Two decisions, MVP-like performance prove to be difference for Ravens

October 21, 2019 | Luke Jones

The Ravens offense had run only three plays in nearly a full quarter of action, thanks in part to newly acquired cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception return for a touchdown late in the second quarter.

Midway through the third quarter of a 13-13 game, Seattle was dominating time of possession by almost 11 minutes and had carried the ball five times for 31 yards on its second drive of the third quarter. Facing a fourth-and-3 from the Baltimore 35, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll could keep his offense on the field to try to wear down a front that was already down a starting outside linebacker or try a 53-yard field goal on a wet surface — with a kicker not named Justin Tucker.

Jason Myers missed wide right, and with that failed kick went Seattle’s best chance to seize control of the game. Perhaps the Ravens defense would have stopped the Seahawks on fourth down anyway, but it was a decision that stood in stark contrast to what would happen on the ensuing drive.

John Harbaugh had decided to go for a short field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 8. After two Mark Andrews drops, a delay of game, and a fantastic 13-yard run by Lamar Jackson on third-and-15, the Ravens head coach was going to take the sure three points and a lead late in the third quarter. But after settling for field goals on each of their two red-zone trips in the first half, Jackson was having none of it as he came to the Baltimore sideline and the field goal team ran onto the field.

“I’m like, ‘This time we aren’t kicking no field goal because Russell Wilson is getting the ball again,'” Jackson told reporters in Seattle, “and if we didn’t score, it might look ugly.”

Harbaugh acquiesced and called a timeout before Jackson powered his way behind a heavy front into the end zone to give the Ravens the lead for good in one of their biggest road victories in years. It was a defining moment for a 22-year-old quarterback who’s not only emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate in his first full season as a starter but as the unquestioned leader of his team.

It was ultimately about trusting your best player rather than analytics or settling for a small lead in a game with more than 16 minutes remaining.

Whenever the Ravens needed a play on a day when his best wide receiver was out and his top pass catcher — tight end Mark Andrews — had the worst game of his career, Jackson said no problem, rushing 11 times for 119 yards before taking the final three kneels of the 30-16 victory. Critics may mock Jackson going 9-for-20 for 143 yards on a difficult passing day in which he wasn’t helped by the wet conditions or his receivers, but anyone who watched objectively wouldn’t even try to diminish the performance. Jackson was the best player on a field that included Wilson, the early MVP favorite who threw his first interception of the season and completed less than 50 percent of his passes against a rejuvenated and revamped Baltimore defense that scored two touchdowns.

Unsurprisingly, Jackson was the talk of both locker rooms after the game, a theme becoming more popular by the week.

“We can’t rush how we want,” Seattle defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “Can’t get out of the rushing lane because we’re scared he’s going to run with the ball like he did today. Even though we stayed in our rush lane, he still found a way and made a play and got through there. He made a lot of guys miss today. He had a good game.”

Jackson is now on pace to run for a staggering 1,316 yards, a single-season total eclipsed by only Jamal Lewis (three times) and Ray Rice (twice) in Ravens history. His arm wasn’t the difference in Sunday’s game, but the young quarterback is completing 63.3 percent of his pass attempts and is on pace to throw for just under 3,800 yards with a 94.1 passer rating, the kind of progress with which both the organization and fans would have been thrilled in the offseason. As Peters noted about his new quarterback after Sunday’s win, “He’s only going to get better.”

The Ravens now enter their bye week with a 5-2 record and a 2 1/2-game lead in the AFC North. It’s their first time entering the off-week with a winning record since 2014, the last time they won a playoff game. Harbaugh’s team is not only sitting pretty in a lackluster division, but the Ravens now see a wide-open AFC behind undefeated New England, especially with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes expected to miss at least a few weeks with a knee injury suffered last Thursday night.

The win over the Seahawks transformed thoughts of the Ravens being merely the best team in a bad division and benefiting from a soft early schedule to visions of 2019 being something special. Of course, there’s a very long way to go with the Ravens playing five of their next six games against teams currently sporting winning records, but none of those games — not even Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and defending champion New England coming to town in two weeks — seem as daunting after wining in Seattle, one of the most difficult places to play in the NFL for years.

It started with contrasting decisions by two Super Bowl-winning coaches in the third quarter and ended with the ball in the hands of the game’s best player.

The Ravens should like their chances with Jackson every time.