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Ravens Insider: Mike Preston: Ravens, with talent and toughness, are the class of the NFL | COMMENTARY


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The Ravens aren’t just better than most teams in the NFL, but are tougher and show more heart.

That’s a nearly unbeatable combination.

It was never more on display than in the Ravens’ 33-19 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. It wasn’t just another win, the Ravens’ fifth straight and ninth in 10 games, but a beatdown of a team that was supposed to be the best in the NFL.

Forget about the total yards and the fact that the 49ers outgained the Ravens 429-323. This game was over on two touchdown passes from quarterback Lamar Jackson — one of 6 yards to Nelson Agholor and another of 9 yards to Zay Flowers — in 18 seconds early in the third quarter.

The second touchdown was set up by linebacker Patrick Queen’s interception of Brock Purdy, which he returned to San Francisco’s 9-yard line. After Flowers’ brief touchdown dance, the Ravens had a 30-12 lead early in the second half.

The game was virtually over, and there lies one of the major differences between Baltimore and the rest of the NFL: The Ravens never quit. They would have never stopped playing hard because they have too much pride and integrity.

The 49ers quit. Left tackle Trent Williams left the game with a groin injury and so did left guard Aaron Banks with about four minutes remaining. No one will forget the look on Purdy’s face as soon as the 49ers left the field at halftime trailing 16-12.

He was afraid, intimidated and looked like he was about to cry, which is probably why he threw four interceptions Monday night and the 49ers finished with a total of five.

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, bottom center, is sacked...

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, bottom center, is sacked by Baltimore Ravens' Jadaveon Clowney during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

  • Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson speaks at a news conference...

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson speaks at a news conference after an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen speaks at a news conference...

    Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen speaks at a news conference after an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh smiles while speaking at...

    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh smiles while speaking at a news conference after an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens walks off the...

    Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens walks off the field after his team's 33-19 win against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

  • Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens looks on...

    Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams (32) is congratulated by teammates...

    Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams (32) is congratulated by teammates after intercepting a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • Marcus Williams #32 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with teammates...

    Marcus Williams #32 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with teammates after his interception during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Marcus Williams #32 of the Baltimore Ravens intercepts a pass...

    Marcus Williams #32 of the Baltimore Ravens intercepts a pass intended for George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams (32) is congratulated by teammates...

    Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams (32) is congratulated by teammates after intercepting a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Ronnie Bell (10) runs against...

    San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Ronnie Bell (10) runs against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Patrick Queen #6 of the Baltimore Ravens hits George Kittle...

    Patrick Queen #6 of the Baltimore Ravens hits George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers after Queen's interception during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after his...

    Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after his interception during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) avoids the grasp of...

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) avoids the grasp of San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) as offensive tackle Morgan Moses (78) blocks during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (14) walks off the field...

    Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (14) walks off the field with trainers during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is tackled against...

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is tackled against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams, top, tackles San Francisco 49ers...

    Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams, top, tackles San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, middle, is tackled by Ravens...

    49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, middle, is tackled by Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, left, and linebacker Roquan Smith during the second half Monday night in Santa Clara, California. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers, left, celebrates with tight...

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers, left, celebrates with tight end Isaiah Likely after scoring against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • Baltimore Ravens place kicker Justin Tucker (9) celebrates after kicking...

    Baltimore Ravens place kicker Justin Tucker (9) celebrates after kicking a field goal during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers dives past...

    Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers dives past Marlon Humphrey #44 of the Baltimore Ravens while scoring a rushing touchdown during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman (7) runs against San...

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman (7) runs against San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates with wide receiver...

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates with wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) after connecting on a touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers, left, catches a touchdown...

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers, left, catches a touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (14) celebrates with teammates after...

    Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (14) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers attempts to...

    Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers attempts to tackle Zay Flowers #4 of the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Agholor #15 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrate after catching...

    Nelson Agholor #15 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrate after catching a touchdown during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

  • Gus Edwards #35 of the Baltimore Ravens stiff arms Fred...

    Gus Edwards #35 of the Baltimore Ravens stiff arms Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards (35) scores against the...

    Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards (35) scores against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards, right, celebrates after scoring...

    Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards, right, celebrates after scoring against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, right, is tackled by...

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, right, is tackled by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, right, runs against...

    San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, right, runs against Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, middle, during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

  • Justin Tucker #9 of the Baltimore Ravens kicks a field...

    Justin Tucker #9 of the Baltimore Ravens kicks a field goal during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

  • Baltimore Ravens running back Justice Hill (43) is tackled against...

    Baltimore Ravens running back Justice Hill (43) is tackled against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • An official falls down as Lamar Jackson #8 of the...

    An official falls down as Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens is pressured by Fred Warner #54 and Chase Young #92 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

  • Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Baltimore Ravens intercepts a pass...

    Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Baltimore Ravens intercepts a pass intended for Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) is tackled by...

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Justin Madubuike #92 of the Baltimore Ravens tackles Christian McCaffrey...

    Justin Madubuike #92 of the Baltimore Ravens tackles Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

  • Kyle Juszczyk #44 of the San Francisco 49ers tackles Kyle...

    Kyle Juszczyk #44 of the San Francisco 49ers tackles Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Baltimore Ravens as Hamilton returns an interception during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

  • Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with teammates...

    Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with teammates after his interception during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

  • George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers attempts to...

    George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers attempts to block Marlon Humphrey #44 of the Baltimore Ravens as Humphrey tackles Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, right, throws to ball while...

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, right, throws to ball while trying to avoid San Francisco 49ers defensive end Chase Young during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. Jackson was called for intentional grounding in the end zone on the play, which scored a safety for the 49ers. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

  • Baltimore Ravens' Tylan Wallace, foreground left, returns a kickoff against...

    Baltimore Ravens' Tylan Wallace, foreground left, returns a kickoff against San Francisco 49ers' Darrell Luter Jr. during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

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“We play a brand of football that people don’t want to play,” Queen said. “Everybody wants to be out here [being] cute, playing basketball on grass and stuff, and we [are not] with all that. You can do all that stuff; we’re just going to hit you in the mouth every play, honestly. We couldn’t care less about all the pretty stuff you do, gimmick stuff.

“You still have to line up and play football. You still have to get touched, so that’s our mindset. That’s how we want to come out and just hit people in the mouth.”

That’s nothing new. I’ve seen that before in 2000 when the Ravens would beat teams into submission with their defense. Monday night’s game was set up for a 49ers win. They had won five of six games at home this season and the Ravens were playing on Christmas night in a West Coast city. It’s hard to win on the road in the NFL, and even harder when a player has to leave his family for a three-day road trip.

Almost no one thought the Ravens would win, but the players apparently didn’t get the memo. On a night when Jackson struggled early in the first 20 minutes or so of the game, San Francisco couldn’t capitalize because the Ravens’ defense kept coming up with big plays, interceptions or sacks.

That gave Jackson enough time to get rid of his big-game jitters, and then the Ravens took the 49ers apart. Certain plays in the game were downright nasty, such as tight end Isaiah Likely catching a short pass in the left flat and then shoving safety Ji’Ayir Brown’s face into the ground for a 9-yard gain.

Defensive tackle Travis Jones wrecked star running back Christian McCaffrey on a run in the third quarter, bending him backward. Nobody ever does that to McCaffrey. Middle linebacker Roquan Smith twice made tackles on the San Francisco sideline, and both times he got up and glared as if to say, “Anybody want some of this?”

Even at the end of the game, Ravens running back Gus Edwards was still running through the 49ers as if it was the first quarter. With 54 seconds left, he had a 13-yard run down the left sideline looking like a runaway 18-wheeler going downhill.

All the 49ers wanted was to go home.

“At the end of the day, there are a lot of he [said] she [said] people in this world,” Smith said. “There are not many people that stand 10 toes down on what they believe in and who they are as individuals. This team — we’re exactly that. We don’t care what others think about us. At the end of the day, we have the utmost faith in every single person in this locker room to go out there and get the job done week in and week out.”

The key for the Ravens is balance, and they have plenty of it. They have enough talent on offense with Jackson, Odell Beckham Jr., Flowers and Edwards to get by when their offense is overmatched or outplayed like it was against the Los Angeles Rams a couple of weeks ago.

Or they have enough talent on defense, particularly the pass rush, to dominate when the offense struggles like it did during a slow start Monday night. They are a complete team, one with attitude.

I’ve always thought West Coast teams were soft. Because of the nice weather, they like to play that powder puff football as opposed to the tough, wintry conditions on the East Coast that produce more hard-nosed, run-dominated teams.

And for the most part, it’s still the case.

When you look at teams throughout the NFL, few are complete and fewer have that nasty, kick-butt attitude. The Ravens have already dominated the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and now the 49ers. All seem bound for the playoffs.

The Dallas Cowboys are competitive but soft on defense with their small linebackers. The Kansas City Chiefs have receivers who can’t catch and quarterback Patrick Mahomes is having an identity crisis. The Buffalo Bills are schizophrenic and the only two teams that can match the Ravens in personality are the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they can’t match them in talent.

Unfortunately, they are two of the teams that have beaten Baltimore this season. Next up for the Ravens is a visit from Miami, but the fleet-footed Dolphins don’t put fear in any teams, either.

Right now, the Ravens are in a class by themselves. They have talent and they can intimidate.

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