Ravens 'Ride or Die' With Lamar Jackson
With the Ravens trailing the Los Angeles Chargers by 20 points midway through the fourth quarter, there was a smattering of boos inside M&T Bank Stadium.
Just a week earlier, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson dazzled the home crowd en route to a win over the Cleveland Browns and the AFC North title.
Now he was struggling mightily for the first time in his NFL career, and there were boos as he trotted onto the field. Cornerback Jimmy Smith wasn't having it. Smith got up from the bench, walked over to fans calling for Flacco and told them to cut it out.
"I love Flacco," Smith said after the 23-17 loss. "But No. 8 [Jackson] got us here.
"So, for the fact that you're a fair-weather fan that quickly, when things go rough, you turned your back on him. And that just got under my skin a little bit. So, I just went to them and told them like, 'Yo, you either ride or die or you get the hell out of here. Period.'"
"Ride or die" could become the mantra this offseason for Jackson, as the Ravens made it clear that they're handing the keys off to him for good.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said, "Lamar is our quarterback going forward," (which means Joe Flacco will be someone else's quarterback). "I'll be in Joe's corner, wherever he's at," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens have hitched their wagon to Jackson, who did quite well with it by winning six of his first seven games before reaching the playoffs.
Jackson is an electric talent unlike any the NFL has perhaps ever seen before. He's the fastest quarterback in the league and changes how defenses must prepare for the Ravens offense.
However, he isn't a polished product yet (no rookie, especially playing quarterback is). He needs to make improvements, with his throwing accuracy and ball security at the top of the list. Jackson acknowledged that after the game, saying, "There are a lot of things I need to work on."
One thing was abundantly clear, however. The Ravens are behind Jackson. They ride or they die with him.
Harbaugh and his staff also showed their trust in Jackson, as they stuck with him throughout the game instead of turning to Flacco off the bench. Other teammates also stepped up to the plate for Jackson after his rough day.
"He is the future," safety Eric Weddle said. "I love him to death, and I can't wait to see where his career ends up."
After the game, the media also stepped back and appreciated what Jackson has done over the course of the season, and even in Sunday's loss.
So How Did the Chargers Stop Baltimore's Offense?
There's no simple answer to the Ravens' offensive struggles, but there was one change the Chargers made that seemed to make the biggest difference.
In a nutshell, Los Angeles substituted their big guys for smaller, faster guys, then loaded the box with them.
It's called their "quarter" package with seven defensive backs – "a strategy specifically designed to stop Ravens QB Lamar Jackson better than they had two weeks ago," wrote MMQB's Jenny Vrentas.
"They really didn't have any linebackers out there," Jackson said. "They had mostly DBs in the box for more speed, I guess, but we still should have executed. That shouldn't stop us. We stopped ourselves."
What allowed the plan to work is that the Chargers, despite having smaller players on the field, were still able to control the line of scrimmage.
Traditional thought would be that the Ravens, with a run-heavy system, could run them over. And even after the game, Chargers cornerback Casey Heyward talked about his skepticism of the plan when Chargers Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley revealed it to the team.
But the Chargers' edge rushers of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram gave the Ravens fits, and L.A. won the war in the trenches.
The Chargers also felt like they knew what was coming …
"Afforded a second look at film of the Ravens in three weeks, Chargers defenders saw that Baltimore's offense, though complex, seemed to change little week to week. They solved parts of it and picked up clues, like left tackle Ronnie Stanley's feet. When Stanley set them about even, it was a run, and when he set his left foot further back, it was a pass "almost 100 percent" of the time," wrote The Athletic's Sam Fortier.
"And when the Ravens ran out of the pistol formation, a tight end in the backfield on the same side as the tight end at the line of scrimmage almost always meant one of two running plays: 'counter' or 'cut belly.' On Sunday, players said it was as if Baltimore changed nothing from the first game."
Add on top of that a Chargers defense that entered the game with a huge chip on its shoulder after the 22-10 loss it took a couple weeks ago in L.A.
"Los Angeles felt like Baltimore didn't respect them after the Ravens dominated that matchup," Vrentas wrote.
It was clear the Chargers came in with the game plan centered around Jackson, and after the win, they reveled in stopping him …
In Baltimore, what ensued was Monday morning quarterbacking about how the Ravens should have countered the Chargers' strategy.
Pundits Started Calling for Joe Flacco at Halftime
In the end, sticking with Jackson in the fourth quarter turned out to be the right move. Jackson led back-to-back touchdown drives, including one that was extended with a miraculous heave to running back Kenneth Dixon after he scrambled around to avoid pressure.
Harbaugh said there were discussions about whether to put Flacco in the game and sit the struggling Jackson, but that everyone was on the same page to stick with Jackson, including Flacco. Harbaugh didn't go into details on the decision.
Media members, however, were tweeting earlier in the game, even at halftime, that it may have been time to go to Flacco.
Philp Rivers to Injured Matthew Judon: 'That's What You Get'
It's probably fair to say that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and outside linebacker Matthew Judon don't exactly like each other.
A few days ago, The Baltimore Sun wrote about Rivers and Judon "verbally sparring" after the Ravens' win in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago.
Rivers and Judon met a few times again Sunday, and Rivers took exception to two hits by Judon just after he threw. On the second, Judon stayed down on the turf in pain, which is when microphones caught Rivers yelling, "That's what you get!"
Judon got up and moved at Rivers before being restrained and taken to the sideline.
"There's nothing malicious out there," Rivers said after the game. "I just thought he had two borderline late hits. That's just part of the game. I don't like to see anyone hurt."
A Lot of Questions About Refereeing, Especially on Melvin Gordon Fumble
First, let's be clear that the Ravens were not complaining about the referees' decision to say Chargers running back Melvin Gordon did not fumble short of the goal line.
Both Marlon Humphrey, who scooped up and returned the fumble, and safety Eric Weddle, who (after replay) was credited with tackling Gordon short of a touchdown, said the refs made the right call.
But it was really, really close.
There was no way the Ravens were going to get a 105-yard fumble return touchdown out of it, however, since the referees blew the play dead instead of letting it play out. The media, and former Ravens safety Ed Reed, did not approve.
- After the loss, the Ravens' 2019 draft position was locked in. They'll have pick No. 22. [SI.com]