Cincinnati — If the measure of a play’s impossibility is how much it manages to overshadow, consider all the things Lamar Jackson was either not asked about or mentioned only in passing after the Ravens’ 49-13 win Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals.
At just 22 years old, he’d become the youngest quarterback in NFL history to post multiple perfect passer ratings in a single season and only the second ever. He’d led the Ravens offense to touchdowns on five of his six possessions, the lone blemish a drive that started with 26 seconds left in the first half. He’d completed 15 of 17 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns in just three quarters.
But Jackson, just 90 minutes earlier, had also authored a Most Valuable Player moment, a play so breathtaking that even Bengals defenders later stopped to watch on the Paul Brown Stadium scoreboard, so viral that “Lamar Jackson” started to trend worldwide on Twitter, so convincing that chants of “M-V-P” broke out 500 miles from Baltimore. How do you top all the accoutrements of a convincing fifth straight win — the Ravens’ tight end dominance, their two defensive touchdowns, Jackson’s near-flawless protection?
With a career-long 47-yard run that started one day earlier. On Saturday, the Ravens (7-2) gathered for their scheduled walk-through at the team facility in Owings Mills. The offense ran through the plays it might call in Cincinnati (0-9). One of them, safety Earl Thomas III recalled, was a zone read. Maybe not the same running play Jackson turned into a highlight replayed on the NFL’s Twitter account over 4.9 million times in five-plus hours, but similar.
Thomas said Jackson took the keeper up the middle, into Thomas’ turf. This being a walk-through, Thomas walked to his mark. Jackson being Jackson, he ran. “They tell me I be violating the walk-through rules because I’m always, like, jogging,” Jackson said. His speed would’ve been enough to glide past Thomas. He decided to spin anyway, maybe erroneously. “I would’ve gotten hit,” Jackson said. “I would’ve.”
One day and one brilliant first half later, the Ravens were getting the best of Jackson’s arm. Against one of the NFL’s worst run defenses, he started his afternoon with a 49-yard bomb to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown). He threw a pair of touchdowns to tight end Mark Andrews (six catches for 53 yards). Jackson’s only incompletion through the first two quarters was a ball he spiked during a soon-aborted attempt at a quick strike late in the first half.
He entered the third quarter with just six carries for 18 yards. With magic, that multiplied. On second-and-3 from the Bengals’ 47, with the Ravens leading 28-10, Jackson lined up in the pistol formation, two receivers to his left, another to his right, running back Mark Ingram II behind him and tight end Nick Boyle in motion.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s call: a zone read, just like in the walk-through. Jackson took the snap and read Carlos Dunlap, whom left tackle Ronnie Stanley had left on an island as he moved to the second level. When Jackson held the ball out for Ingram, the defensive end crashed down.
“They're put in a position where they have to choose Lamar or the running back, and sometimes they don't know what to do and they're stuck in the middle, and that's probably the worst thing you can do,” Stanley said. “We just try to make it as hard for them as possible. For the most part, defensive ends don't really have to do much but run as fast as they can up the field, so we want all the players on the defense to make sure they're on point."
Ingram found a hole on the right side of the line and burst through — without the ball. Jackson had kept it. Some of his most productive runs this season have come on “arc blocks,” in which a tight end or fullback — normally Boyle — loops around the line and looks for someone to block into the next week. This was one of those times. “We catch the defense in good spots,” said Boyle (four catches for 78 yards), whose cut block on linebacker Germaine Pratt put Jackson in a great spot.
There was a 5-yard window off left tackle for Jackson. He scooted through with ease. Dunlap reached out for Jackson as if he were grabbing for a flag hanging out of the back of his pants. Safety Jessie Bates soon approached Jackson and squared him up. Jackson sold him with a head fake left, planted his left foot and juked past him. He was moving faster now.
“We put one of our receiving practice squad players as a quarterback, to get the speed of it down,” Bates said. “Even then, there’s not a lot of Lamar Jacksons being born.”
He needed only a few more steps to string together another move, Jackson turning into the video game creation he’s so often compared to. As Jackson floated past Bates, linebacker Nick Vigil and safety Shawn Williams bore down on him from his right. They had the angle. Jackson still had the juice. He planted with his left foot, rerouted with his right and spun.
Vigil got only a hand on him before he was posterized. Williams didn’t see Jackson again until he was well in Jackson’s rear-view mirror. Practice had made perfect.
"It was multiple people that fell for the spin move,” running back Gus Edwards said. “I don't think nobody saw it coming. I was ready for him to go down, but I guess you got to expect those type of things out of Lamar. He surprises you every game.”
“I know he was gone after that,” Stanley said of the spin move.
With less than 30 yards to go, Jackson’s only real obstacle was a teammate. Ingram had made it out of the backfield, and now he wanted to join the fun. Ingram said later that he wanted to “escort him to the end zone.” Jackson was worried that his escort would knock him over; Ingram hadn’t been fast enough to get in front of his quarterback. “I’m like, ‘I just can’t let him trip me. I’m too close to the end zone,’ ” Jackson recalled.
They parted ways amicably. With wide receiver Willie Snead IV making one last block downfield, Jackson all but high-stepped into the end zone. At the 4-yard line, he raised his right arm in triumph. A few steps later, his other shot up, too, as if he couldn’t believe what he’d just done.
“I think that was the craziest thing I’ve witnessed on the field with somebody,” Ingram said.
The Ravens’ sideline turned into a mosh pit. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, who returned a fumble for a touchdown, said that “any reaction you can think of that would happen on the sideline, that’s definitely what happened.” Edwards said that “everybody got up out of their seat.”
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As Jackson circled back to celebrate with teammates, leaping into Stanley and vibing with Ingram, Cincinnati players looked up, stupefied. They needed to see it to believe it, too. “Some of the guys who missed [were] just looking up at the scoreboard watching the replay, kind of like, ‘Man, how did he do that?’ ” Boyle said.
He had covered 47 yards in about 10 inimitable seconds. The Ravens, the Bengals, the NFL — they all would remember it for much longer. How could they not?
“I don’t see anybody that could sit there and say they anticipated that run there,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I said to the offensive coaches on the phones, they’ll be watching that run for decades and decades. That’s one that everyone in the country is going to see by tomorrow afternoon. That was something.”
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