Eisenberg: No One Gets to Play Football in Bubble Wrap

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You could almost hear the Internet breaking into little shards after Lamar Jackson went rogue from his vanilla preseason script and video-gamed his way to the end zone against the Green Bay Packers Thursday night.

Video clips of the play instantly went viral. Social media channels filled with commentary. Analysts chimed in.

His electrifying dash, which he could patent as the Lamar Leap, didn’t even count. A penalty nullified it. But did anything happen in the game’s other hundred-plus plays? Apparently not, judging from the all-consuming focus on that one snap.

Predictably, a sizable percentage of the reaction was glowing and giddy. When the defender whom you embarrassed with a move seeks you out after the play and congratulates you, you’ve done something that is bound to generate a wave of oohs and ahhs.

But just as predictably, the ovation was infused with not-insignificant strains of nervous-nellie-ism and even naysaying. Why was Jackson running like that and risking injury in a meaningless game? Isn’t he aware that the Ravens rebuilt their offense to suit his needs and their season pretty much depends on his health and availability?

I get it. Given Jackson’s penchant for taking off (or in this case, taking flight), the possibility of his getting injured has been a concern since the Ravens drafted him – throughout the NFL, not just in Baltimore. Did you hear what advice Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers gave Jackson when they chatted on the field after the game Thursday night?

“I love watching you play, man. That was pretty spectacular. Have a great season, man. Slide a little bit,” Rodgers told him.

Translation: Rather than fight for extra yards, which means taking hits and risking getting injured, he should just hit the ground, where defenders can’t touch him, and live to take another snap.

Yes, it’s a thing. Jackson’s health is, in fact, a big thing for the Ravens, so everything he does is refracted through that lens.

But to those who can’t seem to stop wringing their hands about it, even when Jackson puts an unforgettable jolt into an otherwise forgettable preseason affair, I’m offering this unsolicited (but free) advice:

Just relax. Try to enjoy the ride.

The Ravens have certainly had their high moments on offense through the years, but they’ve spent more time sputtering and coughing, failing to ignite. They’ve been, frankly, a bit dull at times on that side of the ball. But those days are over. Like, way over. With Jackson under center and a new cast of mostly young characters around him, they’re unpredictable, fast and fascinating. The absolute last thing they are is dull.

My two cents, if you complained about how unexciting and predictable they’d become, you can’t also complain about them being re-engineered as, quite possibly, the most interesting offense in the NFL, and certainly the most unique.

Just relax. Enjoy the ride.

No doubt, Jackson needs to be careful and “slide a little,” especially in August. The Ravens have counseled him on the subject, when to avoid contact, how to avoid contact. They’ll continue to counsel him.

Honestly, though, they aren’t that worried about it. The rules offer quarterbacks heavy protection in the NFL these days. As long as he’s fairly careful, even a running quarterback can be safe.

And in any case, while his instincts will always tell him to keep going, stay up, etc., Jackson seems to be getting the message. After Rodgers told him to be careful Thursday night, he replied, “I got you, I got you.”

Remember, he’s playing football, a sport of, by and all about contact. No one gets to sign a waiver and play in bubble wrap. If a guy is on the field, he (and those who root for him) have to understand and accept that he’s going to take some hits.

The alternative is just don’t play. Don’t get on the field. Don’t send imaginations soaring with a Lamar Leap.

No thanks. I’d rather enjoy the ride.

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