BALTIMORE — The Ravens were clinging to a 23-17 lead in a game much closer than many anticipated.
The defense had forced back-to-back three-and-outs against Arizona, but impressive rookie quarterback Kyler Murray had made enough throws and Baltimore had experienced enough breakdowns in coverage over the course of Sunday afternoon to worry. Facing a third-and-11 at their own 44-yard line with 3:05 remaining, the Ravens punting the ball back to the Cardinals was an uncomfortable thought.
“You need a closer, man,” outside linebacker Matthew Judon said. “You need somebody to go out there, do the dirty work, and get it done.”
Such a third-and-long situation last year likely would have called for a run, which sometimes even worked and would have at least kept the clock running with Arizona out of timeouts. Or, perhaps a simple run-pass option to set up an easy underneath throw or the possibility of Lamar Jackson keeping the ball, getting to the edge, and outrunning the defense to move the chains.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman showed just how confident the Ravens are in their 22-year-old quarterback and his arm with an empty backfield and speedy rookie Marquise Brown in the slot. Jackson went for the jugular.
Lamar Jackson dropped it in the bucket ? pic.twitter.com/qv51q0GsCu
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 15, 2019
“We’ve got to get the first down,” Jackson said. “There’s man coverage on him, no safety help over top, and he ran a great route. I just had to make a great throw. He came down with the catch. I had other options, but that was the best one to go to at the time.”
Even with tight coverage on the play, Cardinals cornerback Tramaine Brock didn’t have a chance. It was a perfect throw and a great catch for 41 yards.
“That was a great pass,” said Brown, who finished with eight catches for 86 yards. “I seen it in the air, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is money right here.’ I couldn’t mess that one up.”
Ballgame. You can cross another question off the list as Jackson made an MVP-like throw in the clutch to seal a narrow victory.
Following his record-setting performance in last week’s 59-10 blowout win over Miami, Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 270 yards and run for 120 in a game, dual-threat production that was needed with Ravens running backs gaining a pedestrian 62 yards on 17 carries. Any remaining critics — who are dropping like flies these days — will again try to point to below-average competition while ignoring the obvious.
The Ravens may have something really special on their hands.
That’s not to say Jackson was perfect on Sunday. After a first half closely resembling the Dolphins game by going 12-for-16 for 171 yards and two touchdown passes to Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, Jackson appeared frustrated at times in the second half, missing a few open throws and going 11-for-20 for 60 yards before the game-sealing strike to Brown. The second-year quarterback was happy with the win after the game, but he lamented penalties and missed opportunities that led to only six points in the second half.
It was another excellent performance, but one not good enough for Jackson, a quality that’s going to allow him to be as good as he can possibly be. That mindset is why teammates and coaches were so excited seeing his improvement throughout the offseason.
There will be some bumps in the road ahead, but the throw he delivered when the Ravens needed it most is why they’ll have plenty of confidence going into Arrowhead Stadium next week. After nearly grinding out an upset with its ball-control offense against the Chiefs last December, Baltimore now has to believe it can hang if this rematch turns into more of a shootout between Jackson and 2018 league MVP Patrick Mahomes.
After throwing for just under 600 yards and seven touchdowns — the latter already surpassing his total from his rookie campaign — in his first two games of 2019, Jackson has given future opponents much to consider beyond his legs, which were working just fine against the Cardinals. Defensive coordinators preparing for the Ravens won’t be getting much sleep until further notice.
“They’re going to have to figure it out for themselves,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But this league has a lot of smart people and a lot of great players. As Lamar well knows, they’ll be chasing our scheme. We’ll play one of the best teams in the league next week in Kansas City. The stadium will be rocking. It’ll be deafening.
“We’re going to have to be a much better football team next week than we have been last week or this week. That’s just the way the league works.”