Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck talks about the Ravens' 26-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
ATLANTA — Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has won his first three starts and continues to generate tremendous excitement as the NFL season enters its final month, but the song remains the same.
Joe Flacco might or might not be cleared to play against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, and no one is willing to say whether it’s going to make any difference.
John Harbaugh remains coy. The coach is happy to use the uncertainty of the situation to his own advantage, as he tried to do last week after Flacco and his sore hip were cleared to practice.
Jackson continues to make a very strong case that he is the best option to lead the offense against a Chiefs team that scored nearly 100 points in its only two losses this season.
And he is.
We can argue all we want about who would be the better choice to lead the Ravens into the playoffs, but that’s a different conversation. This is the point in the season when it’s only about the next game, and it would be a great surprise if anyone at the Under Armour Perfomance Center will be arguing this week that a rusty Joe Flacco has the best chance of pulling an upset at Arrowhead Stadium.
Can't blame anyone for trying to divine some insight into the thought process of the coaching staff going forward, but Harbaugh deftly tiptoed around an inquiry as to whether Jackson has done enough to remain the starting quarterback going forward regardless of Flacco’s status.
“Great question,’’ Harbaugh said. “It’s a question that’s still yet to be answered. I think just on the face of it, has he done enough? Sure. Absolutely. He’s done enough. He’s played great. He’s 3-0. He’s played well. What way we’ll go, what direction we’ll go, we’ll see.
“Just for the record, Joe was not cleared to play in the game today. He was cleared to practice, but not to play in the game. That was right up until yesterday basically. He didn’t get cleared.”
Here’s why it shouldn’t matter. Not only has Jackson added a new dimension to the Ravens offense, the dynamic shift in emphasis to a truly run-first game plan and the success that it has garnered is the perfect antidote to the wildly successful scoring machine operated by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Ravens showed Sunday that their defense is capable of neutralizing a top-flight quarterback and a top-10 offensive unit, but the Chiefs have been playing at a whole different level. The best way — and maybe the only way — to keep Mahomes in check will be to keep him off the field the way the Ravens kept Ryan out of their hair Sunday.
They kept the ball nearly twice as long as the Falcons, dominating time of possession 39:39 to 20:21.
The way you do that is by running the football successfully, and Jackson’s breakaway speed and elusiveness — sometimes just the thought of it — has opened up the Ravens running game and allowed the offense to grind out several clock-killing drives.
That reduces the number of an opponent’s possessions and also keeps your defense fresh.
“That’s definitely important,’’ Harbaugh said. “It’s very valuable to have the ball. It’s true that the best defense is a good offense, whether you’re scoring a lot of points, or whether you’re eating up the clock, one or the other. The number of plays [your defensive guys are] playing, the fact that they’re fresh and rested and can get after people makes a big difference. That’s the kind of football we’re playing right now.”
Harbaugh insists that, no matter what, there will be no quarterback controversy. He thinks having three good quarterbacks on the roster is a pretty good problem to have, and he was bouyed by the way the offense performed when Robert Griffin III came into the game during Jackson’s concussion test.
“Our guys want to win,” he said. “They know all three guys can win. Whatever way we decide to go, it’s only going to be to make our team the strongest it can be. Maybe, we’ll play all three. Maybe, we’ll play one of them. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out. But like I said, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to that.”
If it seems fairly obvious how this all will play out over the next week, it isn’t because anyone in the Ravens locker room is necessarily ready to trade Joe Flacco in for a younger model.
"That ain't my job to say, man,” Terrell Suggs said. “I think he [Jackson] does a good job with the offense they give him to run, but I've been around here a long time. I'm a big fan of my teammates, particularly the Super Bowl MVPs.”