Asa Jackson still has a long way to go to redeem himself after his second suspension in as many seasons, but the second-year cornerback took a few dozen steps in the right direction late in Thursday night’s preseason win.
With the Ravens trailing by three points in the fourth quarter, Jackson lined up in his territory to return a punt.
Atlanta punter Matt Bosher boomed a punt 51 yards to Jackson, who caught it as his 22-yard line. Bosher had outkicked his coverage and the vises the Ravens set up on both sidelines to neutralize the gunners got the job done. Jackson sprinted to his right, and when he got to the 35-yard line, he saw the first yellow flag fly by him.
“I thought it was déjà vu,” Jackson said after the game.
Nearly a year ago to the day, Jackson returned a punt 85 yards in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions and busted a move in the end zone, only to turn around after the celebration and see that yellow flags had littered the field after linebacker Nigel Carr committed a holding penalty.
Jackson flashed back to that night as he sped down the sideline. He got a nice block at the sideline from an unidentifiable player at midfield and then decelerated into the end zone.
“It looked like he outkicked the coverage a little bit,” Jackson said. “It was set up to the wide side and all the guys blocking, they did the work. I did the easy part. All I had to do was catch the ball and get around the corner. They were the ones who set the blocks up and made the wall for me. At that point, I almost walked into the end zone.”
Assuming this one was also coming back, Jackson didn’t dance this time. He trotted back to the sideline, and when the officials announced that the penalty was on the Falcons, Jackson strutted on the sideline and sported a grin as wide as the lane his blockers opened up for him.
“[Jerry Rosburg] has really worked those young guys fundamentally, in terms of blocking and tackling and stuff like that,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And then Asa just did a good job of hitting it. Asa can run. I don’t know if he gets enough credit for how fast he is. Obviously, he opened it up pretty good. Tommy Streeter had a nice block. It looks like both vises were excellent. … The rest of it, I’m not sure, it was kind of a blur.”
The 78-yard punt return for a touchdown capped off a furious comeback for the Ravens’ backups and put the team ahead, 27-23. That would turn out to be the final score. It was a bittersweet preseason win for the Ravens, whose first-teamers were badly outplayed in the first 20 minutes of the game. But the win was as sweet as can be for the embattled cornerback.
Two weeks ago, Jackson was suspended for the first eight games of the regular season after violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs a second time. And then at a training camp practice last week, Harbaugh chewed out Jackson for jumping into a scrum and loudly threatened to cut him in front of dozens of stunned Ravens fans.
Jackson still has a ways to go to get back into good graces after his suspension, but Thursday night brought a little redemption.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s all part of football. It’s all part of life. You’re going to go through ups and downs, but it’s how you handle things when things are bad that really define your character, not when they’re good. I’m just going to keep trying to go out there and do what I can to help the team win games and show that I can still be a valuable asset to the team.”