Lamar Jackson was in for three snaps on the Ravens’ first drive Sunday, which also happened to be their most successful. The rookie quarterback broke loose for a 17-yard option keeper in Carolina territory, and his run-pass-option read two plays later from the Panthers’ 14-yard line keyed Alex Collins’ hard-charging touchdown run.
But in a day of near-universal disappointments for the Ravens, it was his next play, perhaps more than any other, that defined his performance in the 36-21 loss.
On third-and-1 from the Ravens' 10, with Carolina still scoreless and hope for a crucial road win still very much alive, the Ravens ran another RPO with Jackson. For a second, it looked as if Jackson would surge for the sticks himself. But as Carolina’s edge collapsed in on him, including the nearby cornerback, he pulled up and delivered an off-balance pass to Willie Snead IV.
There wasn’t anyone within 5, maybe 10 yards of the Ravens wide receiver. The pass didn’t even make it to his feet.
“I got too excited,” Jackson said. “He was wide open, and I’m like, ‘We are going to have the game in the books early, and if I complete that pass, we are rolling.’ And I didn’t complete it.”
After an illegal-shift penalty negated a fake-punt fourth-down conversion, the Panthers got the ball back just past midfield. It took them four plays to score, and Carolina just kept at it, 24 straight points in all, a margin that deflated the Ravens’ sideline and diminished Jackson’s usage until late.
With the Panthers up 36-14 and less than six minutes remaining in the game, Joe Flacco got the hook. On came Jackson. He didn’t miss a throw in a seven-play, 64-yard touchdown drive, the last of them a 26-strike to tight end Hayden Hurst in the end zone.
It was Jackson’s first career touchdown pass, Hurst’s first career touchdown catch and a ray of light for the future on an otherwise bleak day.
“I am trying to progress each and every week and better myself,” Jackson said. “It start off rocky with that pass.”
“It kind of takes [the significance] away because it’s in a loss,” Hurst said of the touchdown, “but hopefully, I can help the team in the future.”