‘Not bad for a running back’: With career-best performance, Ravens’ Lamar Jackson shows passing progress

Miami Gardens, Fla. — Of all the record-breaking, hair-raising, paradigm-shifting stats that could explain the Ravens’ season-opening 59-10 win Sunday over the Miami Dolphins — and there were seemingly as many as there are blades of grass here at Hard Rock Stadium — consider instead quarterback Lamar Jackson’s postgame news conference.

In by far the best game of his young career, in just his eighth NFL start, he had finished with exactly zero standout runs. No mad dashes, no looping scrambles, no And1-level feints. The only running-adjacent highlight he’d provide would be a sound bite. And it was a rebuke of everything he came to represent last season, the idea that he was an uber-athletic quarterback who couldn’t execute the position’s most basic responsibility.


After maybe the Ravens' greatest passing performance ever, a reporter asked Jackson: Had he proved himself to the skeptics, to the haters? "Probably not," he said, and he cast his eyes downward, as if recalling every last barb he’d endured. "But not bad for a running back." He grinned thinly.

The Ravens would not have set franchise records for total offense (643 yards, the most in the NFL in seven years) or points (59, reached early in the fourth quarter) or margin of victory (49 points) if not for Jackson. By the end of his second training camp in Baltimore, it was clear that the former first-round pick was a changed player. He was accurate, mechanically sound, comfortable at the line of scrimmage.


But not even the most starry-eyed of optimists could not have expected Jackson’s Broward County homecoming to end in the third quarter, with the Ravens up six touchdowns and their record book in need of white-out. His stat line was no misprint. In finishing 17-for-20 for 324 yards and five touchdowns, both career highs, Jackson became the seventh quarterback in NFL history to record at least 300 passing yards, five touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a single game.

How many running backs have ever done that?

“He’s definitely better,” said coach John Harbaugh, who improved to 5-1 (including the playoffs) against the Dolphins in his career. “He’s worked really hard. I think he’s only going to continue to improve because he wants to work at it. He was a rookie last year. He hadn’t practiced much throughout the course of the year. He’s had a chance to be with the No. 1 offense on a daily basis and did a great job. But, again, this is just the start. It’s one game.”

If the Ravens need a cautionary tale, they need not look far. In Week 1 last season, the Ravens walloped the visiting Buffalo Bills, 47-3, taking apart a certain noncontender almost piece by piece. Then they won just three of their next eight games, the last a home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that set in motion Jackson’s ascendance.

The Dolphins, well, they might be even worse. Before a capacity crowd teeming with purple-clad fans, Miami played at times as if tanking were the franchise’s top priority. Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an interception on the offense’s first drive. The defense set a franchise record for most points allowed. At one point, the Dolphins’ punt return units gave up a combined 116 yards in field position on consecutive punts.

These Ravens are not the forgiving type, not on Sunday. Their newcomers were desperate to impress. On their first play, a 49-yard run by running back Mark Ingram, the free-agent signing bowled over the first cornerback he saw, Eric Rowe, and stiff-armed the second, Xavien Howard. On their first touchdown drive, they went 89 yards in eight plays, the last a 1-yard carry by Ingram, the old-school approach that defined last season’s Ravens.

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Then they went into hyperspeed. After an interception by fellow free-agent signing Earl Thomas, the offense’s next play from scrimmage was a 47-yard catch-and-run by rookie wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. No one could catch him then, or the next time, either. Four minutes later, Jackson threw an inch-perfect deep ball to Brown, by then two strides clear of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Two catches, two touchdowns.

“Y’all seen the speed. Y’all seen it, right?” Jackson said of Brown (four catches for 147 yards), another local product who became the first player in NFL history with multiple 40-yard touchdowns in his debut, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. ‘You know, I’ve been waiting since [organized team activities]. I didn’t have him during OTAs [because Brown was recovering from a Lisfranc injury]. … But today, um, I guess he liked the plays. We scored on ‘em.”


With their fast and ferocious defense helping out, the Ravens did a lot of that. Early in the second quarter, Jackson found wide receiver Willie Snead IV for a 33-yard score. “Dude, he is unbelievable,” Snead said. “He's electric. Don't put him in a bottle, man. He can be whoever he wants to be.”

Then Jackson welcomed rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin to the party with a 5-yard score. Then he threw his first incompletion — with three minutes remaining in the first half. Then there was another rushing touchdown by Ingram, then a 1-yard passing touchdown to Patrick Ricard. When the Ravens scored their final points, with 9:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, Jackson looked on and cheered. Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III had connected with tight end Mark Andrews for the team’s eighth touchdown.

“We said it before: This is going to be a different offense,” said Andrews, who finished with eight catches for 108 yards, both career highs. “I don’t think people really believed us when we said that. We’re kind of bringing a different flavor. We’re going to be able to run the ball when we need to and throw the ball when we need to. It’s going to be a pick-your-poison [scenario] for the defense. I’m excited for these next couple weeks.”

When the Ravens streamed off the field late Sunday afternoon, their work on a hot and humid day richly rewarded, they could count all the ways in which they felt like a new team. A defense that had struggled for takeaways in 2018 had not only held the Dolphins to 200 yards but also forced three turnovers. The Ravens had finished with just four penalties, none of them costly. And then there was Jackson and his offense.

By game’s end, the Ravens had racked up 46 carries and 26 passes, a balance that echoed Jackson’s rookie-year starts. But no one would have confused these pyrotechnics for last season’s slogs. Jackson looked more like a star quarterback than he ever had before. This seemed like the start of something new.