Lamar Jackson's Availability for Wild-Card Weekend Unknown
Following the Ravens' regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, focus quickly turned toward the Ravens' quarterback situation.
In Week 18, it was undrafted free agent rookie Anthony Brown making his first NFL start. But next Sunday, with the Ravens heading back to Paycor Stadium to take on the Bengals once more, many are hoping for Lamar Jackson to return.
On Saturday, ESPN's Adam Schefter cited a source that said Jackson has a “strong chance” of returning in the playoffs. However, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reports that Jackson's status remains uncertain.
This echoes the words of Head Coach John Harbaugh on Friday, who gave an opening statement following practice to say Jackson is working hard to return but the team currently doesn't have an update on his status. However, pundits believe they need Jackson if they want a real chance at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "But let's not kid ourselves: Here's really the only 'what if' that matters going into this week. What if Jackson returns after missing more than a month with a sprained knee? Even if he has some rust and is not 100 percent — and he probably won't be — Jackson gives the Ravens their best chance to upset a Bengals team that enters the playoffs as the third seed and has won eight games in a row."
The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Schwartz: "A rematch awaits, and all eyes turn toward Lamar Jackson and his injured knee. Wednesday's practice will be telling for his status. They would have no chance without Jackson, but even still, how healthy — and effective — will he be after missing more than a month? It's among the NFL's most intriguing storylines this week, but that's nothing new in Baltimore."
The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer: "With Jackson at the controls, it would not have been hard to imagine more open running lanes, fewer dropped passes, more points, fewer third-and-long headaches. The trouble remains getting Jackson onto the field."
Press Box’s Bo Smolka: "Now as the Ravens prepare to return to the postseason at Cincinnati, they have to hope they have Jackson on the field where his 47-yard spin-cycle touchdown run in 2019 became his signature moment. Will Jackson play? The Ravens' ability to make any postseason run surely depends on it."
Sports Illustrated’s Todd Karpovich: "If Jackson is back in the lineup, that will change the entire dynamic of the game. The rest of those Ravens players that were held out of Week 18 will also make an impact," Karpovich wrote. "The Bengals did a lot of chirping during the game and that will also provide the Ravens with some added motivation. There were concerns that the Ravens would be one-and-done in the playoffs, but now, they showed they have the pride and depth to perhaps win a game or two. It begins with Cincinnati. "
'Chippiness' Visible Between Division Rivals
Sunday's game featured two teams playing timid with their playbooks, but the players on the field weren't timid in their physicality. According to The Baltimore Banner’s Shaffer, the physicality and chippiness between the two teams was palpable.
"Rookie safety Kyle Hamilton body-slammed Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase on a second-quarter tackle," Shaffer wrote. "Rookie center Tyler Linderbaum gave Cincinnati players some parting words during a minor skirmish just as halftime arrived. The Ravens' sideline swarmed around Bengals guard Jackson Carman after he drove outside linebacker Tyus Bowser into their sideline late in the third quarter. There were thumping hits throughout."
Smolka also noticed the game was heated precursor for next week.
"As Tee Higgins reached to catch a pass, he was drilled by Ravens cornerback Daryl Worley, playing in place of injured Marcus Peters," Smolka wrote. "Marcus Williams came flying out of the secondary to drop Joe Mixon for a 2-yard loss. Roquan Smith was all over the field, finishing with 16 tackles, his highest total as a Raven. From start to finish, the Ravens' defense hit and hit hard."
According to The Athletic's Jay Morrison, the Bengals took exception to the chippiness.
"Several Bengals defensive players were irate with the actions of several members of the Ravens offense, but they stopped short of providing names and details," Morrison wrote. "They instead opted to leave their accusations lingering in the thick, pungent air, instantly lighting the wick on what is sure to be an intense ramp-up to the first-ever postseason matchup between the heated division rivals."
Pundits Confident in Ravens in the Rematch
Heading into enemy territory down both Jackson and backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, along with numerous starters being benched for rest, Sunday's game had an opportunity of a blowout. But what followed was a competitive game that sprung hope for pundits in favor of the Ravens come next week, including ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.
"The Ravens have extremely stingy on defense since linebacker Roquan Smith was acquired in Week 9," Hensley wrote. "This defense has been so dominant that Baltimore clinched a playoff berth even though quarterback Lamar Jackson missed the final five games. With cornerback Marlon Humphrey and inside linebacker Patrick Queen flying all over the field, the Ravens have excelled against the run, on third downs and in the red zone."
Baltimore Beatdown’s Spencer Schultz shared a similar sentiment.
"The Ravens got stomped on by the Bengals offense in 2021. They wisely went back the drawing board," Schultz wrote. "The result was Mike Macdonald, Marcus Williams, Kyle Hamilton with Roquan Smith as the cherry on top. Baltimore held the Bengals to 17 points in their first matchup and allowed only 20 points defensively today despite very little help offensively and down several starters who were rested. With a huge playoff matchup looming, the Ravens defense looks ready to match the Bengals in philosophy and talent."
"Obviously, Baltimore's playoff chances in a rematch against Cincy will depend on Lamar Jackson's availability," Mehta wrote. "But if he can come back, plus the extra rest for [J.K.] Dobbins, [Mark] Andrews and [Marcus] Peters, I'm feeling pretty good about it."
"Particularly on defense, they performed much better than the 27 points allowed final would indicate," Platko wrote. "If Lamar Jackson returns next week, there's some reason for optimism heading into a playoff rematch against Cincinnati."
Rookies Draw Excitement in Regular Season Finale
With key starters being rested, the Ravens gave prime opportunity for their rookies to shine. And shine they did, as tight ends Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar both delivered on offense while outside linebacker David Ojabo notched his first NFL sack and a takeaway.
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker: "Likely made the play of the day for the Ravens when he went up for a contested ball along the sideline and came down with a 28-yard gain to keep them moving toward a touchdown. The rookie tight end was easily the team's most productive playmaker against the Bengals, evoking memories of his preseason brilliance and his stellar work stepping in for an injured Andrews in the Ravens' Week 8 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
Smolka: "It was just one play, and it turned out to be Ojabo's only tackle, but the speed off the edge, the motor to finish the play and the ability to create turnovers showed just what the Ravens like about Ojabo. They would surely love to see more of that, starting as soon as next weekend."
Walker: "[Likely's] classmate, Kolar, waited until Week 17 to debut but added four catches for 49 yards against the Bengals, flashing his potential as a big target in the middle."