From beginning to end, it was a frustrating day for Lamar Jackson.
His first throw was a pick-six that staked the Pittsburgh Steelers to a quick 7-0 lead. His last pass intended for Willie Snead IV was broken up in the end zone by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, preserving a 28-24 Steelers victory that left them unbeaten atop the AFC North and the Ravens two games behind at 5-2.
In a game that could've gone either way, four turnovers by Jackson (two interceptions, two lost fumbles) were critical. Jackson never stopped battling and almost rallied Baltimore on the game's final drive. But when it was over, he took responsibility for making too many mistakes.
"The turnovers I feel is the reason why we lost the game," Jackson said. "I put that on me.
In two career starts against the Steelers, Jackson has committed seven turnovers.
The Ravens overcame three interceptions by Jackson in Pittsburgh last season to win, 26-23, in overtime. But Baltimore was not as fortunate on Sunday, as the Steelers used the momentum-changing turnovers to spark them in a game where they were outplayed for long stretches.
For much of the day, Jackson and the Ravens' offense moved the ball consistently, finishing with 457 total yards and 265 yards rushing against the NFL's top-ranked defense. But it was wasted in a losing effort and Jackson (13 for 28, two touchdowns, 65.8 quarterback rating) was far from his best.
The pick-six by Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane was the beginning of Jackson's costly errors. His pass was intended for Devin Duvernay, but Spillane reacted quickly when the ball was in the air, cutting in front to make the grab with nothing but open space ahead of him. Spillane raced 33 yards into the end zone in only his second game since replacing Devin Bush (season-ending knee injury) in the starting lineup.
"We were in a zone coverage, we had good zone distribution and we made him read three reads down to his check-down and I was able to steal one," Spillane told the media after the game.
Jackson bounced back quickly from the first turnover, leading the Ravens right back to tie the game on a 75-yard drive capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Miles Boykin. The throw from Jackson to Boykin was perfect.
Jackson continued to make plays, facing an opportunistic defense that put consistent pressure on him in the pocket. Head Coach John Harbaugh gave Jackson credit for not dwelling on his mistakes, but he also said the turnovers were a key factor in the outcome.
"He played hard. He made a lot of plays. The turnovers, obviously, were disappointing. … That's the difference in the game in some ways, obviously," Harbaugh said. "We're disappointed with that part of it. We're very happy with other parts of it. I thought he competed, made a lot of great throws and runs and things like that. So, it's a mixed bag in that sense, but of course we're not pleased with losing the turnover battle."
With the score tied, 7-7, Jackson's second turnover wasted a scoring opportunity in the red zone when Jackson was sacked and stripped by Bud Dupree. The ball was recovered by Vince Williams of the Steelers at Pittsburgh's 4-yard line. Jackson blamed himself for not getting rid of the ball faster.
"We were talking about that all week, getting the ball out quick," Jackson said. "If that had happened, it would've been no fumble."
The Ravens eventually built a 17-7 halftime lead, and when they stopped Pittsburgh on its opening drive of the third quarter, Baltimore appeared to be taking control of the game. The Steelers' offense had done little to that point, with their only score coming on Spillane's pick-six.
But on Baltimore's opening drive of the third quarter, Jackson committed perhaps his biggest turnover. His pass in the flat intended for tight end Mark Andrews was intercepted by Pittsburgh linebacker Alex Highsmith, who made a leaping grab. The ball never had a chance to reach Andrews, as Highsmith anticipated Jackson's throw, a toss that Jackson would love to have back.
"I had Pat (Ricard) in the flat," Jackson said. "He (Highsmith) looked like he was going to defend Pat. But when I threw it out to Mark, he dropped over to Mark. He fell off and made a great play."
That turnover finally sparked Pittsburgh's offense, setting the Steelers up on Baltimore's 21-yard line. Two plays later, Ben Roethlisberger found Eric Ebron for an 18-yard touchdown pass and the Ravens' lead had been trimmed to three points.
That turned the game into a typical Ravens-Steelers battle, back-and-forth and decided in the final two minutes. But Pittsburgh's defense continued to thwart Jackson at critical moments.
With less than two minutes to play and trailing 28-24, the Ravens drove from their 25-yard line to the Pittsburgh 8-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-3. Baltimore went with an empty backfield and called a quarterback draw, wanting to put the ball in the hands of Jackson, who had rushed for 65 yards in the game. Earlier in the game, Jackson had an electrifying touchdown run nullified by a holding penalty on center Matt Skura, and Jackson is always a threat to make a big play even when he is struggling.
However, on this crucial goal-line play, Jackson was stopped short and fumbled after being hit by Fitzpatrick. The ball was recovered by Spillane, but it was the All-Pro safety Fitzpatrick who made the key play.
"I saw [Fitzpatrick] spying on me," Jackson said. "He made a good stop."
The Ravens got the ball back one last time, leading to the final play of the game from Pittsburgh's 23-yard line with five seconds left to play. Jackson threw a fastball into the end zone that was on target for Snead, but Fitzpatrick made contact with Snead as the ball arrived and knocked it away. The Ravens felt Fitzpatrick should have been penalized for hitting Snead in the head, but no call was made.
Jackson will get another chance at the Steelers on Thanksgiving night in Pittsburgh. With the Ravens (5-2) still battling for playoff position in the AFC, he looked forward to making amends, starting next weekend against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I feel we're in a great spot," Jackson said. "We just have to finish. Our defense played great, our offense did good. No turnovers, we win this game."