Baltimore dealt a decisive blow to the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday with a late fumble recovery for a touchdown by Tavon Young. A day prior, it was announced that John Harbaugh would return as the head coach for the Ravens in 2019 and could possibly receive an extension. With a win against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore would win their division and assist the legacy their head coach.
Harbaugh and his Ravens have missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. Marred by injuries and ineffectiveness in late-game situations, Baltimore has struggled to reach the promised land. Since Baltimore’s Super Bowl win during the 2012 season, they’ve gone 49-46 (.515 winning percentage) under Harbaugh. After last season’s 9-7 record and missing the playoffs, owner Steve Bisciotti mentioned that he “considered” firing Harbaugh.
After Harbaugh received another chance, the Ravens began their season 4-5. Then-starting quarterback Joe Flacco injured his right hip against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a loss.
With an injured Flacco and a sputtering running game, Baltimore made a change at quarterback. Inserting Lamar Jackson into the starting lineup, Baltimore was able to get their running game on track and their offense kept the defense fresh to attack.
Baltimore has gone 5-1 since the bye week and are currently leading the AFC North. Their latest victory came against the Chargers with a solid display at quarterback by Jackson. The rookie passed went 12-for-22 passing for 204 yards and a touchdown. Though the rookie had one of his worst rushing days with just 39 yards on 13 carries, he provided a decoy in the running game for the team to rack up 159 yards on the ground total.
“It had to be a challenge,” Harbaugh said of Jackson’s game against Los Angeles. “You think about what an accomplishment it was for Lamar to come out here and win this game. This is a really good defense, it’s a really good team. This is an 11-3 team coming into this game.
“It is a team that is fighting for the division out here in a very important game with a lot of rest and a lot of time to prepare for this offense and for him. They did a good job defending it, but he handled himself with great poise and operated the offense and played quarterback, and that’s what he did.”
The key for Harbaugh is building a winning formula with Jackson at the helm. His legacy was once tied to the successes and shortcomings of Flacco. During the fateful week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Harbaugh and company had to make the decision to make Jackson the full-time starter and keep a hot hand.
If Harbaugh were to go on a deep run in the playoffs this year and all of its circumstances, he’ll probably receive an extension. A division title win on Sunday will build upon his old legacy with Flacco (a Super Bowl victory included) and create a new one with Jackson. His new legacy can only begin its construction if the Ravens were to defeat the Browns on Sunday.
It won’t be an easy task.
The Browns are coming off of three straight victories and have seemingly changed the culture, after firing former head coach Hue Jackson midseason. The Browns had begun the season 2-5-1. Since Jackson’s departure, Cleveland has a 5-2 record under interim head coach Gregg Williams. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was also fired that same week and since then, the passing offense has taken flight.
Baker Mayfield has a 71.04% completion percentage with 1,878 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 111.4 passer rating since Freddie Kitchens took over as the interim offensive coordinator. After being 32nd in points last season, the Browns are now 19th. Those changes start with the way that Williams, Kitchens and Mayfield have gone about their business.
So it won’t be a cakewalk for Baltimore against the third-ranked team in the division. If they can pull off the victory, it’ll go down as one more decisive outcome in the 11-year history of Harbaugh as the team’s head coach.