Late for Work 1/2: Believe That. Lamar Jackson Has Converted Critics to Believers

010218_LFW

Remember when a Los Angeles Chargers scout asked Lamar Jackson if he would work out at wide receiver at the NFL Combine?

Former Ravens defense tackle Kapron Lewis-Moore thinks that’s funny too.

As Jackson and the Ravens prepare to take on the Chargers in the first round of the playoffs, Jackson has turned his critics into believers.

Sure, there are still questions about how long Jackson can continue to run as much as he has, but there are no longer any doubts that he can be an electric, playmaking starting quarterback who could take the Ravens far – like, really far – in the playoffs this season.

“He exceeded [expectations] and excelled, and he made us believers,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “When you’re on the sidelines seeing him make the plays he makes, extending plays, running the ball, making the whole offensive team better, you don’t see that a lot from a rookie quarterback. He took it in stride and he ran with it. He got us to where we are now.”

ESPN pointed out Jackson’s rare accomplishments in winning six of his first seven starts to lead Baltimore into the postseason:

·       First rookie first-round pick to reach the playoffs in six years (Redskins’ Robert Griffin III in 2012)

·       First AFC rookie quarterback to win a division title in the past seven years (Texans’ T.J. Yates in 2011)

·       First rookie quarterback to win the AFC North title in 14 years (Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger in 2004)

“Lamar Jackson is one of the best things to happen to the Baltimore Ravens in a long time,” wrote Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler. “So many pundits, commentators and fans lined up to tell the Ravens that they had to go back to Joe Flacco. How did that work out?”

When Jackson beat the Bengals, Raiders and Falcons in his first three starts, there were questions about whether he could keep it up against top teams, on the road, versus better defenses.

What we’ve now seen is that Jackson’s speed, combined with a strong arm that has connected on some clutch passes (touchdown to Mark Andrews in L.A., for example), has given every team he’s faced problems.

Yes, Jackson and the Ravens offense is unlike anything anyone has seen before. And, yes, Jackson has missed some open throws, and his completion percentage of 58.2 would rank 31st in the NFL. But, IT’S WORKING.

“Plenty of teams employ read-option-style plays, where athletic running quarterbacks can change the math for how to defend the rush,” wrote The Ringer’s Danny Kelly. “But Jackson is extraordinary as a runner, bringing what might be the quickest first two steps in NFL quarterback history. Jackson’s ability to explode out of the backfield, seemingly hitting his top speed before opposing defenders even see who has the ball, is an X factor that no other teams possess right now.”

People are so on board with Jackson that NFL Network’s Maurice Jones-Drew and Elliot Harrison both said they would take Jackson over Chargers veteran quarterback Philip Rivers in Sunday’s game.

Both Jones-Drew and Harrison said they believe Jackson could beat the Chargers, even if he’s forced to throw more.

“I believe it can work, and I believe it can work because we’ve watched it,” added ESPN’s Ryan Clark, a former Pittsburgh Steelers safety. “This brand of football fits this Baltimore Ravens team.”

ESPN host Trey Wingo came back with the big question. But is it sustainable?

“I think this situation is different for this year,” Clark responded. “Obviously, going forward, it’s going to need to change.”

Schisler sums it up well.

“The biggest issue people have is sustainability. It’s the argument for people who just can’t be happy, but it’s a legitimate concern,” he wrote. “Lamar Jackson takes more hits than any quarterback in the NFL and no team in the NFL has tried to win this way. There is no case study on the merits of Baltimore’s strategy. The reason it’s hard to get wrapped up in the sustainability argument is that the Ravens attack will grow as Jackson grows.

“He hasn’t even had a full season as a starting quarterback. John Harbaugh, Marty Mornhinweg and Greg Roman are doing what they have to do to win. They aren’t thinking about anything but the game right in front of them. This won’t be the offense that Jackson runs his entire career. This is the offense of the present moment.”

Jackson just needs to keep rolling right now. If he does, the rookie could accomplish some special things. Remember when Jackson said on draft night that he would deliver a Super Bowl to Baltimore?

Well, he has the sixth-best odds in Vegas of being the Super Bowl LIII MVP.

Issues That Must Be Cleaned Up for a Deep Playoff Run

Yesterday, my guy Clifton Brown outlined five reasons why the Ravens can make a deep playoff run. Well, here’s the flip side. Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz looked at three things the Ravens need to clean up if they’re going to pull off that run.

First is the red-zone offense, which has scored three touchdowns on 12 trips inside the 20-yard line in the past three games. Baltimore was 1-for-4 in the regular-season finale against the Browns. Settling for field goals early in the Week 16 game in L.A. kept the Chargers hanging around.

“The Ravens have been able to survive these struggles because of a stellar defense and kicking game, but settling for field goals could haunt the team if the offense fails to find ways into the end zone in the playoffs,” Kasinitz wrote.

His second gripe is the breakdowns in the secondary that popped up against the Browns. The Browns’ 376 passing yards on Sunday were a season-high allowed by Baltimore. After the game, former Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman said the Browns saw on tape that Baltimore was vulnerable down the seams.

“Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers ranked third in the NFL this year with 8.5 yards per pass attempt, so Los Angeles has the ability to make Baltimore pay if the secondary remains shaky,” Kasinitz wrote.

Lastly, and this may be the biggest knock on Jackson so far as a starter, is fumbling issues. Jackson finished with 12 fumbles, tied for the most in the NFL. His goal-line fumble against the Browns nearly cost the Ravens dearly.

“Giveaways could prove costly in the postseason if Jackson doesn’t improve his ball security,” Kasinitz wrote.

Very Unlikely That Antonio Brown Is Traded

Ravens fans are probably enjoying watching the Antonio Brown drama unfold in Pittsburgh, as written about in yesterday’s LFW. There was more piled on yesterday with a report that Brown wants a trade.

Well, don’t get your hopes up, Ravens fans.

“[During Wednesday's practice] he essentially said, ‘Yo, I’m done. Why don’t you guys just trade me,’” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said. “This was more venting as opposed to an actual trade request. There has been no actual trade request.”

Even if there was interest in a trade, Rapoport said it would be a “big-time longshot.”

January Joe Is on Standby

It’s pretty weird for the Ravens to be heading into the postseason and January Joe not be the guy under center, right? Flacco has a proven track record in the playoffs (10 wins since 2008 – the second-most in NFL history), but it’s clearly Jackson’s show now.

Still, fans should watch this clip from “Good Morning Football’s” Peter Schrager, in which he talks about how Flacco has been the ultimate good teammate. And don’t forget, January Joe is still on standby if something were to happen to Jackson.

Eric DeCosta Is in a Good Position

The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck examined the situation that incoming General Manager Eric DeCosta has, as Ozzie Newsome is in his final month as general manager.

While it is special for Newsome, and he was presented with a game ball after Sunday’s win over the Browns, Newsome also isn’t going anywhere. He’ll still be working for the Ravens next season. And in his final year as GM, he’s put his successor in a good position.

“The two biggest decisions that would have greeted [DeCosta] essentially have been made already,” Schmuck wrote.

“The Ravens announced the day before the pivotal victory over the Los Angeles Chargers that Harbaugh would be returning at least for the 2019 season and probably beyond. And Jackson had such an impact on the fortunes of this year’s team that there is little question that — barring injury — he will remain the starting quarterback.”

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