For three quarters, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense struggled mightily in Sunday’s Wild Card loss in Jackson’s first NFL playoff game, but Head Coach John Harbaugh and his staff stuck with the rookie quarterback.
Baltimore had seven net yards passing through three quarters and Jackson was 3-of-9 for 25 yards passing. Meanwhile “January Joe” Flacco was on the bench.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said he considered making a change at quarterback but decided not to. After the game, he talked about his decision.
“I can assure you, we were considering putting Joe into the game and all that kind of stuff,” Harbaugh said. “We certainly thought about it, certainly talked about it with everybody. I can tell you this – everybody was on the same page with what we did. Everybody, including Joe.”
Harbaugh said he wasn’t going to get into the specifics of the determining factors that went into keeping Jackson in the game.
“In the end – talk about the fourth quarter – Lamar played really well in two-minute. I don’t think Joe would have played any better in two-minute than Lamar did. Give Lamar credit, right? … You have to say, based on that part of it, at that point in the game, it was the right decision. We went down and scored two touchdowns.”
Jackson, the youngest quarterback in NFL history to ever start a playoff game, fumbled twice on the Ravens’ first seven offensive snaps.
He found little room to run against the Chargers’ speedy defense that was hellbent on stopping him, and the Ravens’ ground game overall was quelled.
Jackson struggled with his throwing accuracy, and the situation was worsened by a ferocious Chargers pass rush that frequently put Jackson under pressure and sacked him seven times.
The Ravens defense kept them in the game, trailing just 12-3 entering the fourth quarter. But the offense had just 83 total yards at that point and didn’t make the most of two short fields after a fumble recovery and blocked punt.
“I feel like I played poorly,” Jackson said. “At the beginning, a lot of throws weren’t hit that I was supposed to make, turnover, I fumbled once, and I wasn’t playing my game today. I’m ticked off about that, definitely.”
Flacco’s 10 postseason victories are the second most in the NFL since 2008. In the Ravens’ last 10 playoff games, he had a 104.1 quarterback rating.
Asked if could have made a difference in the game, Flacco said, “You can’t even go there, man. I thought Lamar did a great job of just hanging in there. You know, he gave us a chance to win at the end.”
Jackson eventually got hot in the fourth quarter, leading the Ravens on a pair of touchdown drives. One was an eight play, 75-yard drive capped by a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree.
The other was a 12-play, 80-yard drive that Jackson kept alive with a miraculous scrambling heave to running back Kenneth Dixon for a 39-yard gain, then capped off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree on fourth down. In the end, Jackson’s rebound gave the Ravens a chance.
Jackson and the offense had to go 66 yards in 45 seconds for a miracle comeback win, but Jackson was stripped – his third fumble of the game in what was a recurring problem with him as the Ravens’ starter.
Asked whether it was frustrating not to play, Flacco said, “It really wasn’t.” He gave Jackson some advice on the bench when things weren’t going well.
“Everyone was talking to him,” Flacco said. “I told him, ‘Hey, just tell everybody to shut up at some point.’
“I just told him, ‘Listen, finish strong. At some point, you’re going to be proud of how you finished, no matter what happens. This is all part of it. You know, dealing with the situation right now. It’s still a game, so go out there and do what you can to get us back in it. Handle yourself the way you would like to see yourself handle the situation.’”