For Lamar Jackson and Hayden Hurst, Sunday was not the best time to celebrate their first touchdown connection in the NFL.
Instead, it was something to build on as the two rookies try to become more consistent playmakers in the Ravens' offense.
Jackson found Hurst for a 26-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter Sunday, the final touchdown in Carolina's 36-21 victory over the Ravens. It was Jackson's first touchdown pass and Hurst's first touchdown catch. Both will remember the play, but it would have been sweeter had the Ravens won.
"It kind of takes away because it happened during a loss," Hurst said. "Hopefully I can help the team moving forward."
Jackson feels the same way. He has been used more regularly as a situational quarterback as the season has progressed, giving him more opportunities to make plays. Jackson is clearly a running threat, but the next step for him is to become a more consistent passer.
Jackson's touchdown pass to Hurst was a perfectly thrown gem that hit Hurst in stride. It was the kind of pass that showed Jackson's potential.
However, Jackson threw a terrible pass in the first quarter that ruined what could have been a big play. On third-and-1 from their own 10, the Ravens inserted Jackson at quarterback. He rolled to his right and targeted wide receiver Willie Snead IV, who was wide open less than 20 yards downfield.
But Jackson short-hopped the pass, giving Snead no chance to make the catch. Leading 7-0 at the time, the Ravens were forced to punt (following a failed fake punt) instead of continuing their drive, and from that point the game's momentum swung in Carolina's favor.
For Jackson to help the Ravens more in the second half of the season, he needs to make accurate passes when receivers break free. Jackson completed his next four passes to finish 4-of-5 for 46 yards, but after the game he still lamented missing Snead.
"I'm mad about that still," Jackson said. "We were moving the ball and then they come to me on a third-down call. That's unacceptable. I got too excited. He was wide open. I know we're going to have a big gain if we complete that pass."
The Ravens dressed just three tight ends for the first time since Hurst returned in Week 5 from stress fracture surgery in his foot. Hurst, Nick Boyle and Mark Andrews dressed, while Maxx Williams was inactive. Andrews made four catches for 31 yards, Hurst had two grabs for 29 yards, and Boyle had one catch for seven yards.
Baltimore would like to have more production out of its tight ends in the passing game, and Hurst will have a say in whether that happens or not. As a first-round pick who was impressive during the preseason prior to his injury, Hurst was drafted to help the Ravens immediately, as well as in the future. The foot injury during the preseason clearly delayed Hurst's progress, but the extra reps he got Sunday could help him down the road.[period]
"I feel a lot better, I feel a lot more confident," Hurst said after Sunday's game. "Today, I kind of cut it loose. Hopefully I can continue to play fast and have good practices. When I practice good and feel confident in the game plan, that's when I can cut it loose.
"We've got four solid guys (tight ends) who can play anywhere, do anything. I'm happy to be a part of it. I just want to help the team win."
Despite being rookies, Jackson and Hurst understand how critical it is for the Ravens to win Sunday against the Steelers. This will be Hurst's first taste of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, while Jackson could have a bigger role than he did in Week 4, when the Ravens won 26-14 in Pittsburgh. Jackson had four carries for 26 yards in that game, and he did not throw a pass.
"It's huge," Jackson said of Sunday's game. "We beat them last time we matched up against them. It's about us, the guys in this room. It starts with us."