Ravens' dominant pass rush proves invaluable

BALTIMORE -- Nobody talked about the last time the Baltimore Ravens played at M&T Bank Stadium. Even when the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars were one touchdown drive away from a stunning upset Sunday, the Ravens refused to bring up on the sideline about how the defense lost the San Diego game in the final minutes two weeks ago.

"It's kind of like Voldemort, the name we do not mention," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said, alluding to the "Harry Potter" villain. "It's kind of like an unspoken understanding. We're going to put it away, and we did it. Good teams don't make the same mistake twice."

What everyone will be talking about from this ugly and sloppy 20-12 win over the Jaguars is how invaluable their pass rush has become. They improved to 9-5 and moved into the No. 6 seed in the AFC because they sacked rookie quarterback Blake Bortles eight times, one shy of the franchise record. And they remain a half game behind of the first-place Cincinnati Bengals because they nearly recorded as many sacks (four) as completions allowed (five) in the fourth quarter.

The difference between the Ravens collapsing to the Chargers and putting away the Jaguars was the pressure put on the quarterback. The Ravens couldn't get to Philip Rivers late, which allowed their beaten-up secondary to get exposed. When they took turns in throwing Bortles to the ground Sunday, the Jaguars never got within 35 yards of the end zone in the final quarter.

Some will say the Ravens aren't a playoff team after their mistake-filled performance against the two-win Jaguars. The real statement made was how their pass rush can carry the team.

The Ravens' consistent running game faltered. Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed twice. Another cornerback, Asa Jackson, could be lost for the season.

Still, the Ravens took another step toward earning a playoff spot for the sixth time in seven seasons. Five players recorded at least one sack for the Ravens: Suggs (2.5 sacks), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (2), linebacker Pernell McPhee (1.5), linebacker Elvis Dumervil (1) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (1).

The Jaguars did everything they could to steal this win, from an onside kick to a fake punt. The Ravens defense just never allowed Jacksonville to capitalize, holding an opponent out of the end zone for the second time this season on the strength of the relentless pressure. The Ravens delivered 15 hits on Bortles, an average of one every three dropbacks.

The challenge of trying to slow down the Ravens' rush is where to begin. Suggs and Dumervil are charging off the edge. Jernigan, who is filling in for suspended defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and McPhee are collapsing the middle. You can't chip a running back and double-team everyone.

"A scheme can only take you so far," Suggs said. "At the end of the day, the players got to execute it and it comes down to you've got to beat a guy. And we've got guys that [are] beating a guy."

It's not just competing against the offensive linemen. The secret to the Ravens' pass-rush success is the competition among teammates.

"I think guys are competing more for who has the sack than how many sacks we get," Mosley said.

This starts at the top. Dumervil extended his franchise single-season sacks record to 17, and Suggs trails him by six. This has become a source of motivation for Suggs.

"I'm going to line up every day and try to catch [Dumervil], as you can clearly see," Suggs said. "We've got two left. But if I don't, I'll take two wins. I will gladly do so and finish 11-5. That should be enough to get us in [the playoffs]."

As long as the Ravens' run to the playoffs matches their pursuit of quarterbacks, the Ravens are virtually guaranteed of making the postseason.