. To win the division crown, Baltimore had to beat the Cleveland Browns. There was no other option for the Ravens. The only other path to the playoffs was closed by the Steelers, who beat the Bengals that night before Baltimore’s game concluded. Pittsburgh waited for a Ravens loss to claim the division, but failure never came. On fourth down with just over a minute left, visions of 2016 and 2017 flashed in everyone’s minds, but Baltimore did not succumb to the same fate of years past. Instead of allowing an immaculate extension, or a fourth down dash to the end zone, the Ravens gambled and won.
Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale broke the tradition of his predecessor, Dean Pees. In a situation where Pees would order his defense to sit back and try to prevent a big play, Martindale told them to be aggressive and attack. Martindale called a cover zero blitz on the final four plays of the game, an extremely aggressive play where wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs are covered by simple man-to-man coverage with no safety or linebacker help. Everyone not covering is assigned to blitz. When asked by Ravens insider, Jeff Zrebiec, of the Athletic, why he called those plays, Martindale answered, “Because of the way we’ve been all year, they knew what the calls were going to be. That’s why they were all laughing when they came over. To win the game, we’re not playing some zone.” Martindale also said that if the Ravens were going to go down, they were going to fall by being aggressive.
The calls worked. The Browns got nowhere on three consecutive plays, which set up a fourth and ten scenario. The entire stadium was on their feet, while 250 miles away in Pittsburgh, an entire stadium was on their toes. On that consequential fourth down play, the Browns spread the field. Baker Mayfield was the only player in the backfield. He stepped back into the pocket. The pressure came, Matthew Judon got right Mayfield’s face. He quickly threw the ball off of his back foot. It was tipped, and intercepted at the line of scrimmage, by none other than C.J. Mosley, half man, half amazing. One stadium burst into screams of joy, while the other was left in stunned silence.
The win was magnificent. In a year of such highs and lows, this win encapsulates the Ravens spirit this season. Baltimore did not fret, did not flinch, and did not falter when the road ahead looked bleak. When injuries mounted, and uncertainty surrounded, the Ravens found ways to win. They won with unconventional players and methods. The team rallied around John Harbaugh, and when the journey got tough, it was good. It was good that the Ravens made mistakes because they could learn from them. It was good that the Ravens found themselves at 4-5 because they could bounce back from it. And it was good that the entire Ravens season came down to one, defensive moment because they could answer their history, and write their own destiny.