Now that the Ravens are finished with the humdrum business of traveling more than halfway across the country to dominate a previously undefeated team in front of 76,000 face-painted fans screaming for their heads, it's time for some real drama.
You know what I'm talking about, right? In 2021, real drama in the land of the Ravens is holding your breath and waiting to see if Lamar Jackson practices.
The Ravens' dynamic quarterback is making play after play in game after game to help the team endure a debilitating wave of injuries and forge a winning record. It was worrisome, to say the least, when he missed two practices with a back injury last week.
The Internet shook with speculation. How did he get hurt? Was it serious? Would he actually miss Sunday's game against the Broncos? He was listed as questionable on the injury report.
As you surely know, he wound up playing and surpassing 300 passing yards in a game for just the second time in his NFL career. And after the Ravens' 23-7 win, he said he felt fine.
"One hundred percent," he declared.
That was extremely good news, right on par with winning the game. We're finding out the Ravens are resourceful enough to keep winning despite losing multiple key contributors to injuries, but losing Jackson is their nightmare scenario, the one they most want and need to avoid. Keeping him healthy means pretty much everything.
He has not experienced major physical issues since he became a starter in 2018, which is pretty ironic. Many experts were convinced his brilliant running eventually would result in an injury, but it seems everyone else on Baltimore's roster has suffered injuries while Jackson has remained a steady, sturdy presence. He has never missed a start because of an injury. Only twice has he missed consecutive practices for that reason.
The first time it happened, before a game against the Bengals last October, Jackson had a sore knee. He still played on Sunday and the Ravens won easily, but Jackson ran just three times for four yards, suggesting the injury had impacted him.
After he sat out consecutive practices for just the second time last week, he was again far less dynamic than usual on the ground in the game that followed, totaling 28 yards on seven carries Sunday.
Every injury is different and I'm no conspiracy theorist, but from those two examples, it sure seems his absence from multiple practices impacts the offense, i.e., minimizes his running.
Although he more than made up for any production shortfall Sunday with one of his finest passing performances, the Ravens don't want his running subtracted from their offensive blueprint. It's a huge part of what they do.
All of which underscores the importance of Jackson being healthy enough that he doesn't have to miss practice.
It could be more of a challenge in 2021. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Jackson was "feeling great," so his back issue may pass. But in the wake of the team's relentless wave of injuries, Jackson clearly feels the need to shoulder a heavy load, and in trying to make plays, he has become more vulnerable to contact, some of it hard.
Heading into Denver, Jackson had absorbed more hits than any player in the league. Sunday, he thought defenders hit him late and/or low without being flagged. As Harbaugh said yesterday, it's the NFL's rules that protect quarterbacks in the pocket – not so much his own decisions. If Jackson throws more often moving forward, his safety is more in the hands of the referees.
No doubt, it's game-on in regards to keeping him healthy.
On the broadcast of Sunday's game, announcers Andrew Catalon and James Lofton said Harbaugh had told them it was "concerning" to see Jackson miss several practices. Harbaugh also told the announcers the coaches are continually working with Jackson to help him avoid unnecessary contact.
The Ravens are optimistic going forward. It's a physical sport and the injury threat level is constant, but Jackson has made it through high school, college and four years of pro ball without a major issue. One of his underrated talents is knowing how to stay on the field.
That won't prevent the Ravens' injury report from trending on social media if there's the slightest concern about Jackson possibly being on it.