If this edition of 49ers-Ravens — filled with elite players, fourth-down gutsiness and top-notch defense on a rainy afternoon — was indeed a Super Bowl preview, everyone’s in for a treat in February.
What Baltimore’s 20-17 victory over visiting San Francisco on Sunday showed was that Lamar Jackson is as good as it gets. In addition to being a, if not the, leading MVP candidate, he’s as fun to watch as anyone in the sport. It also highlighted that teams can still thrive by running, that San Francisco is loaded with playmakers on both side of the ball and that watching John Harbaugh and Kyle Shanahan match wits makes for good theater.
And then there’s this: These clubs are both good and evenly matched. It took Justin Tucker’s 49-yard field goal on the final play to determine the outcome.
“Hopefully,” 49ers coach Shanahan said, “we can earn an opportunity to maybe get a chance to play them some other time.”
Jackson ran for one TD and also threw for one for Baltimore, which has won its past eight games and took over as the AFC’s No. 1 seed when the New England Patriots lost at night to the Houston Texans 28-22.
The Heisman Trophy winner at Louisville gained 101 yards on the ground, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for at least 100 in four games during one season; the Ravens are 12-0 when he tops 70 in his nascent career.
Jackson also pulled off yet another juke that left a defender, this time K’Waun Williams, tumbling to the turf.
Only two teams, both way back in the 1970s, have run for more yards through 12 games than Baltimore has.
“We left another statement out there on the field,” Ravens receiver Willie Snead said, “that we were for real.”
So did the 49ers, who are 10-2, just like the Ravens.
They can run, just like the Ravens, with Raheem Mostert carrying 19 times for 146 yards, including a TD that went 40. And they can play defense, just like the Ravens.
“God willing, we make it to the end,” San Francisco’s DeForest Buckner said, “hopefully we go against them again.”
Fans might be thinking the same.
Here are other top topics after the NFL’s 13th Sunday:
CAN I CATCH IT? YES, YOU CAN
The play of the day — maybe of the season — belonged to the Miami Dolphins and Jason Sanders, the league’s first kicker to catch a TD pass in 42 years. In the second quarter of Miami’s 37-31 win over the imploding Philadelphia Eagles (more on their terrible division below), the Dolphins sent out their field goal unit for a play at the 1 but lined up in a bizarre-looking formation: five men, including Sanders, split wide left, and four men way off to the right. Matt Haack — a punter by trade, and holder on kicks — took the snap and flipped the ball to a wide-open Sanders in the end zone. Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick said he’d seen the trickery in practice. “I didn’t think it would ever be called in a game,” Fitzpatrick said. “But pretty cool. Pretty cool that it worked.”
So Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals no longer have to worry about joining the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions as the only outfits to go 0-16. With Andy Dalton back from his benching, the Bungles managed to get to 1-11 by beating the New York Jets 22-6.
Philadelphia’s loss at lowly Miami was the third consecutive defeat for the Eagles, dropping them to 5-7. The Giants were beaten 31-13 by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in something just shy of a blizzard; New York’s eighth setback in a row makes it 2-10 and further imperils coach Pat Shurmur’s job status. And the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys have lost two straight to sit at 6-6 after the Buffalo Bills topped them 26-15 on Thanksgiving Day. The only team in the division to put a game in the “W” column lately is the going-nowhere Washington Redskins, who “improved” to 3-9 by taking back-to-back wins — at the slumping Carolina Panthers 29-21 Sunday, and against the Detroit Lions last week.
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