Joe Flacco took Saturday night off.
Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III most definitely did not.
Jackson was the catalyst for the Ravens’ second half rally Saturday night, helping them turn a 10-3 halftime deficit into a 27-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Jackson started the second half after Griffin played the entire first half. And once Jackson entered the game, the momentum changed. The Ravens scored touchdowns on three of their next four possessions, including a 19-yard touchdown run by Jackson that put the Ravens ahead for good.
Jackson did it with his arm, throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to DeVier Posey. Jackson did it with his legs, running 19 yards for an electrifying touchdown.
Jackson’s stats were impressive – 7-of-10 passing for 98 yards and a touchdown, along with 39 yards rushing on three carries and another score. The rookie quarterback is still a work in progress, but he is trending in the right direction.
“Today was kind of his breakout in a game,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He had done some good things in practice, but we hadn’t really seen it in a game. Today, it just kind of fell in place for him a bit.”
Harbaugh noted that Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a nice job of play-calling with the rookie, adding in a lot of no-huddle. Jackson handled it all, getting the Ravens to the line of scrimmage, making the calls and appropriate checks.
Jackson wasn’t too efficient passing in the Ravens’ first three preseason games, going 18-of-43 (42 percent) for 201 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. But his quarterback rating has improved every game and was an impressive 134.6 in Miami, where the Florida native played in front of a large group of family and friends.
“I hope people know people know I can throw now,” Jackson said after the game.
With just one preseason game remaining, the Ravens’ compelling quarterback question remains. Will they keep three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009? Or will they decide they simply can’t afford to keep Griffin, especially with cornerback Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four games and tight end Hayden Hurst reportedly out at least 3-4 weeks with a stress fracture.
Griffin was given an opportunity Saturday, starting the game and playing the entire first half, with Flacco one of many starters who did not dress. Griffin completed nine of 15 passes for 66 yards, and rushed five times for 41 yards, as the Ravens produced 11 first downs with Griffin at the helm.
It would have been more impressive had Griffin capped those drives by leading the Ravens into the end zone. However, Griffin has done plenty to prove he should be in the NFL this season. He has played with poise, and his throwing has been more accurate than Jackson’s. While Jackson is the more explosive runner, Griffin still moves very well himself. He had a nice 21-yard scramble in the first half, and smartly slid to protect himself at the end of the run.
Griffin has done as much as he can to convince the Ravens they should keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. But Jackson is also showing he can be a playmaker, and he is gaining confidence. The Ravens have plenty of tough roster decisions, so carrying three quarterbacks is a luxury they may decide they can’t afford.
Jackson has critiqued himself harshly during the preseason, but he seemed more pleased after this performance.
“I had a good week of practice this week,” Jackson said. “That was the key for me, trying to get my percentage up. “
Jackson said he made sure he threw enough warmup passes on the sideline before entering the game. Coming off the bench is a different role than Jackson had in college, but it’s the role Jackson will begin with as a Raven. However, the Ravens have needed more playmakers the past few seasons, and if they decide to use Jackson in certain situations, the threat Jackson brings to the field could make their offense tougher to prepare for.
On Jackson’s touchdown run, he was actually stumbling as he got close to the goal line, but still had the speed to reach the end zone.
“I wanted to make the touchdown easier, but I stumbled and made it harder,” Jackson said with a smile.
Jackson could be making it harder for the Ravens to keep Griffin. With one preseason game to go, Griffin knows his time with the team could end soon, but he is focused on his performance.
“There’s no pressure,” Griffin said, as the Ravens look forward to Thursday’s preseason finale against the Redskins, the team that drafted Griffin. “Just go out and play ball, have fun, and let the coaches make the decision.”
At this point, the Ravens have two quarterbacks behind Flacco showing they can move the offense. There are worse problems for a team to have.