On 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’d given the Ravens their third and final lead over the Chicago Bears. Maybe five minutes after that, he’d tried to explain to a national TV audience, through his toothy smile, the ecstasy of a 16-13 win he’d engineered in the final minute of regulation.
But now his family was calling, wanting to share in the madcap joy of his first career start. “Crazy,” Huntley said of seeing his brother in his No. 2 Ravens jersey on the FaceTime call. Then his mom, Regina, called, too. “Your family, that’s what gives you that joy,” he explained afterward.
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, Ravens officials had waited and wondered whether Jackson, sidelined by a mystery illness Wednesday and Thursday and waylaid by it once more Saturday and Sunday, would be available. He wasn’t, and now the spotlight was Huntley’s to own.
“A lot of times, when you think of the Baltimore Ravens, you think Lamar Jackson, because he’s done so much for us,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said after the Ravens’ first win in Chicago, which at 7-3 kept them atop the AFC North and in contention for the conference’s top seed. “He’s such a great player, such a great guy. But man, it was really special to see ‘Snoop’ step up, a couple of guys on defense step up. Just all around, it seems like we didn’t really flinch.”
Huntley took first-team repetitions throughout the Ravens’ week of practice, but he woke up Sunday not knowing whether he’d be starting his first meaningful game since Dec. 31, 2019, his last appearance for Utah. After missing two practices, Jackson was a full participant in Friday’s session. He wasn’t even listed on the Ravens’ injury report. But Jackson fell ill again Saturday, and the Ravens traveled to Chicago hoping he’d be game-ready Sunday. Instead, his condition worsened.
As Huntley walked toward the team’s buses Sunday morning, he got a text. It was from Jackson: “Go do your thing today. I’m going to be watching.” Jackson hadn’t missed a start since testing positive for the coronavirus a year ago. He’d sat out just two games over three-plus NFL seasons. This game, though, would be Huntley’s to lead. “I was like, ‘All right, let’s go,’” he recalled thinking.
On the game’s decisive drive, Huntley seemed to channel Jackson, the NFL’s comeback king over the season’s first half. Trailing 13-9 with just 93 seconds and two timeouts remaining, Huntley helped wide receiver Rashod Bateman draw a pass-interference penalty on his first drop-back and went 3-for-3 for 56 yards on the rest, including a just-in-time 29-yard sideline completion to wide receiver Sammy Watkins on third-and-12 after an apparent coverage bust.
“I was happy that 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 quicker, and the game would’ve probably been in our hands a little quicker. It all played out the way it played out.”
One play later, running back Devonta Freeman (16 carries for 49 yards) broke a tackle on a shotgun handoff and bulled his way into the end zone for a 3-yard score with 22 seconds remaining. The Ravens were ahead again, and for good.
The Bears and backup quarterback Andy Dalton, who in the third quarter replaced and then outperformed injured starter Justin Fields (ribs), got only as far as their 46-yard line on the game’s final possession. On a would-be Hail Mary attempt as time expired, Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser wrapped up Dalton before he could even begin his windup.
“It’s all about resiliency,” said Bowser, who had two sacks, including a strip-sack in Ravens territory that ended one Bears drive. “This is a tough league to win games, man. Every win is a great win, regardless of how you get it. Whether it’s a 66-yarder [by kicker Justin Tucker in Detroit], or a touchdown with 30 seconds left on the clock … any type of way you can get a win, that’s all that matters. Like I said, these guys are resilient. They’re going to come out here and play hard. That’s all that matters to us, just winning, coming out of the week 1-0.”
Finally, Huntley and the Ravens could celebrate. They’d already taken one late lead, only to watch it disappear. After starting in Bears territory with less than eight minutes remaining, thanks to a blocked punt by outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, the Ravens got a 46-yard field goal from Tucker, his 54th straight make in the fourth quarter or overtime, for a 9-7 lead.
The Bears had less than four minutes to answer. That wasn’t a problem, not with Fields sidelined, not with standout 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 off the bench, he’d watched wide receiver Darnell Mooney take a screen 60 yards to the house, slipping past safeties Chuck Clark and Brandon Stephens for a 7-6 lead. It was the eighth play of 50-plus yards the Ravens have allowed this season, the most in the NFL.
Dalton’s second big play almost went for 50 yards, and it almost handed the Ravens a second straight loss to a backup quarterback. Facing fourth-and-11 at the Ravens’ 49, the Bears didn’t have the time (1:48 remaining) or the kicker (Cairo Santos) to do anything but go for it. Staring down an all-out blitz, Dalton found Marquise Goodwin wide open downfield, the wide receiver’s double move having 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 just one touchdown over the past seven-plus quarters, that was missing its NFL Most Valuable Player contender, that didn’t have top wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown available because of a thigh injury.
“We definitely didn’t want to give up that touchdown,” Humphrey said. “We wanted to end it on defense. But to watch ‘Snoop’ kind of march down the field, it was special. The offense really did their thing today, and that last drive was crazy. I always see those stats on, like, prime-time games, like: ‘This guy’s had this many game-winning drives.’ And it’s pretty special for ‘Snoop’ to get one in his first game starting.”
Said Huntley: “I think if I was feeling the pressure, we probably wouldn’t have won this game. You got to go with the flow about winning the game. We knew we had to go down there and score. We practice that every day in practice, the two-minute drill. That’s all it came down to.”
Sunday’s significance was not lost on Huntley, a former undrafted free agent who shared first-team repetitions in training camp with Trace McSorley after Jackson’s second COVID infection and later shined in the preseason. He planned to get his game jersey framed and the game ball displayed. What a game it was: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Huntley is just the fourth quarterback over the past 30 years to record a game-winning drive within the final two minutes of the fourth quarter in his first career start.
The Ravens’ fourth-quarter comeback was their fifth this season, and one of their wildest. With every rally, they seem to invent new ways to win: a late turnover here, a record-breaking field goal there, a record-breaking passing performance one week, a back-and-forth overtime fight another week. Until Sunday, though, the Ravens could rely on Jackson to help.
In Chicago, only the Ravens knew how good Huntley could be, tight end Mark Andrews (team-high eight catches for 73 yards) said. Bowser called him a teammate you’d “want to go out there and go to war with.” Reflecting afterward, Huntley said it seemed at times like he’d never get an opportunity as good as Sunday’s.
But with the Ravens’ season tipping into trouble, Huntley did as Jackson urged him: He did his thing.
“They were up, how many points?” Huntley said of his game-winning drive. “They were up four. Tuck wouldn’t be able to do it this week. We got to go down and get us a touchdown. That’s all we knew.”
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 4
Source: Berkshire mont