Lamar Jackson makes season openers look easy.
One year after posting a perfect passer rating in a blowout win that kicked off a breakout season, the Ravens quarterback was back to his old dominant self. Playing in an M&T Bank Stadium devoid of fans, the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player finished 20-for-25 for 275 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 38-6 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.
With the victory, the Ravens have won five straight season openers and 13 straight regular-season games, the most since the Carolina Panthers won 18 in a row over the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
In his first Week 1 game last year, Jackson posted his first of two perfect passer ratings in a 59-10 win over the Miami Dolphins. On Sunday, the Ravens didn’t need a strong rushing attack to bounce back from last season’s crushing playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.
In their first game since the retirement of Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, the Ravens had 133 rushing yards, far off the pace they set in breaking the NFL’s single-season record last year. But it didn’t matter much. Jackson, now 20-3 as a starter, was electric through the air.
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Wide receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Willie Snead IV and tight end Mark Andrews combined to catch 13 of 15 targets from Jackson for 214 yards and three touchdowns. At one point, Jackson completed 10 passes in a row. The third-year star, who led the NFL in passing touchdowns last year (36), has now thrown three or more touchdowns in four straight regular-season games.
Jackson’s spectacular afternoon overshadowed the afternoon’s rare features — end zones filled with cut-outs of fans because of the coronavirus pandemic, coaches in masks, no roar of the crowd — and the Ravens' rock-solid defense.
While the Ravens allowed 138 rushing yards and over 5 yards per carry, they held quarterback Baker Mayfield and his dangerous receiving corps to just 189 yards and one touchdown. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had just three catches on 10 targets for 22 yards. First-round pick Patrick Queen, starting at inside linebacker in his NFL debut, had a sack and a forced fumble. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey had an interception.
The Ravens didn’t get out of Sunday’s game unscathed — left tackle Ronnie Stanley had an ankle injury that forced him to miss most of the second half — but they’ll enter Week 2 in good shape. With a road win over the Houston Texans, they’d return to Baltimore for a game-of-the-year showdown against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs with the hype even louder and the stakes even higher.
Daniel Oyefusi, reporter: Well excuse me for thinking the Ravens might be rusty in their season opener. It’s been seven months since we’ve seen the Ravens play a meaningful football game, but some things haven’t changed. Lamar Jackson is really good at football. The Browns aren’t. All jokes aside, the Ravens have to be pretty happy with how the first game of the season went without a preseason. Jackson picked up where he left off in his rapport with Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. The ground game averaged 4 yards per carry and got two touchdowns from rookie J.K. Dobbins. The defense settled down after giving us some big runs and held off the Browns with their top-flight secondary. Now, the season really starts next Sunday against Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
Jonas Shaffer, reporter: This was a game every Ravens fan would’ve loved to see in person: Lamar Jackson was dominant, the pass defense was stifling, and the rookies more than held their own. Houston won’t be a pushover in Week 2, but it’s hard not to look ahead to the game after that. If there’s a team in the AFC, or even the NFL, that can knock off Kansas City, it’s the Ravens. They’re well coached and deeply talented.
Childs Walker, reporter: After an uneven first half, Lamar Jackson put the game away with two masterpiece drives, one covering 99 yards and other taking just 35 seconds. When you can move the ball like that (and Jackson did it more with his arm than his legs on this day), missed opportunities hurt a lot less. All the preseason buzz around Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews looked justified. On defense, the Ravens' rebuilt front seven surrendered a pair of long runs in the first half and didn’t put consistent pressure on Baker Mayfield. But their secondary contained Cleveland’s gifted receivers without much issue. The team’s rookie class also turned in a banner day, with first-round pick Patrick Queen flashing his big-play ability, J.K. Dobbins scoring two touchdowns and all seven active draft picks making contributions. That seems almost unfair for a team that went 14-2 last season.