Lamar Jackson's final throw on Sunday was another pass that could've been completed, but wasn't. Instead of the Ravens spiking the football for a game-winning conversion, Jackson spiked his helmet to the turf on the sideline.
It was a symbolic conclusion to Baltimore's frustrating 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which Jackson and the offense continued a recent stretch of inconsistent play.
The Ravens haven't reached 20 points in four straight games, and while Jackson did not play in one of those games against the Chicago Bears, he has been unable to dominate during the past month the way he did regularly through the first eight games.
Jackson was almost the hero again Sunday, leading the Ravens on a brilliant seven-play, 60-yard drive during the final two minutes, capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins that pulled them to within one point with 12 seconds to play. But when Head Coach John Harbaugh decided to go for two points and the win, Jackson and Mark Andrews couldn't connect for the game-winning throw.
On the two-point conversion, Andrews was wide open in the right flat. But Jackson's throw was off target when he was pressured by All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt, who had a spectacular game with 3.5 sacks, six tackles and six quarterback hits. Andrews failed to corral the pass with one hand and it fell incomplete in the end zone, sealing the Ravens' fate as the Heinz Field crowd roared.
"Just didn't execute," Jackson said. "We weren't on the same page right there."
Jackson explained he didn't throw it directly at Andrews' body because he feared Watt would bat down the pass.
"Just put it in his chest, I couldn't do that because T.J. Watt's got range," Jackson said. "I had to throw around him, try to make something happen. Just came up short."
Coming off a career-high four interceptions against the Cleveland Browns, Jackson (23 for 37, 253 yards, one touchdown, one interception) threw another pick Sunday that was clearly his fault.
It was a careless throw into the waiting hands of Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on Baltimore's opening drive. The Ravens were already in field goal range and that mistake almost surely cost the Ravens' three points in a tight game. Jackson took the blame, saying he was trying to throw to Andrews, who was open in the end zone behind Fitzpatrick.
"I was hot," Jackson said. "I was dropping back, I wish I had more power behind it. Just a turnover."
Harbaugh said Jackson's recent difficulties were not all his doing. Jackson has already been sacked a career-high 37 times this season in 11 starts, compared to last season when he was sacked 29 times in 15 starts. The Miami Dolphins blitzed Jackson with success when they upset the Ravens last month, and getting consistent pressure on Jackson in the pocket has become a blueprint for disrupting Baltimore's offense.
Sometimes Jackson has waited too long to throw, trying to make a play. But on other occasions, he has been chased out of the pocket or sacked with little time to go through his progressions.
Harbaugh was asked if there were sacks Sunday when Jackson held the ball too long.
"Yes, (but) we can put him in better position too in terms of getting the ball out quick with some of those calls," Jackson said. "Seven sacks is too many. It's way too many. That's on us as a coaching staff to get that cleaned up."
Having so many negative plays has been difficult for Jackson to overcome, and the Ravens are wasting long drives by not converting them into touchdowns. Jackson's interception ended an 11-play opening drive. Their first touchdown came on a 16-play, 99-yard drive, and they dominated time of possession in the first half, as the Steelers ran just 10 offensive plays in the first 28 minutes of the game.
Yet the Ravens only led 7-3 at halftime, leaving the door open for Pittsburgh to storm back in the fourth quarter.
"We're just not finishing (drives)," Jackson said. "We're always one play away. When we get down in the red zone, we've just got to fix that. We've just got to get in the lab and find ways to keep our drives going, try not to have sacks."
Jackson almost found a way to win, as he has done so often this season. His ability to bounce back from mistakes and to overcome adversity is one of his greatest gifts, and it has shown up often this season while leading Baltimore to three fourth-quarter comeback victories.
On the final drive, Jackson connected on passes with Devonta Freeman, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Devin Duvernay, coolly moving the Ravens downfield with the clock winding down. Playing his best with the game on the line, Jackson fired a 6-yard touchdown pass to Watkins that pulled Baltimore within one point.
But on the two-point conversion attempt, Jackson and Andrews couldn't connect, and a potential comeback victory slipped through their hands.
With five games remaining, the Ravens (8-4) know they'll have to find answers offensively to keep winning, and Jackson will continue to shoulder a heavy offensive burden. Once again, he was Baltimore's leading rusher (eight carries, 55 yards) on Sunday, although Freeman had some nice runs (14 carries, 52 yards, one touchdown).
When Watkins returned from injury to join Brown, Andrews, Rashod Batemen and Duvernay as offensive weapons for Jackson, the Ravens expected to take their offense to a new level. Instead the offense has struggled, but Jackson believes in himself, his teammates, and the coaching staff to figure things out.
"I'm very confident," Jackson said. "You saw the last drive. We were rolling, hitting passes, guys running their routes, catching the ball and getting YAC. We just do that consistent, we're be fine. We just have to do it early and finish the whole game like that."