This time, Lamar Jackson said he was sure.
The last time the Ravens quarterback spoke publicly, he felt fine after finishing Friday practice in preparation for the Chicago Bears. The illness that had kept him off the field the previous two days seemed to be in retreat.
It returned with a vengeance later that night, leaving Jackson sweating and shuddering in his sleep. When game day dawned in Chicago, he was in no shape to play. He wrapped himself in a heavy coat and watched from the training room as his backup, Tyler Huntley, led the Ravens to a 16-13 comeback victory.
Jackson, who has not disclosed what his ailment was, was back to his routine Wednesday, flinging passes in practice and offering upbeat pronouncements to reporters.
“I’m positive. I’m certain. No relapses,” he said, laughing as he alluded to his roller coaster health week heading into the Bears game.
He said he has no doubt he will be ready to start against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium. “I don’t want to talk about the sickness,” he said. “I’m good now. … I think I’m fully back to normal. I want to get out there and just go.”
This season has taken unusual turns for Jackson, who started out playing brilliantly but has missed four practices with three different cases of illness. He seems flummoxed by his health difficulties and acknowledged that his battle with COVID-19 at the start of training camp might have left him more vulnerable, though he does not know if that’s true.
“That’s a good question; I don’t have an answer,” he said.
Jackson has tested positive for the virus twice, first during Week 12 of the 2020 season and again in July.
He reiterated that he rarely struggled with illness before this year, saying, “I’m not worried about it because I’ve been healthy all my life.”
Despite missing the Bears game, Jackson ranks 13th in the NFL in passing and ninth in rushing. He has led the Ravens to four fourth-quarter comebacks and first place in the AFC North.
His meeting with the Browns will be his first since the Ravens rallied for a 47-42 win in Cleveland last December. Jackson disappeared for a stretch of the second half as he tried to overcome debilitating cramps but emerged from the tunnel just in time to finish the Browns with a pair of scoring drives. Even by Jackson’s dazzling standards, he put on quite a show for the “Monday Night Football” audience.
“The cramps,” he said, when asked what he remembered from that evening. “My whole body cramped. [Then] scoring back and forth, both teams. It was just a competitive game, one to remember.”
He will renew his individual rivalry with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was selected 31 spots ahead of him in the 2018 draft. While Jackson has struggled with his immune system, Mayfield has played through a long list of injuries, including a torn labrum and fracture in his non-throwing shoulder. He lashed out at Browns fans this week after he completed just 15 of 29 passes and threw two interceptions in his team’s narrow victory Sunday over the winless Detroit Lions. He added that he was “frustrated” with his poor performance.
NBC analyst and former Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees said the injuries have changed Mayfield’s throwing mechanics.
“It absolutely affects it,” Brees said on a conference call Tuesday. “I saw him — the game that he came back after injury, I remember seeing just in pregame, they had the camera on him a lot, talking about him coming back and he had the shoulder harness on. And I’m just watching him throw and I’m, like, man, that’s a different throwing motion. Like, his mechanics are altered a little bit based on the fact that he doesn’t have his same range of motion with what he would typically be doing with his front side, with his left side.”
The former No. 1 overall pick ranks 27th in ESPN’s QBR, a measure of all-around quarterback performance, and some Browns fans have called for backup Case Keenum to step in.
“Baker Mayfield’s the starting quarterback; that’s who we’ll prepare for,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We have tremendous respect for him and what he’s capable of doing, what he’s done.”
Brees has not spent as much time studying Jackson’s performance this year but has admired the Ravens quarterback since he entered the league, in part because Brees’ eldest son, Baylen, is a fan of No. 8.
“I have admired his journey thus far, and watching that offense be built around him and his skill set,” Brees said. “He’s got such a unique skill set, and with everything that they went through too, early in the season with losing so many guys to injury, especially running backs, I think it goes to show that that offense revolves around him. And you can plug in a lot of other pieces. As long as you’ve got him, he can make it work.”
Jackson agonized, watching the Ravens take the field without him in Chicago, but he took comfort watching Huntley, his former high school rival in South Florida, seize the reins successfully.
“I had the big old jacket wrapped around me, watching the game,” Jackson said. “And then when he did that last drive, I felt like I wasn’t sick anymore.”
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Line: Ravens by 3 ½