Ravens Prove They’re the Class of the NFL, Spank 49ers on Christmas Day-Eve

Published by: Bear Acuda

Last night, NFL fans were gifted a clash between the top teams from each conference, capping off the Christmas Day football schedule. In the AFC, we had the Baltimore Ravens, and representing the NFC were the San Francisco 49ers. It’s rare that two top teams from each conference play each other this late in the season. In great anticipation, America got her popcorn ready, hoping to see an epic slug-fest.

And then the game started.

The Baltimore Ravens absolutely pimp-slapped the San Francisco 49ers on national television. The Ravens (12-3) came into the game tied with the 49ers (11-4) as the top team in the NFL. Not only did they make a significant impact on their mission to claim home-field advantage throughout the NFL Playoffs in the AFC with their latest victory, but they also gave NFC Playoff teams a potential blueprint for how to dismantle a seemingly unstoppable 49ers’ offense. Baltimore’s defense made first-year(ish) quarterback Brock Purdy look silly, leading to him throwing four interceptions (which could’ve easily been five). 

Ravens

Now, I’m not blaming Purdy for each interception (two of which resulted from deflections), but I am saying the Ravens had the boy shook from the starting whistle. The Ravens effectively contained the 49ers’ early offensive momentum, preventing them from scoring a touchdown until just before halftime. The Niners defense even managed an early safety, but MVP candidate Lamar Jackson showcased his dynamic playmaking ability, both as a traditional quarterback and through his mobility.

The 49ers’ defense, despite being pressured by turnovers that resulted in a shortened field, succeeded in limiting the Ravens to field goals for a good portion of the game. But a hungry fox rarely stays hungry in a hen house. Jackson proceeded to capitalize on two brief drives in the third quarter (aided by a long punt return and Purdy’s fourth interception) by connecting with Nelson Agholor and Zay Flowers for paydirt. This shift in momentum forced the 49ers to play catch-up, something they’re not accustomed to doing. Head coach Mike Shanahan had to go off-script, moving away from their run-heavy offensive game plan to a more pass-heavy offense. All those dropbacks allowed Ravens’ defenders the opportunity to tee-off on the poor kid. And having All-Pro blindside tackle Trent Williams on the sideline certainly didn’t help Purdy stay protected.

Purdy exited the game in the fourth quarter with a minor injury, and Sam Darnold was called in for relief duty. Darnold did throw a late touchdown, trimming the lead from three-touchdowns, but his attempt at a comeback was eventually thwarted by a late interception. The 49ers also saw injuries to key offensive linemen; the aforementioned Trent Williams and guard Aaron Banks (though these are not expected to be severe). Some might say they were throwing in the white flag after getting beat like a drum all game.

Some might say.

For the Ravens, this win is pivotal, as they eye a first-round playoff bye & home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A win over the Miami Dolphins on New Year’s Eve will secure it, but should they lose, it will be the Dolphins owning the “head-to-head” tiebreaker. 

Ravens
The Ravens are no joke, people. I hate to admit it, but they have depth and talent on both sides of the ball, at all three levels: 

On defense, you’ve got safety Kyle Hamilton roaming the back-end, ILBs Patrick Queen and covering sideline-to-sideline, and guys who fire off the ball on the defensive line. On offense, young-gunsWR Zay Flowers and  TE Isaiah Likely (the replacement for All-Pro TE Mark Andrews after his season-ending injury) are game-breakers. The offensive line and backfield are among the best in the NFL, and they are led by a former MVP in Lamar Jackson. I hate admitting all of this. Do I wish the Steelers get a chance to end their season in the playoffs? OF COURSE I DO. I’m also a dreamer, and an idiot who may eat crow for wishing to play a clearly better team (at this point). Our coach is already rumored to be leaving, and we haven’t even got our quarterback room figured out, and it’s the last week of the season. More on that later (Bob Saget voice).

If you don’t get that reference, then shame on you.

The 49ers, on the other hand, while still strong contenders in the NFC, put their vulnerabilities out there for the world to see (especially when pressured into a pass-heavy game). It’s clear that teams who manage to take an early lead against them could maintain an advantage, as San Francisco’s pass rush and balanced offense are less effective when trailing. The game against the Ravens has provided the blueprint for teams like the Cowboys and Eagles on handling the 49ers’ offense, and how to dismantle Brock Purdy.

Looking ahead, the Ravens will host that crucial decider for the #1 seed in the AFC against the Miami Dolphins (11-4), while the 49ers face the lowly Washington Commanders in their attempt to secure a first-round playoff bye in the NFC, fending-off competition from the Philly (11-4) or the Detroit Lions (11-4).

So, after Week 17, who do you think is the best team in the NFL?

Give me your hot take! Either in the comment section below, or join the conversation on social media: 

Twitter: @BearAcudaBBN / @BleacherBrother

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