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“You know the history,” Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley told me, a half hour after the final gun at M&T Bank Stadium. “The past few years, the defense has been on the field.”

Mosley isn’t lying. And while that fact—that a proud Baltimore defense failed the team in December the last two seasons—didn’t get a lot of play during the lead-up to Week 17, it gnawed at the veterans of that proud unit.

In 2016 it was a 10-play, 75-yard drive yielded to the Steelers in Week 16, capped with by Antonio Brown touchdown scored with 13 seconds left to give Pittsburgh a 31-27 win and put the Ravens behind the 8-ball. Last year it was an 11-play, 80-yard drive from the Bengals, capped by a 49-yard scoring connection between Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd with 53 seconds left, dealing the Ravens another 31-27 loss.

And with everything to play for on the final Sunday of 2018, it looked like it was happening again.

After all, fate seemed like the only explanation for circus catches Breshad Perriman (yes, that Breshad Perriman, the Ravens’ old first-round-bust Breshad Perriman) and Jarvis Landry made within two snaps of each other to cover 35 yards and push the Browns from their own 26 to the Ravens 39 with 78 seconds left. Cleveland still trailed 26-24, but it was Baltimore that appeared to be the team facing the uphill battle.

“We’re on the field, and I was like, ‘Oh, here we go again,’” Mosley said. “But we told ourselves, Just stay resilient, man. We got four more downs. That’s all we needed.”

Resilient, they were. And the belief didn’t waver—because in a very specific way, it’s been there all year.


Upon taking his new post in the offseason, Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale pledged aggression and entrusted Mosley and safety Eric Weddle with wide-ranging latitude to check in and out of calls, both individually and for the group, based on what each of the veterans sees out on the field. On the most important series of the year, and then the most important play of the year, that showed up big-time.

Here’s the really interesting thing—back in September, all anyone could talk about was the explosion of the passing game in pro football. Yet there we all were at the apex of Week 17 action, and it was a defense making the difference—and one paired with an offense that looks a whole lot more like Navy than it does Texas Tech.

Lots to get to in Week 17. And we’re going to toggle between teams that fought for a place at the playoff table, and those that will be jockeying for coaches in the coming days. So here’s what you’re looking at:

The Eagles lurking as a dangerous team in the NFC bracket, and why this isn’t so different from last year was, even if their road is that much tougher.
The Colts surging behind a quarterback who doesn’t need to be as dominant as he once needed to be.
• A quick run through the coaching openings, or potential openings, as Black Monday dawns.
• An update on Ohio State DE Nick Bosa’s health, plus tidbits on Kyler Murray and more draft info.
• Thoughts on the under-the-radar Texans, Patrick Mahomes’s crazy brilliance, Kyle Williams’ farewell, the Seahawks’ rebuild and more 2018 reflections.

And, of course, we’ll bump around the playoff picture and look at what’s in store over a pretty intriguing Wild-Card Weekend slate. But we’re starting in Baltimore.

After Baker Mayfield’s rope to Landry for 16 yards in the game’s 58th minute, the Browns were set up with first-and-10 at the Baltimore 39, a timeout and that 1:18 showing on the clock. They needed less than 10 yards to get in kicker Greg Joseph’s range—he was 6-for-8 on kicks of 40-plus yards this year.

This is exactly the kind of situation, it’d been said in September, bound to generate offensive fireworks in 2018. And then, the opposite happened.

Martindale dialed up max pressure—six rushers coming—on each of the four snaps to follow. On first down, Mayfield threw a fade to tight end David Njoku up the right sideline that cornerback Anthony Levine batted away. On second down, the rush forced an off-target throw to the sideline to Landry. On third down, Mayfield unloaded the ball so fast that Djoku wasn’t ready when it hit him in the hands.

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“That’s him trusting us,” Mosley said on Martindale’s calls. “It’s the D-line trusting the linebackers. The linebackers trusting the DBs, to be where they’re supposed to be. Levine made a big play on the sidelines on Njoku. [Brandon] Carr, he almost had an interception on third down. We fought.”

And then came the last call—Cable zero train. Yup, Martindale was dialing up another max pressure, but it was on Mosley to make the critical adjustment base on what the Browns did.

As it was drawn up, Mosley was supposed to shoot the B-gap, between the guard and the tackle, on the front side of the play. But at the snap, he saw the center and guard slide to him, killing his chances of getting to the quarterback. So at that point, he fell off to the spot where he thought Mayfield’s hot read would be. Sure enough, Mosley dropped right into Mayfield’s throwing lane, a few yards in front of Duke Johnson.

To the rest of us, it all happened pretty fast. To Mosley, it was slow motion.

“That ball was in the air for 10 seconds. That was the longest two-yard pass ever,” he said. “It felt great, man, to have my teammates celebrate with me, the city celebrate with me. We deserved it. It just felt good that you can accomplish something so big and have your family behind you to share with.”


And now these different-but-familiar Ravens head for January, with that 26-24 win, and a home game against the Chargers on Sunday.

The Ravens are different now, in that Lamar Jackson is the quarterback, and the coaching staff’s plan to innovate with him, hatched before the draft, has seen the light of day—Baltimore is basically an option team, one that’s gashed opponents for 5.1 yards per carry in Jackson’ seven starts. And the deeper you dig into the numbers, the more proof you get of how far John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg are taking this approach.

Since Jackson became the starter in Week 11, the Ravens have run the ball 316 times for 1,607 yards. They’ve only dropped back to pass 180 times (including sacks), giving Baltimore a 64/36 run/pass ratio—which is pretty much unheard of in this day and age, and speaks to a staff willing to make it work.

“[Jackson] did a great job stepping up the middle of the season, coming out of the bye week, staying resilient,” Mosley said. “The offensive line, everyone on the offensive side, put him in a great position. And him just being the playmaker he is, he made a lot of big plays. He made this team, this offense, quick. He helps [the defense] too, keeping us off the field.”

And that’s where these Ravens look familiar. They’re back to the top of the league’s defensive rankings—finishing the season No. 1 in total defense, fifth in passing defense, fourth in run defense and second in scoring defense—and playing a style that gums up the game and plays it on terms than a lot of teams in today’s NFL are not comfortable with.

“We might not be the flashiest, but at the end of the day, we want to impose our will,” Mosley said. “For the most part of the season, that’s what we did. Especially the second half, when the offense turned it around, started running the ball. When you’re in the playoffs, you got to pack your run game, pack your defense. That’s what we did the past few weeks.”

As a result, they were able to exorcise some ghosts of the recent past, and become the sort of team that no one’s going to want to play—one that plays a different game from most everyone else.

THE MMQB MONDAY PODCAST:Gary Gramling and Andy Benoit with overnight analysis on the Ravens’ big win, the Vikings’ big collapse, the wild-card matchups, the coaching carousel and more. Subscribe on iTunes.


The Super Bowl champs were 2-3 at one point this season, and 4-6 at another, and left for dead by just about everyone after an overtime loss to the Cowboys three weeks ago. And here we are, with the regular season done, and the NFL still can’t kill off Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Then, just consider where they were on Dec. 11—stuck in a traffic jam of seven-loss teams (Packers, Panthers, Redskins), looking up at the Vikings in the sixth seed, with games against two eventual division champs (Rams, Texans) on tap. Oh, and Carson Wentz had just gone down.

Then the Eagles beat the Rams. And the Texans. And on Sunday they wiped the floor with the playing-out-the-string Redskins, 24-0 on Washington’s home turf, and got the help they needed from the Bears, who breezily ousted Minnesota from the playoff picture. And suddenly it’s all starting to feel a lot like last year, in how Philly is stiff-arming its circumstances.

“We’re a legitimate team,” safety and captain Malcolm Jenkins said from the victorious locker room late Sunday. “This isn’t contingent on one player, or our star players. Because last year and this year, we’ve been plagued with injuries, and at some key positions. But we really pride ourselves on winning as a team, and everybody bears the burden and contributes.


“The next guy up is expected to perform and prepare. And we do a good job of, obviously, adjusting to do that. We don’t make excuses—we just figure out a way.”

Maybe the biggest challenge this week was just focusing on what was at hand. The Eagles didn’t control their destiny, and so as their game kicked off, they knew that what was going down in Minneapolis could make whatever happened in suburban DC moot.

Jenkins isn’t going to lie, either. He couldn’t ignore what was going on in Minnesota, especially after he realized that that the out-of-town scoreboard was situated right next to the play clock. But, he says, “We knew one scenario was guaranteed: If we didn’t win, we wouldn’t be in.”

The Redskins did make Philly work for it, keeping the score within 10 points deep into the fourth quarter. But in the end the old-reliable formula the Eagles rode to a Super Bowl last year, and the one that’s been repurposed since Nick Foles returned to the lineup, proved to be plenty good enough for the third straight week: Philly leaned on its run game (34 carries, 129 yards) and defensive line, and eventually wore Washington down.

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Foles did get knocked out of the game late (Nate Sudfeld actually looked sharp in his place), and his sore ribs will merit monitoring this week, as the Eagles prepare to go to Chicago for Sunday’s wild-card game. Foles did, though, sound OK afterward. And at this point even if Sudfeld had to go against the Bears, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles crumbling because of it.

“We definitely have that feeling,” Jenkins said. “Like, it doesn’t matter. Whatever the adversity is, whatever we face, it doesn’t matter. Because we know as a group, we trust every individual we put out there. We trust the coaches to come up with a plan, we trust that everybody’s preparing, we trust that the leaders will step up and lead the way. We’ve done that, and it’s proven. I don’t see this being any different.”

Over the last few weeks, it sure hasn’t looked different.


The best news for the Colts going into the playoffs is that Andrew Luck is back to the point where he can carry a team. The second best news, to me, would be that it doesn’t look like Indianapolis needs him to do that anymore.

Yup, Luck was fine in the Colts’ 33-17 win over the Titans on Sunday night, one that put Indy back in the playoffs for the first time since the Deflategate AFC title game four years ago. Luck threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns with one pick on 24-of-35 passing. But Indy did more to control the game than just hang it on No. 12.

The running game, fueled by Marlon Mack, rolled up 158 yards on 36 carries. The defense, if you take away a 33-yard rumble by Derrick Henry, held the Titans’ red-hot ground game to just 60 yards on 15 carries, and Blaine Gabbert to a ghastly 60.3 rating. And yeah, maybe the fact that Gabbert was in there adjusted the degree of a difficult a little (or a lot) from where it would have been with a healthy Marcus Mariota.

Still, this feels like a very different kind of Colts team.

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“We all trust in each other,” Mack said, over the cell from the locker room postgame. “We try to go out there and work—12 puts a lot of pressure on himself, and so we have to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do our jobs at the same level.”

So here’s what stuck out about Luck’s effort—how a handful of his biggest plays related to favorable down-and-distance.

Luck hit three shots of more than 20 yards in first-and-10 situations, facing a defense that had to respect the Colts’ run game. And his biggest play of the day, a 43-yarder to T.Y. Hilton, came on a second-and-6, following a four-yard Mack run. Similarly, a 17-yard toss to Nyheim Hines came on a second-and-4, following a six-yard Mack run. All of which is evidence that defenses have to play Luck straight up more than ever before.