The Week 13 matchup between the 49ers and Ravens had high expectations. The 49ers came in at 10-1, while the Ravens were at 9-2. MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson was facing the league’s best defense. While the game was entertaining, it was more than that. It felt like our first playoff game of the year.
It might have even been a Super Bowl preview.
In a game that had several fourth-down conversion attempts, just one turnover by each team, and two coaches pulling out all the stops, Baltimore came out on top on a last-second Justin Tucker field goal. The Ravens’ 20-17 win moved them to 10-2 on the season, now with the same record as the 49ers.
Both teams were somehow aggressive and conservative at the same time. In the battle of Lamar Jackson and Jimmy Garoppolo, neither quarterback lit up the scoreboard through the air. Kyle Shanahan’s offense was varied, with tons of motion before the snap that ultimately helped Raheem Mostert rush for 146 yards.
The Ravens’ gameplan was the same as usual: just let Jackson make plays. He made plenty, including a touchdown through the air, one on the ground, and 101 yards rushing.
Here are a few ways the game was not just great, but postseason-esque.
The box score shows just how close it was
Like any good playoff game, the teams were evenly matched. Both defenses played well and kept the opposing offense from breaking the game open.
Garoppolo threw for 165 yards and a touchdown, and he was sacked twice. Jackson finished with 105 yards and a touchdown through the air, and he was sacked once. Garoppolo and Jackson both lost a fumble, but they didn’t throw an interception.
The 49ers rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown, while the Ravens countered with 178 ground yards and a rushing touchdown. No one receiver stood out, but both teams completed passes to at least seven different receivers.
The 49ers had 15 first downs to 21 from the Ravens. San Francisco went 4-for-12 on third down, while Baltimore went 3-for-10. San Francisco averaged 6.4 yards per play on 52 offensive snaps, while Baltimore average 4.6 yards on 62 attempts.
Neither team led by more than a touchdown, and the game came down to a couple field goals: one missed by the 49ers at the end of the first half, and the game-winner by the Ravens at the end of the second.
Both teams weren’t afraid of fourth down
The tone for the game was set when the 49ers went for it on fourth-and-2 in Baltimore territory on the first possession of the game. Rather than a short run, Garoppolo went deep to rookie receiver Deebo Samuel for a 33-yard touchdown.
A few drives later in the second quarter, the Ravens faced a fourth-and-2 and went for it, with Lamar Jackson completing a pass to Hayden Hurst to convert. They would later kick a field goal on the drive.
In the third quarter, the 49ers stayed on the field for fourth-and-1, and Garoppolo went deep again. The pass fell incomplete, but they got a pass interference call, and the drive continued. It ended in a field goal.
Late in the fourth quarter is when things really got interesting. The Ravens tried a fourth-and-5 play just inside San Francisco territory, but Jackson’s pass to Mark Andrews was broken up by Fred Warner, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The 49ers then took the ball into Baltimore territory, and went for it on fourth-and-1. Garoppolo’s pass to George Kittle fell incomplete with under seven minutes to go in the game.
Finally, there was another big one. After the turnover on downs the Ravens immediately faced a fourth-and-1, and Jackson managed to convert this one on the ground.
They would then drain more than four minutes off the clock, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Baltimore finished 2-for-3 and the 49ers finished 1-for-2 on fourth down on the day.
Each half was a different game
It took less than 10 minutes for the game to be tied 7-7. It was 17-14 going into the second half, with Baltimore leading. There were four touchdowns in the first half and only two punts. It looked like the second half was going to be a scoring frenzy.
Instead, both defenses tightened up. The 49ers zeroed in on Jackson and prevented Mark Ingram from doing much as a runner, holding him to 59 yards on 15 carries. The defensive backs played close man coverage and Baltimore was suddenly only able to convert with Jackson runs.
On the other side, the Ravens clamped down on Mostert outside of a few big runs. They made adjustments and started playing more aggressively at the line, not letting the 49ers’ misdirection get to them like it did in the opening. It went from being two great teams scoring on one another and turned into a defensive struggle.
That resulted in Baltimore’s lowest points total this season (20) and 283 total yards, their second-fewest of the season. On the other side, Garoppolo was efficient, but also threw for his second-lowest total this season at just 165 yards.
The second half, more than the first, felt like a true playoff battle. It was a war of attrition fought in the trenches, without all of the without trickery or chunk plays that usually fuel both of these teams offensively. The Ravens and 49ers seemed to try everything in their arsenals, but good defense held up until Baltimore’s last possession.
It was a packed house in Baltimore. It felt like a playoff game in that respect, too. Both teams had a lot of things to feel good about as the game came down to the wire, but it was the Ravens who made the needed plays in the fourth quarter. If this were a playoff game, the 49ers would have went out swinging.
Instead, both teams will regroup for the final four games of the season, during which a whole lot can change in regard to playoff seeding.
Right now, the 49ers still hold the top seed in the NFC, though the Seahawks are right behind them in the NFC West, and the Niners face the No. 2 seed Saints next week. Baltimore still holds on to the second seed in the AFC, though if the Patriots fall to the Texans, the Ravens do have a win over them for tiebreaking purposes.
Both will be in the postseason, with some big games ahead of them. And if they’re to meet again, it will need to be in Super Bowl LIV. It would be a helluva rematch.