Six times in a seven-question span at his postgame news conference, the No. 32 overall draft pick referenced warmth: He hadn’t warmed up before he missed his first four passes. He hadn’t stayed warm as he went 7-for-15 for 49 yards and a touchdown. To do better, he needed, among other things, better warmth.
After Saturday night’s 27-10 win over the Miami Dolphins, a second-half showcase of Jackson’s ability that might have dented Robert Griffin III’s own case for the 53-man roster, coach John Harbaugh called it the rookie’s breakout game. Jackson finished 7-for-10 for a team-high 98 passing yards and a touchdown, along with three carries for 39 yards and a touchdown, by far his best statline of an erratic August.
But it might have been the 20 throws no one was recording that made the Ravens’ 12th straight preseason win possible. With Griffin (9-for-15 for 66 yards) playing the whole first half Saturday, first-year quarterbacks coach James Urban urged Jackson to stay loose. He told Jackson to throw 10 passes right before halftime. Then Urban had him throw another 10 passes before his third-quarter debut.
“That was all Coach Urbs,” Jackson said. “He was on me.”
And did it matter? “Absolutely,” he said. After missing on his first pass, to tight end Mark Andrews, Jackson said he resolved that he would not start as poorly as he had against the Colts. Facing a possible three-and-out on his first possession, he scrambled 13 yards on third-and-13. Then he found wide receiver Breshad Perriman for a short gain. Then running back De'Lance Turner burst through the middle for a 65-yard, game-tying touchdown.
Two drives later, the Ravens were in the end zone once more and ahead for the first time, Jackson again having overcome a drive-starting incompletion to connect on his next three passes. In all, the Ravens scored touchdowns on three of his four drives, and they struck quickly. Jackson’s longest-developing scoring drive took 2:34, and the other two were around two minutes long.
That was by design. The Ravens hurried their huddles up with Jackson under center, if they huddled at all, testing and torturing the Dolphins’ backups with his speed and dual-threat ability.
“We've seen it in practice where he's done some really good things, but we hadn’t really seen it in a game yet,” Harbaugh said. “And today just fell into place for him a little bit. I thought [offensive coordinator] Marty [Mornhinweg] did a really nice job with the play calling, but he handled himself well. He got to the line of scrimmage, he made calls, he made checks, made adjustments.”
It might prove to be Jackson’s last preseason appearance this year. Harbaugh said that even with the number of Ravens starters who sat out Saturday’s game, including quarterback Joe Flacco, Thursday’s preseason finale against the Washington Redskins would be a showcase for the team’s bubble class.
Griffin, outplayed by Jackson on Saturday for the first game this preseason, figures to take on the bulk of the workload. Fourth-stringer Josh Woodrum, who made his first appearance Saturday since the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, might play more, too.
Jackson could stand to benefit from a few more repetitions. He said Saturday that there’s still room for improvement in his own game, that he’s “working my way up right now.”
Or, to put it another way, he might just be heating up.
“He seemed confident,” wide receiver-returner Tim White said. “Over time, you develop, you gain that confidence. He looked the part today.”