Lamar Jackson wasn’t fazed by being officially named the Ravens’ starting quarterback Wednesday. Very little fazes Jackson.
The Ravens have won three of four games with Jackson starting and he has made plays, overcome mistakes and proved to teammates and coaches that the starting job is not too big for him.
At a critical point in the season and with Joe Flacco healthy enough to practice and play, Head Coach John Harbaugh chose Wednesday to announce that Jackson would start Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Flacco dressing as the backup quarterback.
Jackson does not turn 22 years old until Jan. 7, a young age for a rookie to be given the keys to an NFL offense. But Jackson says he’s ready to take the wheel.
“I pretty much didn’t have a reaction,” Jackson said when asked how he received the news that he would continue to start. “I know I have to focus on everything. I just go through my days trying to better myself.”
With Jackson, the cliché is true that actions speak louder than words. He thinks, but he tends not to overthink.
While many are focused on the magnitude of the transition, watching Flacco become the backup after 10-plus years as the Ravens’ franchise quarterback, Jackson is staying in the moment. He has also impressed teammates by talking about the team’s success more than his own. When asked if this was “his team” as the starting quarterback, he disagreed.
“It’s our team, all of us together,” Jackson said. “I don’t go out there and block, I don’t go out there and catch the ball, I don’t make tackles. I just do my part.”Though Jackson’s physical talent as a former Heisman Trophy winner is obvious, being under the microscope in his short time as an NFL starting quarterback has not changed Jackson’s even-keel personality. Harbaugh said Jackson was typically low-key when told he would remain the starter.
“He was calm,” Harbaugh said. “Lamar is Lamar. He’s excited and he’s looking forward to playing the game. It’s all business.”
Though Flacco honestly said he still wants to be the starter, he also has been impressed with Jackson.
“He’s done a great job,” Flacco said. “I’m really happy for what he’s been able to go out there and do. We’re winning football games. He and this team put themselves and ourselves in position to be able to do some big things the rest of the year. That’s definitely exciting.”
With three games left to play, the Ravens (7-6) have found a winning formula, using a run-first ball-control offense that capitalizes on Jackson’s dual-threat skills as a quarterback. He has rushed for 336 yards in his four starts, the most in NFL history for a quarterback in his first four games. While Jackson has also made plays with his arm, his speed and elusiveness as a runner creates a unique dynamic for opponents to contend with.
Jackson already leads the Ravens in rushing (475 yards), joining Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills as the only quarterbacks leading their team in rushing this season. Putting the football in Jackson’s hands, running the read option, has ignited Baltimore’s running game, not just for himself but for running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon. The Ravens have morphed into a team that could not run consistently into one of the league’s top running teams. They went on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in Kansas City on Sunday without attempting a single pass.
It only took a few practices with Jackson for Ravens rookie tight end Mark Andrews to realize he was playing with someone with a unique skill set.
“He’s a quarterback first, but he’s such a talented special player,” Andrews said. “Guys like that don’t come around very often. It’s tough for defenses to game-plan for that. He can do so much.”
Things change quickly in the NFL, and the onus on Jackson to play well is huge. There will be more pressure on him to throw the ball more consistently, more speculation about whether he can continue to run as often and stay healthy.
Jackson was checked for a possible concussion and missed one offensive series against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13 after being accidently kicked by teammate Ronnie Stanley while being tackled. Last week, Jackson injured his ankle while being sacked against the Kansas City Chiefs and missed the game’s final two plays.
Asked if he worried about Jackson being injured, Harbaugh said, “Right now I’m not worried about it. I want to win the game. That’s what we’re interested in.”
And when asked if he expected Jackson’s starting status as to be evaluated week-to-week proposition, Harbaugh remained confident in Jackson’s readiness.
“I don’t expect anything besides Sunday,” Harbaugh said. “But I’ll say this. Lamar Jackson’s the starting quarterback."