When the AFC North-rival Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns collided on Monday night, a big-game feel came with it. And it did not disappoint. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Browns QB Baker Mayfield led their teams in a riveting roller coaster of a game that finally concluded with a memorable 47-42 Baltimore win on the strength of a Justin Tucker game-winning field goal.
1) Lamar Jackson ran all over the Browns. Then he ran to the locker room, ran back and rescued the Ravens. Jackson dazzled from the onset before he was forced out of the game with cramps in the fourth quarter, a game's worth of outstanding already behind him. He returned for a fourth-and-5 play, running on to the field with the Ravens down by a point and, in the stuff of legend, promptly threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown for the go-ahead score. It was a pass beautiful in its delivery and execution, and so bewildering amid the chaos of the moment. It was hardly over, of course, as Baker Mayfield was at his best on this evening, as well, crafting a game-tying drive in return. But the final histrionics belong to Lamar, who was a perfect four-for-four for 38 yards on a game-winning drive that set up Mr. Automatic Justin Tucker for the game-winning boot. Since his return from COVID-19, Jackson's looked as fast and quick as ever. That was evident at the onset with Jackson running for a pair of first-half scores. He finished the game with 124 yards and two scores on the ground, as his rushing prowess guided the Ravens for much of the game. But he also ended the evening with 163 yards passing and one very memorable TD throw to Brown. When Jackson scampered to the locker room, obviously nobody knew if he'd return. But Jackson's come back a couple of times now. His performance Monday in leading the Ravens (8-5) past the Browns (9-4) won't soon be forgotten. Statistically, this season isn't going to end as impressively as the last one did for Jackson, but he's started to look very much like the superman and superstar of 2019. And on this night of dramatic performances and compelling action, Jackson battled through Browns, injuries and deficits to emerge as the conquering hero in a showcase of just how special he can be.
2) The evolution of Baker Mayfield will be televised. Not on those annoying commercials, but in pivotal prime-time donnybrooks in which AFC North feuds play out with playoff berths on the line. Mayfield and the Browns walked away losers on Monday and the close ones are most often the most difficult to shoulder, but this was one of the finest showings in the Browns QB's mercurial career. Quite simply, the Ravens had the ball last and the best kicker in the universe to bring them home. What Mayfield had was a night with three total touchdowns and 343 yards passing. The offensive game plan was a bit puzzling, especially with Nick Chubb getting just 17 carries, but aside from one Mayfield interception -- which was big, mind you -- he played stellar ball. He led his team to myriad comebacks and after the heroic return of Jackson and the Ravens taking a 42-35 lead, Mayfield needed just four plays and 47 seconds to move the Browns 75 yards, hitting Kareem Hunt to lead to a 42-42 tie. This was a heckuva game for Mayfield. It just had a bad ending.
3) Whenever anyone doubts the importance of a great kicker, it seems as though Justin Tucker reminds them just how crucial having one can be. On a night in which the Browns' Cody Parkey missed an extra point and his only field goal attempt, Tucker also missed an extra point due to a block (not his fault). But when Jackson and Co. roared down the field, there was little doubt when Tucker lined up for a 55-yard game-winning attempt that Baltimore would come away with three points. Tucker sent it through and the celebration of a phenomenal game reigned, but was there truly any shock about the kick floating the Ravens to victory? Tucker isn't perfect, but in the NFL world of kickers going through a revolving door, he is as close to perfect as one can be.
4) As aforementioned, there was some puzzlement in Chubb getting just 17 carries. Nonetheless, 17 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns is still a nice night's worth of work. In addition, Hunt had 33 yards and a touchdown on the ground along with team-highs of six catches for 77 yards to go with a TD reception. The Browns didn't bowl over the Ravens in this matchup of the league's top-two rushing attacks, but they still provided ample evidence of just how talented this backfield duo of Chubb and Hunt is. Maybe Cleveland should've leaned more on the running game, but it's hard to argue the Browns offense wasn't successful on this night as it changed its approach a bit.
5) With the kickoff Monday, the Ravens returned to their regularly scheduled programming. This was a Monday Night Football game played on schedule, which was of course in contrast to the previous two Baltimore games, which were postponed a combined five times. Overall, this concluded a span brought upon by a COVID-19 outbreak within the organization in which the Ravens played their third game in 12 days, all of them on weekdays with plenty of spotlight shining down. 2020 has been a crazy year featuring a chaotic football season. Plenty of teams have been impacted and the Ravens surely have. If nothing more, even though a short week lies ahead, the Ravens have returned to the schedule they had before the campaign kicked off. But there is much more now. Just like that, Baltimore has breathed hope and brilliance into its season, it's won two in a row and is suddenly the hottest team in the AFC North.
6) For a tortured franchise such as the Browns, perhaps of crucial importance after such a loss is to stress there needs to be no panic. Yes, a defeat such as this hurts. But the Browns are hurt, they're not injured. They lost a helluva game to a helluva team and emerge still sitting in prime position for the playoffs. This was no epic collapse. This was an outstanding game that the Browns lost. With matchups against the Giants and the Jets in the coming weeks, nothing is lost for the Browns' ambitions besides this game.
7) This was a brilliant and beautifully exhilarating game. Rejoice in it. It's like every NFL game in that you can pick apart plenty, but that's not necessary. This one should be remembered and celebrated for the sensational thrill ride that it was. These two rivals waged back and forth, clutch performances had by many. This was the game of the year so far. There were 12 touchdowns, including an NFL record-tying nine rushing scores, a combined 89 points, nearly 900 yards of offense and a dizzying amount of back-and-forth absurdity. This has been a trying year in the NFL and obviously more so in the real world. On this Monday night, the Browns and the Ravens were a treat to watch. There is no phenomenal analysis here, just appreciation for a sensational football game.