BALTIMORE — This is what the Ravens mean when they talk about revolutionary offense, and Lamar Jackson’s place at the center of it.
Jackson became the first player in NFL history with at least 120 rushing yards and 270 passing yards in the same game as he ran for 120 and threw for 272 and a pair of touchdowns. Jackson also lofted perhaps the best pass of his career at a critical moment, all of that leading the Ravens to a 23-17 win against the Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium Sept. 15.
Operating at times on designed runs and at other times freelancing out of trouble, Jackson extended drives and left the Cardinals chasing him all afternoon. But it was his pass near the end of the game that essentially clinched the win and showed how much trust the Ravens have in their franchise quarterback.
Clinging to a six-point lead, the Ravens faced third-and-11 at the 44-yard line with 3:05 left after the Cardinals had used their final timeout. The Ravens could have run the ball to try to burn some clock, but a failed third-down conversion would have given the ball back to the Cardinals and their fearless rookie quarterback Kyler Murray (25-for-40, 349 yards).
Instead, Jackson saw receiver Marquise Brown on the outside in single coverage and unloaded a pass that hit the speedster perfectly in stride for a gain of 41 yards. One more first down, and the Ravens (2-0) had wrapped up their second straight win.
“You all watched Lamar make great throws all day from the pocket,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “So he has improved dramatically there. You’ve got to tip your hat to him. He is standing there and can throw it, and can beat you that way and with his legs.”
Here are five other impressions of the win, which moves the Ravens to 10-2 in home openers under head coach John Harbaugh:
1. This offense has a lot of ways to beat you — and it should be that way for awhile.
In the past few years, the Ravens’ offense didn’t have a lot of weapons that instilled fear in opposing defenses. That has changed completely with an influx of young, exciting talent.
Defensive coordinators have to fret about Jackson’s ability to turn the corner on the run, but they also have to respect his ability to take shots downfield. In just two games, Marquise Brown has shown game-changing speed. Mark Andrews is on a Pro Bowl trajectory at tight end, with back-to-back 100-yard games. With their skill sets, those three offer entirely different ways for the Ravens offense to succeed. Plus Mark Ingram adds a Pro Bowl running back into the mix.
That versatility was on display succinctly on the Ravens’ first touchdown. Brown went in motion, and two Cardinals defenders crashed toward him when Jackson faked a pass that way. That left Andrews all alone down the right sideline, and Jackson hit him for a 27-yard, walk-into-the-end-zone touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Jackson, Brown and Andrews, are, respectively, 22, 22 and 24 years old. This offense is young, dynamic and growing up fast. It will be fun to watch as it evolves.
2. There should be no more debate about Jackson’s passing ability.
Jackson wasn’t overly precise against the Cardinals, and he was upset about a couple of passes he left out there, including an overthrow of an open Mark Andrews down the middle. But the 41-yard third-down throw he made to Marquise Brown that essentially wrapped up the game might have been the best pass of his career.
“That was a great pass,” Brown said. “I seen it in the air and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is money.’ I couldn’t mess that one up.”
Through two games, Jackson has completed 41 of 57 passes for 596 yards,with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
After completing 58 percent of his passes last season, Jackson has completed 71 percent through his first two games this year, and several of them, such as the one to Brown, were not exactly high-percentage throws.
Jackson is ferociously competitive and driven to succeed, and to his credit, he put in the work this offseason. Sure, he will have his off days, but he has earned this success.
3. Mark Andrews is living up to the hype.
The second-year tight end was the Ravens’ best player in training camp and a trendy national pick for a breakout season. Two games in, he’s living up to the hype. Andrews finished with eight catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first Ravens tight end ever with back-to-back 100-yard games.
He is a matchup problem for defenses and has quickly become Jackson’s most trusted target, especially in third-down, chain-moving situations.
“The way he plays the game, and the way I run routes and the way I see the game is super similar,” Andrews said. “We just go out there and play ball and take what the defense gives us. Our chemistry has grown a ton just since last year.”
4. The defense came up big when tested most.
Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale and his crew will not be pleased about giving up 345 passing yards to rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. But when the Ravens needed stops, they delivered. Three times, the Cardinals got inside the Ravens 10-yard line and were held to field goals.
“They had us on the ropes a little bit there,” Harbaugh said. “We covered really well, and we presented fronts that they really couldn’t run it in with.”
Then in the fourth quarter, with the Ravens nursing a six-point lead, Murray and the Cardinals took over at their own 25-yard line. Martindale got aggressive, and Brandon Carr dropped Murray on a corner blitz on first down, setting the tone for a three-and-out series.
Minus two of their top corners in Jimmy Smith (knee) and Tavon Young (IR, neck), the Ravens’ defense was challenged by Murray and the Cardinals’ up-tempo, Air Raid offense, but they made the big plays when they had to.
5. It wasn’t all pretty, and that will keep the Ravens motivated this week.
Player after player spoke after the game about mistakes that were made and plays that were left on the field. The Ravens were called for illegal formations. They had 12 men on the field twice in a span of six plays. A blown coverage left certain Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald wide open for a gain of 54 yards. Jackson misfired on some passes.
But with all of that, they are 2-0 and playing with confidence heading into a showdown at Kansas City next week.
“The stadium will be rocking,” Harbaugh said. “It’ll be deafening. And we’re going to have to be a much better football team next week than we have been last week or this week.”
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