On the surface, it doesn't sound like a momentous day. A team wins a game in mid-November to reach .500 for the season and avoid virtual elimination from the playoff picture? That's nice and everything, certainly better than the alternative. But … momentous?
Nonetheless, that is just the right description for what Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals meant to the Ravens.
It wasn't momentous so much because of what it did for their playoff chances in 2018. That's the immediate headline, but any short-term ramifications pale next to what the game means for the bigger picture – the Ravens' long-range prospects.
On Sunday, they took their first real look at their next-generation quarterback, the guy they'll eventually entrust to handle the sport's most important position. There were no guarantees it would go well. In fact, some analysts thought it might go poorly. But Lamar Jackson led the Ravens to a come-from-behind win, looking nothing like a 21-year-old making his first NFL start.
While rolling up 267 rushing and passing yards, he ran the offense adeptly and moved the chains enough that Baltimore controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes – a winning recipe on any Sunday.
The Bengals were impressed. "He's a good quarterback and reads plays well. He's very tough and has great quickness," linebacker Vincent Rey said.
Yes, it was just one game, at home against a low-ranked defense. And Jackson made mistakes, threw an interception, drilled a pass off a teammate's helmet. He still hasn't started a road game, faced a top defense or demonstrated he can hang tough in the pocket and make the requisite downfield throws. On Sunday, he ran 27 times, too often for anyone's liking.
"It's not going to last that way," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
But while there's plenty about his starting debut that can be improved upon, the bottom line is Jackson was electric, exciting and anything but out of his league. Most importantly, he walked off the field a winner.
You can't have watched that game and still doubt whether he's a quarterback the Ravens can go forward with, build around, develop, etc.
He is. And that's huge for the franchise.
The Ravens have received their share of criticism, along with applause, for selecting Jackson with the No. 32-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Forgoing other needs, they took a player unlikely to contribute immediately. Some scouts wondered whether Jackson, though indisputably talented, could be a viable NFL quarterback.
I'm guessing the Ravens' top decision-makers are feeling pretty good after Sunday. They've tied their future to Jackson's ability to become as effective in the NFL as he was in college, and at the very least, Sunday showed there's plenty to work with.
It could just be that he's the right kind of quarterback for an NFL now sprinting headlong toward a fast-breaking style of play that came from the college game and almost resembles basketball. The Los Angeles Rams' 54-51 win over the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night was the purest distillation yet of what's going on. If you aren't passing all over the place, you're calling run-pass option (RPO) plays.
"Hey, that's kind of been the way football has been played in college and high school for a lot of years now. Those guys are all coming into the NFL, so there's no doubt you're going to see more and more of that in our league," Harbaugh said Monday.
If that's the NFL's future, Jackson should fit right in.
I'm not saying it's clear he can lead the Ravens to the promised land. Can we just pump the brakes on any sweeping pronouncements? I'm not even saying the Ravens have to stick with Jackson when Joe Flacco's injured hip is healed and he is ready to play again. Flacco has won a ton of December games. The decision isn't easy.
But regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, Jackson will be the Ravens' quarterback in the long run. And with his performance Sunday, he gave Baltimore fans reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead.
Yup, that's a momentous day.