FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — John Harbaugh has lived a very specific football life enough times by now to know what is possible with The Lamar Jackson Experience. Before every game, there are critics. During the game, there are generational performances, things that only the Ravens’ star quarterback can do. After the game, there are questions about the dissonance between what is said and what is seen.
“Every time we have a press conference, I basically say the same thing because it’s true every week,” the Ravens’ coach said after Jackson’s historic afternoon had lifted their team to a 37-26 win Sunday over the New England Patriots. “Yeah, if there’s people out there that doubt that at this point in time, I don’t know what to say to them. I don’t think we can help them at this point.”
Harbaugh did not throw up his hands because, well, he’s the one with Jackson, who accounted for five touchdowns. The Patriots (1-2) on Sunday had more yards, better injury luck, home-field advantage at Gillette Stadium, a game plan crafted by Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick. Still they lost.
There was only so much they could do to stop what Jackson later called “Lamar football,” his unique brand of dual-threat excellence, the kind that rewrites history as it chugs along. In finishing 18-for-29 for 218 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, along with 11 carries for a game-high 107 yards and a score, Jackson became the first player in NFL history to record back-to-back games with at least three touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards, according to Elias Sports.
A week earlier, a fourth-quarter collapse in Baltimore had spoiled Jackson’s superlative afternoon in a last-minute loss to the Miami Dolphins. On Sunday, against a team they’d never defeated in a regular-season road game, the Ravens (2-1) got Jackson’s near-expected excellence on offense and some late-arriving help on defense. Only then, after eight total touchdowns and six total turnovers, was order imposed on a game that had teetered wildly for much of the afternoon.
“We were locked in on the Patriots,” Jackson said. “We didn’t dwell on that loss [to Miami]. Probably Monday, we dwelled on it. Tuesday, we dwelled on it. After that, it was on to the Patriots. I feel like we showed that today.”
In some ways, it was vintage Jackson. He followed his NFL record-breaking 11th career 100-yard game with his 12th. He had a 38-yard keeper in the third quarter on a touchdown drive that helped the Ravens start to separate, then put the game away for good with a 9-yard score with just over three minutes remaining.
There were also flashes of a Jackson rarely glimpsed before this season, a quarterback happily trusting of even covered receivers. At times, a defender with his head turned to the play was all the green light Jackson needed.
On his 16-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews in the second quarter, he asked his All-Pro tight end to win a jump ball over safety Devin McCourty. On his 4-yard touchdown pass to Devin Duvernay that extended the Ravens’ third-quarter lead to 28-20, Jackson trusted the emerging wide receiver to get both feet in in the corner of the end zone. On his 13-yard pass that Rashod Bateman turned into a 35-yard catch-and-run on the Ravens’ put-away drive, Jackson gave the wide receiver who’d just fumbled in the open field the chance to do something in space.
Andrews did, Duvernay did and Bateman did.
“He’s just elite, man,” Andrews (eight catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns) said of Jackson. “Just everything that he does for this program, the way he plays on and off the field, he’s in an elite division, for sure.”
Said cornerback Marlon Humphrey: “I’m going to enjoy watching him. Hopefully, we’re wearing the same jersey forever. What the guy does day in and day out, I think nobody can duplicate it in the league.”
The win was all the more remarkable because of whom the Ravens had lost along the way to the finish line. First it was Patrick Mekari (sprained ankle), the Ravens’ second starting left tackle to leave a game in the first three weeks. Then it was Justin Houston (strained groin), one of just two Ravens outside linebackers on the team’s 53-man roster. Finally it was defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who was carted off with an arm injury; his long-term prognosis is unknown.
With Mekari out, the Ravens turned to rookie Daniel Faalele, who played exclusively on the right side at Minnesota. After some early struggles in pass protection — Jackson was sacked four times, all in the first half — Faalele and the line stabilized, paving the way for a breakthrough running performance.
Over the first two weeks, the Ravens’ renowned ground game had amassed just 218 yards on 46 carries, much of them coming on Jackson’s 75-yard sprint against Miami. On Sunday, bolstered by the emergence of running back Justice Hill (six carries for 60 yards) and the season debut of running back J.K. Dobbins (seven carries for 23 yards), they had 26 carries for 188 yards (7.2 per carry).
“Everybody was locked in,” Jackson said. “They were determined as well. … Shoutout to my linemen.”
With the Ravens’ outside pass rush minimized and their defensive line pushed around by New England’s offensive line (145 yards rushing), the secondary saved its best for last. It wasn’t a high bar to clear, not after Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa passed for 469 yards and six touchdowns in the Ravens’ home opener, not after New England’s Mac Jones went 10-for-13 for 142 yards in the first half despite missing top wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.
After the Patriots opened the second half with a go-ahead touchdown run, the Ravens forced a turnover or punt on five of New England’s final six possessions. Inside linebacker Josh Bynes’ interception helped set up the Ravens for a 31-20 lead late in the third quarter. Humphrey’s red-zone interception and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton’s come-from-behind punch-out preserved the Ravens’ five-point margin in the fourth quarter. And cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception — his second turnover in his second game back, having already fallen on Hamilton’s forced fumble — sent Jackson out onto the field in victory formation.
“Every game stands on its own two feet,” said Harbaugh, who later unfurled a paper stashed away in his back pocket and read from it. “‘There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss contains its own seed, its lesson on how to improve your performance next time.’ That’s Malcolm X. That’s the lesson to me.”
The Ravens will have to be better in Week 4, when they welcome the 2-1 Buffalo Bills, a Super Bowl favorite, to Baltimore. Jones (321 passing yards) was the third quarterback in as many games to pass for at least 300 yards against the defense, and the Patriots were the third rushing offense to average at least 4.8 yards per carry, a near-unimaginable figure for a defense that had boasted of its line-of-scrimmage dominance.
Some injury luck would help. So would the arrival of free-agent edge rusher Jason Pierre Paul, whose one-year deal is expected to be finalized soon. Another week of self-study for an inconsistent defense couldn’t hurt.
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But as long as the Ravens have their quarterback, they will take their chances. There’s only one team in the NFL that can play “Lamar football.” There’s only one player who makes it possible.
“I’m amazed every time,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “It’s a front-row seat. You’re watching greatness. That guy is very special. He’s fun to watch. I’m glad I don’t have to play against him.”
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