Sunday afternoon, the backup quarterback, who had answered the call for the Ravens, took one more inside Soldier Field.
Tyler Huntley was on his way back to a victorious locker room when his phone rang. Maybe 10 minutes earlier he had given the Ravens their third and final lead over the Chicago Bears. Perhaps five minutes after that, he had tried to explain to a national television audience, through his toothless smile, the ecstasy of a 16-13 victory he had constructed in the last minute of regulation.
But now his family called and wanted to take part in the insane joy of his first career start. “Crazy,” Huntley said when he saw his brother in his Ravens jersey # 2 on the FaceTime call. Then his mother, Regina, called too. “Your family, that’s what gives you that joy,” he explained afterwards.
When Huntley finally got to the locker room, the first person waiting for him was Lamar Jackson, his close friend and former rival in South Florida high school football. For nearly five days, the Raven’s officials had been waiting and wondering if Jackson, on the sidelines of a mysterious illness Wednesday and Thursday and guided by it once again Saturday and Sunday, would be available. He was not, and now the spotlight was Huntleys to own.
“Many times when you think of the Baltimore Ravens, you think of Lamar Jackson because he has done so much for us,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said after the Ravens’ first win in Chicago, which kept them 7-3 at the top. AFC North and in battle for the conference’s topseed. “He’s such a great player, such a great guy. But man, it was really special to see ‘Snoop’ step forward, a couple of guys in the defense step forward. Just all around it looks like we didn’t really back down . ”
Huntley took first-team reruns through the Ravens’ training week, but he woke up Sunday without knowing if he would start his first meaningful game since December 31, 2019, his last appearance for Utah. After missing two workouts, Jackson was a full participant in Friday’s session. He was not even listed on the Ravens’ injury report. But Jackson fell ill again on Saturday, and the Ravens traveled to Chicago in hopes that he would be ready for the game on Sunday. Instead, his condition worsened.
When Huntley walked towards the team buses on Sunday morning, he received a text message. It was from Jackson: “Go and do your thing today. I want to see.” Jackson had not missed a start since being tested positive for coronavirus a year ago. He had only sat out two games over three plus NFL seasons. However, this game would be Huntley’s leader. “I was thinking, ‘Okay, let’s go,'” he recalled as he thought.
On the game’s crucial drive, Huntley seemed to channel Jackson, the NFL’s comeback king over the first half of the season. After 13-9 with just 93 seconds and two timeouts left, Huntley helped wide receiver Rashod Bateman pull a pass interference penalty on his first drop-back and went 3-for-3 in 56 yards the rest, including a just-in -time 29-yard sideline finish to wide receiver Sammy Watkins on third and 12 after an apparent cover bust.
“I was glad I saw him,” said Huntley, who finished 26-for-36 for 219 yards an interception and added seven carries for 40 yards. “I wish I would have given him the ball faster, and the game would probably have been in our hands a little faster. It all played the way it played.”
A game later, running back Devonta Freeman (16 carries for 49 yards) broke a tackle on a shotgun pass and made his way into the end zone for a 3-yard score with 22 seconds left. The ravens were in front again, and forever.
Bears and backup quarterback Andy Dalton, who in the third quarter replaced and then outscored injured starter Justin Fields (ribs), only reached as far as their 46-yard line on the game’s last possession. On an upcoming Hail Mary try, as time ran out, the Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser Dalton finished before he could even begin his settlement.
“It’s about robustness,” said Bowser, who had two sacks, including a strip sack in Ravens territory that ended a Bears ride. “This is a tough league to win matches, man. Every win is a great win, no matter how you get it. About it’s a 66-yarder [by kicker Justin Tucker in Detroit], or a touchdown with 30 seconds left on the clock… any way you can win, that’s all that matters. Like I said, these guys are resilient. They come out here and play hard. That’s all that matters to us, just to win, and get out of the week 1-0. ”
Finally, Huntley and the Ravens were able to celebrate. They had already taken a delayed lead, only to see it disappear. After starting in Bears territory with less than eight minutes left, thanks to a blocked point by outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, the Ravens scored a 46-yard field goal from Tucker, his 54th move in the 4th quarter or overtime, for a 9- 7 bly.
The Bears had less than four minutes to respond. That was not a problem, not with Fields on the sidelines, not with the excellent wide receiver Allen Robinson II inactive, not for the NFL’s 32nd ranked passing attack (144.1 passing yards per game). On Dalton’s second pass from the bench, he had seen broadband receiver Darnell Mooney take a screen 60 yards to the house and slip past safety defenders Chuck Clark and Brandon Stephens for a 7-6 lead. It was the eighth game in more than 50 yards that the Ravens have allowed this season, mostly in the NFL.
Dalton’s second big game went almost at 50 yards, and it almost gave the Ravens a second straight loss to a backup quarterback. Facing the fourth and 11th at the Ravens’ 49, the Bears had no time (1:48 left) or kicker (Cairo Santos) to do anything but go for it. As he stared down into an all-out flash, Dalton Marquise found Goodwin on wide-open downfield, and the wide receiver’s double pull had frozen cornerback Chris Westry.
After a failed 2-point conversion, the Bears led 13-9. All they had to do was stop an offense that had scored only one touchdown in the last seven plus quarters, missing its NFL Most Valuable Player challenger, who did not have the top wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown available on due to a thigh injury.
“We certainly did not want to give up that touchdown,” Humphrey said. “We wanted to finish it in defense. But watching ‘Snoop’ somehow march down the track, it was special. The offense really did their thing today and the last drive was insane. I always see those stats on f. eg primetime games, like: “This guy has had so many game-winning drives.” And it’s pretty special for ‘Snoop’ to get one in his first match start. ”
Huntley said: “I think if I felt the pressure, we probably would not have won this match. You have to go with the flow to win the game. We knew we had to go down there and score. We practice that every day in practice, the two-minute exercise. That was all it came down to. ”
Sunday’s significance was not lost on Huntley, a previously exhausted free agent who shared first-team reruns in training camp with Trace McSorley after Jackson’s second COVID infection and later shone in the preseason. He planned to have his jersey framed and the game forward. What a game it was: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Huntley is only the fourth quarterback in the last 30 years to have recorded a game-winning drive within the final two minutes of the fourth quarter of his first career start.
The Ravens’ comeback in the fourth quarter was their fifth this season, and one of their wildest. With each competition, they seem to invent new ways to win: a late turnover here, a record-breaking field goal there, a record-breaking care performance a week, a back and forth overtime battle another week. Until Sunday, however, the Ravens could count on Jackson helping.
In Chicago, only the Ravens knew how good Huntley could be, said tight-end Mark Andrews (team-high eight catches for 73 yards). Bowser called him a teammate you wanted to “go to war with.” After reflecting afterwards, Huntley said that at times it seemed as if he would never get such a good opportunity as Sunday.
But as the Raven’s season rolled into trouble, Huntley did as Jackson urged him: He did his.
“They were up, how many points?” Huntley said of his game-winning drive. “They were up four. Tuck would not be able to do that this week. We need to get down and get ourselves a touchdown. That was all we knew.”
BROWNS @ RAVENS
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Line: Ravens with 4