At some point in the third quarter of Ravens-Seahawks, something snapped inside of Lamar Jackson. The offense he was running hadn’t gotten a whole lot going, only settling for field goals, and his team was only tied with Seattle because of a Marcus Peters pick-six. Yet there Jackson was, having driven his team to the Seahawks’ 16-yard line with a series of runs that the defense appeared averse to stopping. Finally, it looked like his group of 11 men had put something solid together and had started to gather some momentum. But that all changed with that second-and-10 play on the 16-yard line when a delay of game penalty caused Jackson to lose his mind.
Granted, this wasn’t exactly a silent, stoic figure suddenly breaking that facade, but it was still rather surprising to see given that it wasn’t a side that Jackson had displayed in his short professional career—to that degree, at least. The frustration was clear, and was prolonged into the next play as a pass to the usually reliable Mark Andrews was dropped. It would have been easy for most 22-year-olds in his position to lose their composure and have it mess with his game—especially considering that the Ravens’ third-down play was a daring Jackson scramble that came up just two yards short of a first down—but the quarterback instead channelled that energy into putting the team on his back for the rest of the second half.
It started right from that fourth-down scenario. Coach John Harbaugh had already sent out his field goal unit, but decided to use one of his team’s timeouts to talk over the decision with coaches and Jackson. With the help of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Jackson was not only able to convince Harbaugh to send the offense back onto the field, but also convinced him that that he was the right man to carry the ball. With the key blocks set after the snap, the quarterback was able to swiftly make his way into the end zone.
This desire to take over the game on his own continued into the Ravens’ next drive. Whenever he had to use his legs to produce offense for his team, Jackson wouldn’t settle for the kind of runs that went out two inches ahead of the first down marker. If he was going to rush, he was going to get as much out of it as possible. On a third-and-8 from his own 12-yard line, for example, he was forced to scramble with nobody open. His 30-yard run not only significantly improved the Ravens’ field position, it made an elite defender like Bobby Wagner look like a washed-up version of himself. Only a shoestring tackle from a defensive back prevented him from getting more.
Just two plays later, he put Seattle’s entire defensive line on skates while trying to avoid getting sacked. Jackson not only escaped, but picked up 13 yards on his run and turned it into a first down.
What’s important to note about runs like these is that while they’re conscious decisions from Jackson to forego a pass so that he can make the play himself, these aren’t haphazard choices. The coverage on the first rush was too strong to force any throw into, and the likes of Jadeveon Clowney was bearing down on him in the second. He knows when he needs to call his own number and when his teammates are the better option—just ask receiver Miles Boykin, the recipient of a 50-yard bomb in the first quarter. He’s constantly focusing on what the benefit of the team first, and doing what needs to be done to make sure his team leaves the field with a win. It’s the kind of decision-making that made him look like a veteran leader throughout the final two quarters of this game (where 74 of his final 116 rushing yards were gathered), and earned him the respect of his teammates and opponents.
It was well understood on the first night of the 2018 NFL Draft that the Ravens were getting one of the most dynamic playmakers ever to come out of college in Jackson. What had yet to be seen was whether he could take not just his talents into a professional football environment, but also become the leader of the offense that quarterbacks need to be. As Sunday’s game showed, the answer is undoubtedly yes.