“We want to be on the field,” guard Marshal Yanda said. “We want to stay on the field.”
Rare as it is for a one-loss team to be an underdog in Week 13, especially a week after throttling the formidable Packers, San Francisco (10-2) had not yet played an opponent as brawny as the Ravens, who entered the game leading the N.F.L. in points, rushing yards, total yards per game and, unofficially, opponents deflated.
Contrary to popular perception, Jackson does not throw with his right hand because he found it too simple to do so with his left, nor did he teach Michael Phelps, an ardent Ravens fan, how to swim. Those viral fictions reflect the fabled status Jackson has attained among teams hastening to solve the very electrifying unpredictability that has left them awe-struck.
During the Ravens’ winning streak, Jackson has been tested by, and has befuddled, some of the league’s savviest defensive gurus — the coaches Bill Belichick (Patriots) and Pete Carroll (Seahawks) and the defensive coordinators Romeo Crennel (Texans) and Wade Phillips (Rams). Barring a Super Bowl rematch, Baltimore is unlikely to face a front as destructive as San Francisco’s again. Across those five victories, in which the Ravens won by a combined 107 points, Jackson accounted for 14 touchdowns — 10 passing, four rushing — and only one turnover.
That gaffe came just after halftime Sunday, in the middle of a fruitful drive deep in San Francisco territory, at the end of Jackson’s longest run. Safety Marcell Harris dislodged the ball from Jackson and recovered it, giving the 49ers possession at their own 20. As San Francisco marched down the field, Jackson flogged himself, angry at his blunder and its consequences — a field goal by Robbie Gould, capping a 14-play series, that tied the score at 17-17. Jackson regained his focus, he said, only upon stepping onto the field again, and he was still furious at himself after the game.
“If I keep the ball in my hand, you know, we’re going to score,” Jackson said.
Although no team had forced more three-and-outs (38) or allowed fewer yards per play (4.29) or generated more sacks (44) than the 49ers, their lapses across this jubilant season share a common culprit: mobile quarterbacks, like Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray. In response, the 49ers concentrated on committing to the running back on Jackson’s zone-read plays and not protecting the edges.
“You have to defend on every play,” San Francisco Coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You can’t just go after the quarterback.”