I met Brandon Linton more than a decade ago because of various professional circumstances. I loved going to concerts at his venue (Rams Head Live). He also worked in the M&T Bank Stadium press box during Ravens games. Being the same age and having really similar interests, he ultimately became one of my closest friends. Throughout the last couple of years he’s become a co-host of our pro wrestling podcast, “Jobbing Out.”
But there’s something wrong with Brandon Linton. As good of a person as he is, he has terrible taste in football teams. A native of Altoona, Pa., Brandon is … ugh … a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. But I swear he has other redeeming qualities, though!
Last week, Brandon sent me what is honestly a relevant message. “Why does no one remember that Lamar Jackson had three interceptions and was sacked five times vs. Pittsburgh last year?” he asked. “His QBR was like 38.”
Brandon was actually being kind. On top of the three picks, Jackson also had a fumble. His QBR was 34.7. It was by far his worst game (and really his only bad game) in his unanimous MVP campaign. And it is forgotten because the Ravens somehow managed to win the game (credit Marlon Humphrey and the Steelers having to play the anything-but-dynamic duo of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback), and the next 10 games represented one of the greatest individual stretches of football we’ve ever seen.
Yet his point is relevant. For everything Jackson has done in his young career, his only career start against the Steelers was … frankly, a disaster. Remember, Jackson didn’t play in Week 17 last year because the Ravens had already locked up the top seed. Robert Griffin III instead was under center and I, of course, forgive you for having totally forgotten about that totally forgettable contest. His first start in 2018 came just a game after Joe Flacco got hurt in the team’s second battle with the Steelers.
Lamar Jackson is technically 1-0 against Pittsburgh in his career. But there aren’t really enough asterisks to adequately describe that 1-0.
Coming into the season, I argued that there were really only two things that actually mattered for the Ravens this season. The first was whether they beat the Chiefs. Obviously they came up well short but have already reconstructed their roster in hopes of getting another chance. The other is what they might do come the postseason. We’re forced to stay patient regarding that.
And now with “Steelers week” underway, I’m forced to admit that I was wrong and there’s actually a third. To be clear, it’s not specifically about beating the Steelers. Jackson already did that last year.
More specifically, Lamar Jackson needs to rise to the Steelers occasion. As he prepares to start his first ACTUAL Ravens-Steelers game, he needs to author his name in Ravens-Steelers lore.
Sure, the Ravens will count their two wins last year as they try to get back to .500 all-time against their rivals, but we all know the truth. Those weren’t really Ravens-Steelers games. Devlin Hodges could pop up on your company’s Zoom meeting today and not only would you not know who he was, you wouldn’t bother to ask because you’d just assume he was some new hire in accounting whose name you’d never need to know anyway.
There’s an argument that these won’t REALLY be Ravens-Steelers games, either, since the typical “feel-it-in-your-bones” electricity will be replaced by “4,000 fans doing the best they can,” but the game itself is still far closer than what Jackson was part of last year. The teams enter the game with one COMBINED loss on the season, two of the top defenses in the league and both having the appearance of a viable threat to dethrone Kansas City in the AFC. Ben Roethlisberger has quieted his many doubters and somehow the Steelers have developed even MORE pass-catching playmakers.
This is Ravens-Steelers. This is the massive prime-time battle … that part of the country will get to see at 1 p.m. on a Sunday for whatever stupid reason. But you get the point. There’s no reason to think Jackson wouldn’t be up for it or play exceptional football. Still, his only history against Pittsburgh is … not good. And he hasn’t played his best football in the weeks leading up to the bye. And while Yannick Ngakoue’s arrival should help the team significantly, he probably won’t be catching the ball.
Don’t get it twisted. This isn’t like the Kansas City thing. That’s a bigger problem. The Ravens are 0-3 against KC under Jackson. This isn’t like the playoffs thing. He’s played poorly in both of his playoff games — both at home. This is nothing more than an anomaly at this point. In his only try against the Steelers, he just so happened to play poorly.
If it happens again though, it’s a talking point you won’t stop hearing about until Thanksgiving at the earliest. So it would be particularly swell if it could just be eradicated right now.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox