There would be hardly anyone willing to argue that the Baltimore Ravens were not a good team before Sunday’s game against Houston. The 7-2 Ravens entered M&T Bank for a fierce matchup against a 6-3 Texans team, and both teams had the same objective on their mind: win and be in control of the American Football Conference’s second seed. In theory, the Texans presented a difficult challenge for Baltimore. Houston had an MVP-candidate quarterback at the helm of the offense, a tenacious running back in Carlos Hyde, arguably the league’s best wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, and the statistically fourth-best run defense. Yet, despite all of Houston’s weapons and advantages, the Texans crumbled in the brisk Baltimore air.
Neither the Ravens nor the Texans could score in the first quarter, and many frustrated fans were concerned that the Ravens’ inadequate performance would hand the Texans a victory. However, once the second quarter hit, the Ravens switched gears and initiated a beatdown that absolutely no one saw coming. Baltimore would score 41 points in three quarters, and if not for Houston’s moot touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Ravens would have pitched a shutout. Baltimore’s offensive dominance is not surprising given the team’s success this year, but the Texans’ fourth-best rush defense should have been more successful against the Ravens ground game. Baltimore rushed for 263 yards. 86 yards came from the electrifying Lamar Jackson, but 112 came from Gus Edwards, the unexpected hero of the game. Edwards’ numbers are inflated by his late-game 63-yard touchdown rush, but Edwards still managed to accrue 49 yards on seven other rushes. That’s an average of seven yards per rush before his 63-yard sprint.
Perhaps the most notable performance in this game comes from no one on offense, but the entire defense as a whole. Baltimore’s defense, once the team’s liability, successfully shut down the Texans’ highly ranked offense. Deshaun Watson entered the game with a 70.2% completion rating on the year, averaging 270.2 passing yards per game and a 107.1 quarterback rating. The much-improved Ravens defense not only kept Watson bellow his typical numbers, but they also dominated him. Watson completed just 62.07% of passes for 169 yards and held on to a dismal 63.7 quarterback rating. Houston had little success throwing the ball, and the Texans found less success rushing the ball with Carlos Hyde. Hyde rushed for 65 yards on nine attempts and scored Houston’s only touchdown. That 41-yard touchdown rush came on Houston’s second to last drive, when the game was already out of reach. Before that moot run, Hyde had just 24 yards on 8 carries and averaged a measly 3 yards per rush. Not even DeAndre Hopkins can say he played very well in Baltimore. The receiver caught seven passes for 80 yards, but was targeted 12 times, and did not catch a touchdown.
Baltimore’s victory over the Houston Texans has changed the conversation surrounding the Ravens. No longer is the talk about whether the Ravens can win the second seed in the AFC, and whether or not quarterback, Lamar Jackson, should win the league’s MVP award. The hot topic in NFL circles is now whether or not the Ravens should be declared the league’s best team. The Ravens were once a team winning on the back of its offense, but Baltimore can now boast solid defensive play from a revamped group, one that shut down offenses led by Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, and Deshaun Watson.
Baltimore’s critics once pointed to the second half of the schedule as the Ravens’ Achilles heel, but Baltimore has yet to lose any of the tough matchups cited. The Ravens have now beaten the 8-2 Seahawks, the 9-1 Patriots, and the 6-4 Texans in three of their last four games. These are impressive victories, and they make one wonder whether any team in the National Football League can stop the Ravens. Over the next three weeks, Baltimore is scheduled to face the 6-4 Rams, the 9-1 49ers, and the 7-3 Bills. The Ravens may not escape these games unscathed, but a win in two of the three matchups will confirm the Ravens are the league’s best team. After the difficult three games, Baltimore will have a much easier time schedule, as the Ravens take on the 3-7 Jets, the 4-6 Browns, and the 5-5 Steelers to close out the year.
So are the Ravens the best team in the National Football League? It is difficult to say right now, but Baltimore will prove whether it is or is not over the next few weeks. Ultimately though, it is irrelevant. The New England Patriots were by far the best team in the NFL in 2007 but fell short of a Super Bowl victory after an undefeated year. The Ravens must focus on each individual game, and not get caught up in all the talk. The Ravens are out to win a Super Bowl. Being labeled as the “best team in the league” is an honor, but it is worthless without the validation of a Super Bowl victory.