‘We had them’: Ravens defense gives team a chance to upset Rams before allowing last-minute touchdown

Ravens safety Chuck Clark provided a jolt of electricity inside M&T Bank Stadium during Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

With the Rams facing a third-and-2 deep in their own territory with 2:03 remaining in the first quarter, Clark read quarterback Matthew Stafford’s pass to tight end Tyler Higbee perfectly, intercepting the ball and returning it 17 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead.

For the majority of the game, the Ravens’ short-handed defense put the team on the verge of a much-needed upset. But their lack of depth and talent in the secondary ultimately came back to bite them in a 20-19 loss that dealt a crushing blow to their playoff chances.

“We had them,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. “We played a great football game — it’s just a play here, a play there. It’s football, and they’re going to make some plays. That’s just a part of it, but we played a heck of a football game. It’s one play here, one play there. So, we take it with a grain of salt. There are no moral victories in NFL football. It’s just something we can build on.”

The Ravens, who entered Week 17 with the second fewest interceptions in the league, were hungry to generate turnovers. Clark satisfied that hunger with two interceptions in the first half. After Clark’s pick-six, the first of his career, he intercepted Stafford’s deep pass to wide receiver Odell Beckam Jr. with 12:53 remaining in the second quarter.

“It was good to see the interceptions,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It was good to see a breakthrough in that area. We’ve been working hard, [trying] to find a way to get some turnovers.”

With the Ravens clinging to a 13-7 lead with 11:12 remaining in the third quarter, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser strip-sacked Stafford, leading to a fumble recovery by veteran Justin Houston at Baltimore’s 20-yard line. The Ravens took advantage of the Rams’ third turnover, as kicker Justin Tucker hit a 46-yard field goal to extend the lead to 16-7.

“It was great, especially coming out of the half and finding a way to get a stop,” Bowser said. “It worked out for me to get to the quarterback and forcing the fumble to give our offense an opportunity to get back out on the field.”

After the Ravens allowed 575 total yards to the Bengals last week, including the fourth-most passing yards in NFL history (525), they appeared to have flipped the script against the Rams.

Suddenly the Ravens’ defense began to falter, while the Rams began to find their offensive rhythm. Los Angeles, which entered Sunday with the seventh-best offense in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, recorded 119 total yards in the fourth quarter while outscoring the Ravens 13-3.

The Rams’ final offensive drive proved to be a back-breaker. With Baltimore leading 19-14 with 3:34 remaining, Stafford connected with wide receiver Cooper Kupp for a 24-yard reception that put the Rams at the Ravens’ 36-yard line.

The Ravens left Kupp wide open several times throughout the game, which cornerback Tavon Young attributed to zone coverage. “I’ve just got to watch film,” Young said. “When we were in man [coverage], we were there.”

Kupp, who finished with 95 yards and a touchdown on six catches, broke Isaac Bruce’s single-season franchise record for receiving yards and put himself in position to set the NFL record entering the final week of the season. He has 1,829 yards in 16 games, 135 shy of Calvin Johnson’s NFL record of 1,964 set in 2012.

“He’s a great receiver,” Young said. “[The] stats don’t lie, [the] numbers don’t lie. Shout out to him — he’s a baller. We did our thing … We kind of held him. He got one touchdown, but it is what it is.”

Still, the Ravens had a chance to seal the victory in the final minutes. The Rams got to the Ravens’ 17-yard line when Stafford threw a 15-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Ben Skowronek on second-and-6 with 2:02 remaining. Clark didn’t think the Rams made any special adjustments on the final drive.

“They just made some good throws and catches; that’s just what it came down to,” he said.

Perhaps most disappointing for the Ravens was their red zone defense, as the Rams scored touchdowns on three of their four trips inside the 20-yard line. After Beckham made a clutch catch on fourth-and-5 with 1:08 to go, Stafford targeted the star receiver again for a 7-yard touchdown that gave the Rams a 20-19 lead.

“It was simply just a good pass [and a] good catch,” Young said of Beckham’s fourth-down reception. “There’s nothing to talk about. I had good coverage; he made a good catch.”

The Ravens have been playing short-handed throughout the season, but their message has always been to keep fighting. While the Ravens currently have just a 6% chance of making the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight, that’s the only thing they can do.

“You’re only as good as your last game, so we need to find a way to win,” Bowser said. “Simple as that.”