CANTON, OHIO — There were no surprises from the quarterbacks competing to be Joe Flacco’s top backup in 2018.
It went almost as expected, except Robert Griffin III started the preseason opener against the Chicago Bears on Thursday night and rookie Lamar Jackson, the team’s first-round draft pick out of Louisville, played the second half.
Overall, the reviews were solid. The national media had turned this into a quarterback battle where Jackson was supposed to challenge Flacco for the starting job. That might be the plan for the future, but it will have to hold for another day.
Maybe even another year or two.
Flacco was one of many starters who didn’t play in the first game of the NFL season at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Instead of Flacco, Griffin trotted out with the first offense, which was a little surprising since Jackson had taken nearly all the repetitions with the second team throughout training camp.
Maybe Ravens head coach John Harbaugh didn’t want to subject the rookie quarterback to all the national attention this game brings, or he possibly just wanted him to experience the pace of an NFL game for a full half.
Griffin, though, was impressive. He might have been playing against Chicago’s second- and third-team players, but Griffin hadn’t played a game since he was a member of the Cleveland Browns in 2016.
There were no expectations he was going to light up the scoreboard like John Elway or Dan Marino. Some head coaches and general managers prefer their backup quarterbacks to have a similar style to the starter, but the Ravens’ preference is to have a mobile performer like a Griffin or Jackson.
Those guys are the perfect stopgap solutions. They haven’t gotten nearly half the repetitions of the starter, so it almost becomes a necessity to have a quarterback who can improvise and make plays out of the pocket.
That’s what I wanted to see in both quarterbacks Thursday night — more from Griffin than Jackson because he had more experience. Griffin completed seven of 11 passes for 58 before giving way to Josh Woodrum and then Jackson.
Griffin’s first pass of the night hit receiver Breshad Perriman directly in the hands on a slant in and was intercepted. His second pass was dropped by tight end Nick Boyle. Three plays later, Griffin was blown up on a sack but the play was nullified as the Bears jumped offsides.
And then Griffin played well. He showed good speed and decision making, popping outside the pocket when pressured. On one play when a long pass route didn’t work, Griffin stepped up and out of the pocket for a 23-yard pass to running back Gus Edwards.
He also rifled a pass through two defenders to Boyle and then threw a nice 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Maxx Williams with four minutes left in the first quarter.
“It was good,” Griffin said of his touchdown pass to Williams, which finished an eight-play scoring drive. “We had a turnover on the first drive, but to go back out and respond from that just shows the resilience of the group. Guys just went down there and started making plays on the second drive and we went down and scored a touchdown.
“I think that was really awesome, and good for me because I got hit a little bit, threw some passes and ran the offense. I stayed within the system and when I needed to scramble, I did. I think the coaches really liked that.”
If the initial plan was to keep only two quarterbacks and one of them wasn’t Griffin, then the Ravens might want to start reconsidering. At least they have four more preseason games before a final decision has to be made.
Jackson didn’t play as well. He looked like a rookie playing in his first game. Jackson flashed his speed and showed his elusiveness at times when the pocket broke down, but he is so inconsistent with his mechanics. He is too quick to leave the pocket and doesn’t follow through on his passes, which causes some to sail high. He had one pass intercepted and that pass seemed to float forever.
Once the game had ended Jackson completed four of 10 passes for 33 yards while rushing eight times for 25 yards. He didn’t dazzle fans like he did during his Heisman days in Louisville and he appears to have a long way to go.
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But he’s just a rookie making rookie mistakes. Griffin played like he had been in this league before and Jackson played like he hadn’t.