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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates with quarterback Lamar Jackson, center, after they connected for a touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

The Ravens entered the season very much an enigma. John Harbaugh’s team lost three running backs to injury before a meaningful snap of the football, and even if J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill and Gus Edwards didn’t suffer season-ending injuries, they would’ve been operating behind a rebuilt offensive line. And to add to the uncertainty, the defense lost star cornerback Marcus Peters to a torn ACL on the same day Edwards tore his ACL.

Greg Roman’s offense still had Lamar Jackson. But just how good would Baltimore be in 2021?

The answer came Sunday against Justin Herbert and the Chargers in a measuring-stick matchup of 4-1 AFC division leaders at M&T Bank Stadium. And after a comprehensive 34-6 beatdown of the Bolts in “all three phases,” the Ravens cemented their place as a legitimate conference title contender a third of the way through the NFL’s 18-week marathon.

The Ravens were so good that they dominated the game without an all-world effort by Jackson, who threw for a season-low 167 yards, got intercepted twice and registered a 67.8 QB rating (another season low). A week after having its 100-yard rushing streak snapped, Baltimore ran for 187 yards and got rushing TDs from three running backs who were Pro Bowlers in the mid-2010s: Latavius Murray, Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman.

Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense applied pressure and disguised coverages to limit the emerging Herbert to just 195 yards and one TD on 22-of-39 passing. The Ravens also stopped the Chargers on nine of 12 third-down conversion attempts and on three of four fourth-down gambles, including one from the Bolts’ own 19-yard line in the middle of the third quarter.

Brandon Staley’s risk-taking notwithstanding, Baltimore looked like and played like one of the NFL’s best teams. Its 5-1 record is every bit the reflection of a well-rounded squad that is improving each week. However, Jackson, who surpassed Dan Marino for most QB victories before the age of 25 with his 35th on Sunday, made it clear in his postgame press conference that the Ravens remain focused on the ultimate prize.

Best offensive performance

Matthew Stafford, Rams. Dak Prescott threw for 445 yards and three touchdowns in Dallas’ thrilling 35-29 overtime win at New England, and Kirk Cousins passed for 373 yards and three TDs in Minnesota’s 34-28 OT victory in Carolina, but Stafford gets the nod due to the efficiency of his four-touchdown performance earlier in the day in the Rams’ 38-11 rout of the Giants in New Jersey. By halftime, Stafford already had thrown for 200 yards and three TDs on 16-of-22 passing for a 121.2 QB rating. He finished 22-for-28 with 251 yards and a 128.7 rating while playing pitch-and-catch with Cooper Kupp (nine receptions, 130 yards, two TDs). Sean McVay clearly is enjoying life with his new quarterback, and he’ll get to make make that even clearer this Sunday when his old starting QB, Jared Goff, returns to SoFi Stadium with the 0-6 Lions.

Best defensive performance

Maxx Crosby, Raiders. T.J. Watt did major damage in prime time against the Seahawks, including the strip sack in OT that led to the winning field goal in the Steelers’ 23-20 victory (see below), but the most unexpected development on Sunday was the Raiders’ 34-24 domination in Denver (two garbage-time Broncos touchdowns made the game look closer than it actually was). Crosby was at the forefront with three of Las Vegas’ five sacks, and and he also had five QB hits on Teddy Bridgewater and a pass breakup. After a turbulent week that began with Jon Gruden’s abrupt resignation, Gus Bradley’s defensive unit set the tone early in a road victory that showed that the Raiders, now 4-2, might be able to keep building off a 3-0 start under interim head coach Rich Bisaccia.

Best quotes

Aaron Rodgers ran for the clinching fourth-quarter touchdown in the Packers' 24-14 win over the Bears. He celebrated by putting on his faux championship belt but also had a few words for the Soldier Field crowd, later explaining that his reaction was prompted by a fan’s double bird.

Said teammate Aaron Jones: “What can you say? He’s right.”

Against the Bears in his career, Rodgers is now 22-5 and 11-3 against them in Chicago. The Packers won their fifth straight game on Sunday to improve to 5-1.

Best statistic

A porous and generous defense has been the Chiefs’ biggest problem this season, but the big surprise has been Patrick Mahomes’ carelessness when throwing the football. He threw two more interceptions in an ugly first half that resulted in a 13-10 halftime deficit at Washington, giving the usually all-world quarterback eight INTs for the season, just one fewer than Jets rookie Zach Wilson.

Mahomes and the Chiefs bounced back for a 31-13 win, but the uncharacteristic turnovers remain a concern for Andy Reid.

Best plays

Haason Reddick blows up this Vikings screen pass by himself.

Ja’Marr Chase can throw blocks that lead to touchdowns, too.

Isaiah Rodgers makes the diving interception to cap the Colts’ big win over Houston.

Tershawn Wharton uses his “suction cups” to intercept a Taylor Heinicke pass.

DeAndre Hopkins shows off his moves and strength on this catch-and-run TD.

Baker Mayfield and the Browns have their prayers answered just before halftime.

Trevon Diggs jumps the route to intercept Mac Jones for the pick six and his NFL-best seventh INT.

One play later, Jones gets his redemption against Diggs on a 75-yard TD.

T.J. Watt forces the fumble that sets up the Steelers' winning field goal in OT.

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