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Finally on field, Marquise Brown shows potential in Ravens’ weather-shortened 26-15 preseason win vs. Eagles

Before he jogged onto the field for his first NFL snap, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown stood on the Lincoln Financial Field sideline Thursday night, near midfield, chatting with his friend and quarterback, Lamar Jackson. That the Broward County, Florida, natives were hanging out before the Ravens’ kickoff against the Philadelphia Eagles was not surprising.

What they were wearing, however, was.

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Jackson, whom coach John Harbaugh had indicated would play about a quarter in likely his final preseason appearance, was in sweats. Brown, the rookie wide receiver Jackson had only targeted in practice (and maybe a daydream or two), was in a purple Ravens jersey, white pants and white cleats. He had his helmet on. After eight months of rehabilitation, two skipped-over preseason games and even a missed joint practice Tuesday, the first-round pick was finally going to play.

Maybe just as importantly, he played exactly as long as the Ravens wanted him to in a weather-shortened 26-15 win, their third victory in as many preseason games. After four drives, the former Oklahoma star exited with three catches on three targets for 17 yards, one doomed end-around for minus-4 yards, a called-back catch on a 2-point conversion and no indication that his left foot was in any pain.

“Man, it felt amazing," he said. "It’s the best day so far. Just being out here — from pregame to being in the game and being with the team — it was just a lot of fun.”

After hurting his foot in the Big 12 championship game in December, Brown played on, giving it a go for the Sooners in their College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama. He didn’t have a catch, and underwent Lisfranc surgery the following month. The injury cast a shadow over everything: his predraft process, the wide receiver-needy Ravens’ investment in him, his absence from offseason workouts and the start of training camp.

The Ravens remained careful throughout. Even after Brown’s participation in practice ramped up, running routes against teammates who wouldn’t dare breathe on him and sprinting before last week’s preseason game, coach John Harbaugh preached caution. “It’s going to be a process with Marquise,” he said last week. On Tuesday, Brown had to skip the second joint practice against the Eagles. Harbaugh said he just hadn’t felt as good as he needed to.

But Brown was healthy enough to suit up Thursday. Just in case he hadn’t heard it already, Jackson told him: “Be safe.” Of course, Brown had to wait just a bit longer — for the defense to get off the field. And when the offense took over in Eagles territory after sacking quarterback Cody Kessler on fourth down ― Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz sat out the game, the latest starter the Ravens have avoided facing ― offensive coordinator Greg Roman did not hesitate.

Quarterback Trace McSorley’s first throw went to Brown: a short drop, a simple hitch route by Brown and a 7-yard completion. “It was very emotional during the pregame, just knowing that I’m finally being able to play,” he said. “But once I got out there, it was just back to football.”

Three plays later, Brown went in motion, McSorley took the snap, then handed it off to Brown as soon as he’d gotten it. But Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham saw the run coming the whole way, and not even the speedy Brown could shake Graham before being thrown for a loss.

That was the highlight and lowlight, respectively, of Brown’s opening night; he caught two more 5-yard throws. His efforts getting open in the end zone after McSorley’s 4-yard touchdown had extended the Ravens’ lead to 12-0 went unrewarded: He caught McSorley’s pass, but right tackle Orlando Brown Jr.'s holding call negated it.

“Seemed like he did OK, you know?” Harbaugh said of Brown. “I thought about trying to get him a deep ball in there, but just didn’t work out for us. It wasn’t long enough. But it was good to see him out there, and he didn’t really flinch.”

“It’s awesome to see him," tight end Mark Andrews said. "He’s playing well. It’s fun to see him play.”

Wide receiver Miles Boykin had the big play between the rookies, an impressive 44-yard catch-and-run, but Brown’s speed and acceleration were hard to ignore. Even when he wasn’t targeted, he didn’t have much trouble separating from defensive backs. And only when the Ravens approached the goal line did cornerbacks bother to give him less than 10 yards of cushion.

It was an altogether encouraging night for the Ravens’ newer faces. McSorley and the Ravens entered halftime with a 26-0 lead, and the Penn State product was the unquestioned star (19-for-28 for 203 yards and three touchdowns overall). Free-agent signing Michael Floyd, an on-the-bubble wide receiver, had three catches for 54 yards and a score in his first drive. Second-year receiver Jaleel Scott had a touchdown just before halftime, on a perfectly placed back-shoulder throw from McSorley.

“I thought he played really well,” Harbaugh said. “I thought he was very poised. He made a lot of plays on the move, extended some plays and made them. Made some good throws. I thought the 'O'-line did a good job of protecting him, too. Yeah, he played really well.”

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“He’s a baller," Brown said of McSorley. "That’s why he came in here and did well tonight, and that’s why they brought him here. They have a lot of trust in him. He played a great game, and he’s showing maturity.”

The Ravens had cruised in their first two preseason games with their starting quarterback. Even without him, they had little trouble winning their 16th straight overall. Two third-quarter touchdown drives spoiled the defense’s first-half shutout and drew the Eagles to within 11, but that was all Mother Nature would permit.

With 11:43 still remaining in the fourth quarter, lightning flashed over the field, clearing the field of players and the stadium of fans. After almost 25 minutes of waiting, the NFL ruled that the game would not go on. For the Ravens, it still amounted to a good night’s work.

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