Someone on the Baltimore Ravens' sideline was paying attention to the box score. And history.
The Ravens extended their streak of consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards to 43 regular-season games on Sunday, tying the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers for the longest such streak in NFL history. They picked up a 23-7 win over the Denver Broncos along the way.
For most of the second half, it looked like the Ravens weren't going to get there. By the end of a six-minute fourth-quarter drive that basically put the game away with a Justin Tucker field goal, the team had 97 rushing yards.
The Broncos received the ball and quickly marched downfield, reaching the red zone with 20 seconds left. The game was basically over at that point until Drew Lock threw an interception to cornerback Anthony Averett, giving the Ravens a shot at the record.
With the ball back in hand and three seconds left, the Ravens had Lamar Jackson run one more play rather than take a knee in victory formation. He picked up 5 yards and extra history.
— NFL (@NFL) October 3, 2021
After the game, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said he was responsible for the decision to go for the record, saying it was "meaningful" for the team:
"100 percent my call. That's one of those things that's meaningful. It's one of those things that as a head coach, you've got to be mindful of your team and your players and your coaches and what it means to them. It's a very, very tough record to accomplish and it's a long-term record.
"I'm not going to say it's more important than winning the game for sure, it's certainly not. As a head coach, I think you do that for your players and for your coaches and it's something they'll have for the rest of their lives."
While the record may have been meaningful for the Ravens, the Broncos' players were "livid" about Harbaugh's decision after the game, per 9News' Mike Klis.
The final play was an exclamation point on another strong game from Jackson, who finished 22-of-37 for 316 passing yards and a touchdown plus seven rushes for 28 yards. His day would have been even better had a touchdown pass to tight end Mark Andrews not been called back due to a facemask penalty.
It was the second 300-yard passing performance in Jackson's career and his first since his 2019 season opener. The biggest play was a 49-yard touchdown to Marquise Brown, who redeemed his three awful drops last week with a stellar catch.
The Ravens' streak is Lamar Jackson's career
The Ravens' streak dates back to Week 11 of the 2018-19 season, which is coincidentally the week when Jackson took over as starting quarterback for Baltimore after it drafted him 32nd overall in the 2018 draft.
Since then, the Ravens have been the class of the NFL in running the ball, primarily thanks to Jackson's talents and offensive coordinator Greg Roman's run-heavy scheme. Even as the league becomes more and more pass-friendly, the Ravens have kept it on the ground when they can because of what Jackson gives them.
Be it Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins or Latavius Murray beside him, no player inspires fear on the ground quite like Jackson. He can turn a basic dropback into a long gain if defenses don't contain him in the pocket and no team wants him in space on a designed running play. That includes option plays, in which Jackson can make even veteran players make very stupid decisions:
SO nuts DeVonta Freeman’s first carry as a Raven was nearly a 40 yard TD.
GT bash. Chiefs both crash on Jackson. No discipline. pic.twitter.com/gCefUg1GKd
— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) September 21, 2021
There are few positions in the NFL that are as advantageous as being a running back facing a defense that has to be paying attention to Jackson on every play, and it's shown. Since Jackson became starter, no running back with more than 100 carries has averaged fewer than 5 yards per rush in a season.
Defending Jackson and another dedicated runner can be a nightmarish math problem for a defense, and that's how the Ravens can be so consistent on the ground.
Now, the team will get a chance to take sole possession of the record next week against the Indianapolis Colts, who entered Week 4 ranked in the bottom 10 in the NFL in rush defense but yielded only 35 yards to the Miami Dolphins in a victory Sunday.