After a three-game losing skid, the Ravens bounced back with a win on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. With quarterback Joe Flacco sidelined, rookie Lamar Jackson made his first NFL start. Jackson did not disappoint, leading Baltimore to a 24-21 victory and earning my MVP of the week.
In a season-defining game, Jackson stepped up to the plate and handled business like a pro. The talk of the media has been Jackson’s 27 rushing attempts for 117 yards, which has overshadowed several of his key throws. Jackson completed 13 of 19 passes for 150 yards and an interception. On paper, the result seems rather lackluster, but considering the run-heavy game plan for Jackson’s first start, he did everything he needed to with his arm to secure the victory.
The highlight of the day through the air was Jackson’s impromptu completion to wide receiver John Brown to get into field goal range before the half expired:
At the Ravens 39-yard line with 19 seconds left in the half, Jackson needed at least 20 yards to get into Justin Tucker’s range. Jackson almost immediately felt pressure from Carlos Dunlap to his left, but instead of panicking and forcing the ball downfield, Jackson scrambled inside the pocket to avoid the sack, rolled out to his right while keeping his eyes downfield and found Brown wide open for a 23-yard completion. This led to a 56-yard field goal in a game that was decided by three points.
Jackson remained poised throughout the game, even when trailing in the third quarter. His leadership was on full display at M&T Bank Stadium. Both the crowd and the team were clearly sparked by Jackson’s presence, which was much-needed in recent weeks.
Another aspect that Jackson brought to the table on Sunday was the emergence of a running game, spearheaded by undrafted rookie running back Gus Edwards. Jackson’s speed forces the opposing defense to respect him, which opens up lanes for the running backs. Edwards took full advantage of this against Cincinnati, rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Edwards also tied the game with a run for the two-point conversion. Edwards hits the hole quick and with power, which is a great complement to Jackson’s outside running ability.
While many point to Jackson’s insane amount of rushing attempts as unsustainable, the fact of the matter is that he did everything he was asked to do and needed to do to win an absolutely critical game against a division rival. The playbook will only be expanded from here and Jackson will become a more comfortable passer from the pocket. For now though, Jackson has given a spark to an almost lifeless team.