After five games, it’s hard to tell how good the Ravens might be.
Their defense is a mess largely because of poor tackling. It’s hit or miss with the offense, especially up front, because they have struggled in both pass protection and run blocking.
But here is the one constant about the 2021 Ravens: As long as quarterback Lamar Jackson is on the field, they have a chance to win.
Regardless of the situation or the score, the Ravens can win as long as Jackson remains standing.
“I’m doing math, along with my man [football research coach] Daniel Stern, trying to figure out when we score, what we’re going to do and trying to talk to the coaches about what we’re going to do to try to get back in [the game],” coach John Harbaugh said about the Ravens trailing the Indianapolis Colts 22-3 in the third quarter Monday night. “You’re not giving up. We have … first of all, we have Lamar Jackson. Next of all, we have a bunch of guys just like Lamar Jackson, with heart, spirit, soul, persistence and all the other things — faith. Faith and favor, man, they’re tied together.”
The Ravens beat the Colts in overtime, 31-25, and Jackson was superb. He completed 37 of 43 passes for a franchise record 442 yards and four touchdowns. Most of those stats came in the second half when the Ravens scored on four possessions after trailing 10-3 at halftime. The Ravens were behind because Jackson was 8-for-11 for 107 yards in the first half. His timing was off, and his receivers were bailing him out.
But that’s life with Jackson.
There are times when you say, “darn, that was a great play,” and other times when you say, “darn, why did he throw that ball?”
Few players can tap into a fan’s emotion like Jackson. There are times when he should pass instead of run, and times when he should run instead of pass. He can throw some of the worst wobbling long passes in the NFL, and tank some short ones in the dirt.
But there is no more electrifying player in the game. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen might be more complete quarterbacks, and no one can match Aaron Rodgers’ arm strength or Tom Brady’s command of an offense or his seven Super Bowl rings. But Jackson’s running ability gives him an extra dimension.
And now that he has receivers like Sammy Watkins, James Proche II and Devin Duvernay to complement Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, almost anything is possible.
Certainly, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here. When Buffalo beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 38-20, on Sunday night, the Bills looked like the most complete team in the AFC, right up there with the NFC’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the league’s hierarchy.
The Los Angeles Chargers have balance and a good young quarterback in Justin Herbert, and the Cleveland Browns, despite losing to the Chargers on Sunday, 47-42, have dominant players on both their offensive and defensive lines. The Ravens, though, are a strange bunch. The play of their linebackers and the performance in their secondary has been poor, and they gave up 513 yards of total offense to a Colts team with an offensive line depleted by injuries.
The Ravens’ offensive line is a rotation of players who aren’t athletic and don’t run extremely well, and their stable of running backs consist of a bunch of castoffs from other teams.
But the Ravens have No. 8. He is The Equalizer.
Most quarterbacks would have gotten sacked five or six times by Indianapolis’ speedy defense, but Jackson went down only twice. In the first half, he couldn’t find his rhythm, but once the Ravens started going no-huddle in the second half, Jackson was fun to watch. He was everywhere, and the Colts got gassed trying to catch him.
Meanwhile, he picked Indianapolis’ defense apart throwing short, intermediate and long passes. No receiver did more damage than Andrews, who had 11 catches for 147 yards — the most ever by a Ravens tight end — and two touchdowns. Brown was right behind him with nine catches for 125 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown reception.
Some will say that Jackson piled up a lot of yards against a Colts defense missing top cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and starting defensive end Kwity Paye. It’s also true that Indianapolis might have gone to a prevent defense too early in the second half, but Jackson led the Ravens on second-half touchdown drives of 75, 78, 75 and 68 yards.
Some of those passes he threw to Brown and Andrews were darts into tight windows. He couldn’t make those passes three years ago. In certain situations, he failed to make them last year.
That’s the intriguing part about Jackson. Going into this season, you expected the Ravens to have enough talent around him to be competitive. But as the injuries mounted — and there have been many — a drop-off was expected in the team’s play.
So, at this point, it’s hard to tell where this team will end up because they have a lot of holes. Some are glaring, especially on defense.
But as long as the Ravens have Jackson, they’ll always have a chance. It doesn’t matter which team they’re playing, or whether they’re at home or on the road. He is The Great Equalizer.
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And right now, he’s simply carrying this team.