First, the good: Lamar Jackson spent the first two quarters of today’s game against the Cardinals looking poised to pick up where he left off in Miami. The first Ravens drive of the game was a seven-play, 96-yard drive that ended with an easy touchdown throw to tight end Mark Andrews.
That touchdown doesn’t happen if a strong connection between Jackson and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown hadn’t been established throughout the drive. With three catches for 33 yards, Brown served as a perfect decoy for the play that froze Arizona’s defense and left Andrews as open as he was.
Three drives later, Jackson was similarly solid in capping off a nine-play, 85-yard drive with another touchdown pass to another tight end, Hayden Hurst, to go up 17-6—the eventual halftime score.
Through four drives, Jackson was 12-of-16 for 171 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 64 yards on seven attempts. To make matters even better, he had matched his passing touchdown total from last season (7) in just six quarters of action.
Now, the bad: as impressive as his early showings were, they didn’t come without any blips in consistency. On his second drive of the game, Jackson overthrew his trusty tight end, Andrews, on a 4th-and-3 to turnover the ball on downs, a common problem that plagued him for a lot of last year. There was also the catastrophic way Baltimore’s final drive of the half ended. The Ravens seemed like they were going to be in position to at least get another field goal off of Justin Tucker’s leg before halftime, but thanks to a three-play sequence that included a holding penalty, a sack, and a fumbled snap that nearly became a turnover, the Ravens didn’t score. That rough sequence wasn’t all Jackson’s fault, but those three plays set the tone for the quarterback and Baltimore’s offense heading into the second half.
It didn’t get a whole lot better for the sophomore in the third quarter. Communication with the sideline wasn’t as clean as it needed to be, he began to take unnecessary sacks—by his own admission—and overthrew receivers in key moments. To a casual observer, it seemed like Jackson had reverted to his old struggling self that appeared more frequently last year. But fortunately for the Ravens, the Cardinals’ defense also started to believe this, and treated Jackson less and less like the dual-threat QB he is the closer the clock got to crunch time. Where this bit Arizona in the ass hardest happened on a 3rd-and-11, after Baltimore’s defense provided Jackson another shot at redeeming himself. Arizona looked poised to get the stop and give their hot-handed quarterback, Kyler Murray, a chance at a game-winning drive. Instead, this happened:
When the game eventually ended in a 23-17 Ravens victory, Jackson’s up-and-down game resolved into a strikingly impressive picture. He finished with 272 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and 120 yards rushing on 16 carries. More than any single outstanding highlight—and Jackson had a few in this game—it’s those final numbers that signal what kind of greatness is within his reach. Jackson is still a work in progress, but here he was making his way through a close game in which his tools weren’t always at their sharpest, and yet at the end he left the field not only with a win, but the understanding that he was the best player on the field.