Sunday's game was like a roller coaster for Lamar Jackson and the entire Ravens' offense. There were highs, lows, and unexpected turns – hardly a smooth ride from start to finish.
But, ultimately, it was another winning adventure for Jackson, a rookie quarterback who shows a knack for overcoming bumps in the road. With 95 yards rushing on 18 carries, and throwing for 131 yards and a touchdown, Jackson played a huge role in a 20-12 victory that helped the Ravens (8-6) avoid a defeat they couldn't afford.
It wasn't easy, and it wasn't very pretty. Jackson (13-of-24 passing) lost a fumble and threw several errant passes during the first quarter, struggling with the wet conditions. However, Jackson doesn't like making excuses. He'd rather make plays.
The turning point came early in the second quarter, when Jackson completed a key third-down pass to Willie Snead IV, good for 14 yards and a first down. That drive ended in a touchdown, when Jackson flipped the ball to wide receiver Chris Moore in motion on a jet sweep, a nicely-designed play that Moore ran into the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard score.
That scoring drive seemed to right things for Jackson, who settled into a comfort zone and won his fourth game in five games as a starter. While Jackson was not entirely happy with his performance, he was delighted with the win.
"I was kind of ticked off," said Jackson, a Florida native who doesn't have much experience playing in adverse weather conditions. "I was like, 'Man, this rain is getting on my nerves.' So I just have to fight through it. You know it's going to happen, it could snow at any time, so you have to be prepared for stuff like that. But, we got the game. We won the game, so I'm good."
Jackson got mad, but he also got even. His ability to run, whether he was operating the read-option or escaping the pocket, put consistent pressure on Tampa Bay's defense.
Jackson made multiple plays with his legs, like late in the third quarter when he dropped back to pass, ducked under an attempted tackle by Buccaneers defensive end Carl Nassib, and ran 11 yards for a first down. As he went for the sack, Nassib completely missed Jackson, like he had vanished into thin air. Rookie running back Gus Edwards (19 carries, 104 yards, one touchdown) pounded Tampa Bay inside, while Jackson's throwing accuracy improved in the second half as he continued to torment the Buccaneers with his speed.
With Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens have found an offensive identity with their running game and his playmaking. The combination has been difficult to contain.
"He makes you play 11-on-11 football instead of 11-on-10," Tampa Bay Head Coach Dirk Koetter said of Jackson. "We had him wrapped up a couple of times, and he squirted out of there and was able to extend plays. They're on a nice run with him in there at quarterback, and with that defense, they're going to be a tough team to beat."
Jackson is just 21 years old, yet since rookie camp. he has shown that mistakes rarely shake his confidence. This was Jackson's first start since being officially named the starter by Head Coach John Harbaugh, the first time in Joe Flacco's 11-year career that the dressed as the backup quarterback. But the magnitude of what Jackson is doing, taking over as the rookie starter for a team trying to make a playoff push, doesn't seem too big for him. Even when he struggles, Jackson says his teammates know that he won't lose his poise.
Just before halftime, Jackson led the Ravens on a eight-play, 63-yard drive before halftime, leading to a field goal that put the Ravens ahead for good, 10-9.
"They know I'm always going to stay focused on the game," Jackson said. "It's all about winning. It's not about being selfish, getting mad, throwing temper tantrums. I want to win. There was a lot of time on the clock. We had to do what we had to do."
Jackson completed three straight passes during that drive, two to Snead and one to tight end Mark Andrews. Ravens safety Eric Weddle says sequences like that two-minute drill prove that Jackson is developing as a quarterback.
"Lamar is getting better and better each week," Weddle said. "He's fun to watch. He's fun to be around. We just know, as a defense, we just need to continue playing at a high level to give our offense more opportunities."
The Ravens have a huge game Saturday against the Los Angeles Chargers (11-3), a difficult road assignment that will test Jackson again. But Harbaugh has seen for months how Jackson responds to adversity, and Sunday was another positive step.
"You can't get rattled, you can't afford to," Harbaugh said. "You just have to keep playing and put it behind you, and know the guys are going to be there for you. He does a great job of that."