Whatever it took to win Sunday, Lamar Jackson was willing to endure.
The physical, top-ranked defense of the San Francisco 49ers hit Jackson more than any team has this season, whether he was in the pocket or running downfield. For Jackson to play like an MVP, he was going to get H-I-T.
“They were going after him for sure,” Ravens Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda said. “That’s football. When he’s a runner, they’re not going to let up. That’s a good defense.”
But even when you hit Jackson, you can’t break his will. Carrying the ball 16 times for 101 yards and a touchdown, Jackson was the offensive catalyst in the Ravens’ 20-17 victory that wasn’t decided until Justin Tucker’s game-winning 49-yard field goal on the final play.
This wasn’t a one-sided victory like many the Ravens have enjoyed recently. This was a slugfest played in a downpour that bothered Jackson (14 for 23, 105 yards) and left him disappointed with his throwing accuracy.
“You (saw) the balls,” Jackson said, lowering his head in disgust. “You (saw) them. Horrible. Oh, man. I was throwing passes behind my receivers. It was ticking me off. A lot of passes were getting away from me. If we’d have had a lot more success, converting completions … it messed with me a lot.”
However, Jackson completed three passes during Baltimore’s 12-play, 34-yard drive that set up Tucker’s game-winning kick. And on a day that wasn’t conducive for throwing or finesse football, Jackson still made game-winning plays against a talented defense that was geared to stop him.
There was intense hitting and emotions were high in a game between NFL heavyweights that lived up to expectations. There was a point in Sunday’s second half when Head Coach John Harbaugh and 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman had a heated conversation near Baltimore’s sideline about a tackle along the sideline on Jackson that Harbaugh thought crossed the line.
“He was saying I made a dirty play on Lamar,” Sherman said. “The quarterback was running like a running back. If you don’t touch him, then he runs up the sideline, and if you do touch him it’s like everyone is throwing up the hubbub. That’s the thing the league needs to clarify as a defensive player. You don’t want to hit the quarterback, you want to stay off him, but when he is about to run, there is a fine line.”
The 49ers were penalized twice for roughing Jackson, and they were almost penalized for hitting him out of bounds before the officiating crew changed its mind and picked up the flag. San Francisco made sure Jackson was going to take punishment in this game, but the Ravens didn’t complain about it afterward.
“It’s just old-school football,” Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “Back in the day, the quarterback runs, you try to take him out of the game so they don’t have an offense. Obviously, that was their game-plan today. But Lamar’s a tough guy, he’s a big quarterback and he can run the ball like a running back. It wasn’t too bad of shots; it doesn’t look like Lamar was even fazed by it.”
Hits don’t faze Jackson, but mistakes tick him off. That was the case early in the third quarter, when a Jackson fumble ended a potential Baltimore scoring drive. San Francisco safety Marcell Harris made a superb play against Jackson, stripping the ball out of his hands at the tail end of a 14-yard gain, causing Jackson’s first lost fumble of the season.
“I saw Lamar coming. So I tried to stay outside,” Harris said. “When he went back inside, I was able to get my hand on the ball and rip that thing out.”
The Ravens led, 17-14, at the time and hoped to start the second half by extending their lead to double digits. But Jackson’s turnover kept the game close and he was still stewing after the game.
“I was mad since the fumble,” Jackson said. “I was mad the whole time. I put our defense back out there and that was a great offense who they were going against. I didn’t want to give Jimmy (Garoppolo) back the ball. I was hot. We didn’t score.”
But when it counted most on Baltimore’s final drive, Jackson delivered. During that game-winning drive, Jackson converted a huge 4th-and-1 on a quarterback sneak, gaining three yards from Baltimore’s 44-yard line.
Asked if there was any doubt the Ravens would go for it in that situation, Jackson said, “No, we’re determined, regardless. We’re trying to win. We played a great team. It was all go. We had to do it.”
Jackson showed once again that he’s down for whatever it takes to win.