BALTIMORE — On a third down in the third quarter of Thursday’s 42-21 win over the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser prepared for a snap against a familiar offensive alignment. He noticed Jets tight end Trevon Wesco was across from him.
“I got that same look earlier and I should’ve known it before,” Bowser said after Baltimore’s 10th consecutive victory, one that clinched the team’s second straight AFC North title. “I just had a feeling that he was going to stay in and block.”
After the snap, Wesco stayed put as a pass blocker, just as Bowser suspected. New York’s other offensive linemen moved inside, leaving Bowser one-on-one against the tight end. It was the type of matchup that can make a strong pass rusher with a quick first step salaviate.
Bowser sprinted around the edge, blowing past Wesco with little trouble. Then he set his sights on Sam Darnold. He plowed into the Jets quarterback and knocked the ball out of his hands, causing it to sputter and bounce on the ground, where defensive end Jihad Ward plopped on it.
The takeaway changed the complexion of the game in an instant and delivered to Bowser a slice of gratification in the third season of a somewhat uneven career. Before Bowser forced that fumble, the Ravens led 21-7 but had fallen into an offensive rut, while the Jets seemed to gain a semblance of momentum.
Two plays after Ward scooped the loose ball, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown. Soon, the rout was on.
“Ty-Bo got a big sack, a big sack-fumble, and then we came out and scored,” outside linebacker Matthew Judon said. “When you take the ball away and you score that fast, it kills opposing teams.”
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Indeed, the sharp shift from the Jets’ control of the ball to Bowser’s fumble to Brown’s touchdown seemed to deliver a backbreaking blow to New York’s comeback hopes.
And for Bowser, the play lifted his spirits.
A 2017 second-round pick, Bowser struggled to establish a defined role during his first two NFL seasons. He totaled three sacks as a rookie and just a single half-sack last season. His playing time fluctuated.
This year, though, after an exodus of pass-rushing talent in the offseason, Bowser was left to shoulder more responsibilities. The Ravens cut fellow 2017 draftee Tim Williams after Week 4 and placed veteran Pernell McPhee on injured reserve after Week 7, further thinning the outside linebacker rotation.
The Ravens, either because they trusted players like Bowser or couldn’t find better options, didn’t add an outside linebacker after McPhee’s injury. Thursday, by producing the forced fumble that yanked the game in the Ravens’ direction, Bowser felt he validated the faith the team placed in him.
The play marks the fifth sack of the season for Bowser and his first career forced fumble.
“It means everything, man, having the trust from my coaches and even my teammates to be able to go out there in a situation like that and just go out there and make that play,” Bowser said. “A lot of that is building that confidence. Continue to work hard every day in practice and really just take advantage of the opportunity when you have it.”
He did just that in a crucial moment of crucial game. In a season full of Ravens heroes and highlights, Bowser made his mark.