Lions defense shows progress against Ravens, though it still seeks 'enough' to win

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit — In a critical third-down situation, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson felt pressure, scrambled, and threw an interception to Detroit Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye.

"We fought from the first snap to the last," Oruwariye said. "It just wasn't enough."

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is sacked by the Lions’ A.J. Parker in the second quarter Sunday in Detroit.

The high-stakes turnover — rarely a positive for the home team in recent years — brought Ford Field to its feet. So did the field goal kicked by Ryan Santoso to put the Lions up 17-16 with 1:04 to go. The two sacks of Jackson on first and third down during the Ravens' last-gasp effort with under a minute to go nearly blew the roof off.

"Any extra juice we can get with the crowd is amazing," Oruwariye said. "But it wasn't enough."

It was a minor miracle the Lions were even in this position in the first place against Jackson and the Ravens, whose most recent outing was an emphatic primetime win over the reigning AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. There perhaps wasn't a more talked-about player in the game over the past week, and to the Lions' credit, they limited the high-powered Ravens offense to just 19 points.

"I thought we gave them all they could handle, and they walked away the winner here," head coach Dan Campbell said.

"So we didn't do enough."

You probably know why by now: Justin Tucker kicked an NFL-record, 66-yard field goal as time expired to give the Ravens a walk-off win, 19-17, and sink the Lions to 0-3 on the season. That was made possible by Jackson throwing a completion on fourth-and-19 from deep in his own end with 26 seconds to go in the game. 

"If he got enough air," Jackson said, "I knew he was going to make it."

The Ravens had "enough." The Lions did not.

That has made every bit of difference in a majority of the Lions' games thus far, and is a reality of the work that they have in front of them. Because sure: They limited Jackson and the Ravens to 19 points, but they also gave up more yards Sunday (387) than they did on Monday night against the Packers (323). 

If we're calling a spade a spade, the Lions defense looked just as outmatched at times in Week 3 as they did in Week 2.

The difference? Timing, mostly — a sense of occasion.

The Lions defense adopted the "bend, don't break" persona under Matt Patricia, and then went on to constantly bend, and constantly break, over the next three years.

That's not the case anymore. Sometimes they bend, sometimes they break, sometimes they do both at the same time. But there's been a clear and linear progression when it comes to preventing points so far this season, and the Lions showcased Sunday — and in the team's opener vs. San Francisco — that it's capable of making big plays; just not all of them, quite yet.

"I think I got sacked every play on the (final) drive," Jackson said. "I'm like, 'Dang, I'm trying to buy time."

Getting pressure on the quarterback in key moments? That's progress from a year ago. Forcing the opposition into making a historic play to steal a win, rather than letting them march down the field and simply have it? That's progress from a year ago. 

What's just as important, though, is that stopping nine of the Ravens' 10 third-down attempts is progress from a week ago, when the defense went 4-for-9 on third down against the Packers, because that all works in tandem.

Four sacks of the opposing quarterback is progress from a week ago, too; they got to Rodgers just twice last week — and the 49ers duo just once in the game before that.

"I know for a fact they don't want to play this again. That's how I look at it," said Lions linebacker Charles Harris, who sacked Jackson for a loss of 3 on the final drive. "We know for a fact we gave them all we've got, and they didn't walk out of here saying, 'That was an easy one,' you know what I mean?

"We imposed our will and our defense and that's what we're looking to come back and do constantly, week after week."

To be fair, the standard has changed. Patricia's Lions teams were "supposed" to have good defenses. The defense in 2021 was openly a work in progress from jump. 

And let's be real: Marquise Brown should have caught two touchdown passes before halftime, blatantly and inexplicably stone-handing both deep shots in the final minutes to hold the Ravens to a field goal.

Still, here's an undeniable difference in the vibe of this Lions defense, whether it's showed up prominently in the box score or not to this point. 

"That's the tough part about a loss sometimes," Oruwariye said. "Everything's always just negative, negative, negative sometimes right after the game. I just want to get to the facility, watch the film, because we did a lot of great things today too to improve on.

"I feel like every week we've been taking the next step. If we can just learn from our mistakes and keep churning, I feel like we're alright."

It can make big plays, it can scheme up headaches for opposing quarterbacks, it can get a timely turnover to swing the game.

But to this point, it simply hasn't had "enough."

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.