The chemistry between Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews has been a major part of Baltimore's offense, but now the formula must change.
The offense faces a major challenge without Andrews, who underwent ankle surgery on Tuesday with an "outside chance" of returning before next season.
Jackson didn't downplay the significance of losing Andrews, who has 381 catches, 4,857 receiving yards, and 40 career touchdowns since entering the league with Jackson in 2018.
When Jackson extended plays, Andrews was often the quarterback's first look, and Andrews' consistent knack for finding open spaces and being on the same page with Jackson as he improvised was uncanny.
"That was my No. 1 guy when I got off script. Me and him are going to have a connection somehow someway," Jackson said Tuesday. "Just Mark being him, doing things to put us in great situations. We'll miss that a lot."
Andrews leads the Ravens with six touchdown receptions, and Jackson said part of that is also because things can be off script.
However, Jackson is confident the Ravens can find other ways to remain productive, relying on a collective collaboration between himself and the team's other targets. For example, Jackson threw an off-script touchdown to Rashod Bateman in the second half against the Bengals.
Jackson still has a host of talented weapons to work with. Rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers leads the team in targets (72), catches (53) and receiving yards (588), and his ability to create separation with his quickness may be relied upon even more. Odell Beckham Jr. is coming off his most productive game of the season in Week 11 (four catches, 116 yards), while Bateman had his first touchdown catch and Nelson Agholor also had a touchdown catch against Cincinnati.
"I believe my chemistry with all the receivers is coming along well," Jackson said. "We have to keep locking in at practice and keep building more. The playoffs are rolling around, the end of the season is rolling around. We've just got to keep stepping in the right direction."
Jackson Likes What He Sees From Young Tight Ends
As for the tight ends, Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar will now have an opportunity for bigger roles in their second seasons, and Jackson likes what he sees from them.
"I believe he'll (Likely) step up and do what he's supposed to do," Jackson said. "He's always somewhere open as I'm watching film. I see Charlie blocking his tail off, catching the ball. He's a tall tight end.
"Likely, we built our chemistry his rookie season, he was balling out. This year, just from the maturity, being in the league a year those guys know what to do."
Likely has nine catches for 89 yards this season and Kolar caught his first pass of the year after Andrews went down Thursday night.
The Ravens have the best record (8-3) in the AFC and the deepest group of playmakers Jackson has ever played with. Jackson is expecting everyone to step up to help fill the void left by Andrews.
"We've got great receivers, great backfield, got great tight ends that are stepping up. Just our team all around," he said.
"Everyone's running routes full speed, running great routes, getting separation from corners and DB's. They're doing a great job. When we start connecting down the field, the sky's the limit for our offense."
Jackson Tries to Prove His Ankle Is 100%
Jackson said he felt fine after Thursday night's game and Head Coach John Harbaugh said he was good on Monday.
Reporters checked in with Jackson again Tuesday and the quarterback did a little run in motion to prove he's OK.
"I believe I'm good. I believe I'm 100%," Jackson said.
While the Browns' Deshaun Watson and Bengals' Joe Burrow are out for the rest of the season, Jackson is healthy heading into the Ravens' final six-game stretch. That's a much welcomed departure from the past two seasons, and Sunday's minor ankle tweak was a reminder.
Asked if he's done anything different this year to avoid injuries, Jackson said, "Not really. I'll say I don't slide, but I get down. I get under hits; I'll say, that but that's it I guess."
Patrick Queen Is Impressed With Chargers Offense
The Ravens defense dismantled one of the best offenses in the league in Week 7 when the Detroit Lions came to M&T Bank Stadium.
Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers will be the toughest test since then, and maybe the stiffest quarterback challenge the Ravens have faced this season.
The Chargers have the eighth-best DVOA offensive ranking in the NFL. They rank No.11 in yards per game (354.3) and eighth in points per game (25.9).
Linebacker Patrick Queen is impressed.
"Their offense is electric, honestly. You can tell that they're putting up points," Queen said. "Even though some people might say situationally they haven't been capitalizing, they are a helluva offense. We're going to have to be clicking on all cylinders in a hostile environment to get it done."
What makes the Chargers offense so formidable?
"Justin, obviously he can put the ball anywhere he wants, be extremely accurate, throw the ball extremely hard, he can move around, he can do whatever, he can read coverages. He's just an all-around quarterback that we've got to be prepared for," Queen said. "Each and every player out there is electric and can get the ball in their hands and do damage."
Queen Rips Bengals LB Germaine Pratt
After taking a loss Thursday night in Baltimore, Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt tweeted that the Ravens defense "only looked good bc 9 [Joe Burrow] got hurt."
Queen responded on social media and then again when asked about it Tuesday in the Ravens locker room.
"He needs to take responsibility for his actions. I ain't the one on that side of the ball getting cooked. The whole defense was getting cooked. That's his problem," Queen said.
"I'll tell you one thing. When we lost in the playoffs [last season], we weren't blaming it on our quarterback being out. … We take responsibility on this side. I don't know about that side."