“I feel great. I feel good. I’m 100 [percent],” said Jackson after practice when asked about playing on Thursday night.
The quadriceps injury that forced Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to make a rare appearance on the injury report this week probably won’t keep him from playing against the New York Jets on Thursday night, but is it fair to ask if it should?
Jackson doesn’t think so. He insisted Tuesday that his leg is fine, and it’s certainly difficult to make a case for keeping him out of the game that’s likely to propel the Ravens to their second straight AFC North title.
The Ravens listed him as “limited" in the Monday and Tuesday injury reports, and backup Robert Griffin III took all the practice reps Monday. Jackson was on the field on Tuesday and appeared to be moving about easily, seeming to confirm that the injury he suffered Sunday in Buffalo is minor and that he will be available to go on short rest.
“I feel great. ... I feel good,” he said after practice. “I’m a hundred [percent]. I’ll be out there playing Thursday night.”
So, how could anyone argue that the likely NFL Most Valuable Player should take a seat to take full advantage of the recovery time that will come between Thursday night and the Ravens’ road matchup against the Cleveland Browns in Week 16?
Well, some might point to the way opposing teams have been taking some big shots at him lately, and Jackson said — with emphasis — Tuesday that pass rushers have been targeting his legs with increased frequency over the past few weeks.
"Yeah, yeah they have, a lot more, especially when I’m inside the pocket and stuff like that,'' he said. “When I’m out on the edge, I kind of avoid it all the time, but in the pocket trying to complete a throw, that’s when nine times out of 10 they go for my legs. I can’t do nothing about it. I’m trying to complete that pass. It is what it is.”
The issue really comes down to whether anyone thinks the Jets pose no serious threat to the No. 1 playoff seed that the Ravens must protect over the next three weeks. They need to win two of their final three games to clinch the top seed and lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Jets — at least on paper — are the least formidable of their remaining opponents, even if they have won four of their past five games.
The oddsmakers originally posted New York as a 14-point underdog, which is a huge number, and the spread has moved up to 14½ despite the uncertainty surrounding Jackson.
Still, the Jets have been on the upswing and the whole “any given Sunday” argument is even more relevant when the stakes get this high and the team on the wrong end of a big point spread has nothing to lose.
“They’re playing great,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “They won four of the last five, that’s the bottom line. When you look at it, that’s it. That’s what we talked to the guys about. That’s all you need to know. Watch the tape. They’re playing winning football. We understand that. We know this league. Our guys don’t take anybody for granted. You never can, you never should.”
Which means that Jackson almost certainly will start the game. How much he’ll play likely will be based on necessity unless the quadriceps soreness resurfaces. He claims he will not be limited and is ready to play the whole game if necessary.
"I’m trying to win the game,'' he said. “If I’ve got to be out there all four quarters, that’s what it’s going to be. I’m not going in there thinking that I should sit out, limited off an injury or (looking forward to) the playoffs or anything like that. I’m trying to win the game and that’s what we’re going into the Thursday night game looking at.”
There’s a pretty good argument for going full-bore until everything is decided. If the Ravens take care of business on Thursday night and take advantage of the mini-bye week to defeat the Browns in Week 16, they can rest anybody they want during their regular-season finale against the Steelers.