BALTIMORE — In the joyous postgame walk off the field, John Harbaugh found Lamar Jackson and hugged him so tight it appears he was trying to squeeze three years of frustration out of him. A moment later, center Bradley Bozeman lifted Harbaugh about four feet off the ground and let out a roar.
All the doubt after a stunning season-opening loss at Las Vegas, all the frustration of three straight losses to the Kansas City Chiefs throughout the past three years, vanished as the Ravens (1-1) rallied for an epic 36-35 win against the Chiefs (1-1) at M&T Bank Stadium Sept. 19 that has to rank among the best of Harbaugh’s career.
It also ranks as the signature win of Jackson’s four-year career. On a national prime-time stage, he finally bested the team he had referred to as the Ravens’ “kryptonite,” and he did it by putting his team on his back in the second half and outplaying Patrick Mahomes down the stretch.
“For the fans,” Jackson said, “it was a great show.”
After throwing two first-quarter interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, Jackson regained his focus and took over the game in the fourth quarter. Jackson, who finished with 107 yards rushing, scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally the Ravens from a 35-24 deficit, and then he kept the ball on a gutsy fourth-and-1 play with 1:05 left that gained 2 yards and essentially sealed the win.
After Jackson’s second touchdown run gave the Ravens the lead, a defense that had struggled all night to contain Mahomes and the Chiefs needed to get a stop. It came when rookie linebacker Odafe Oweh forced and recovered a fumble by Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the Chiefs in field-goal range with 1:20 to play.
Here are five quick observations about the win, which improves the Ravens to 14-1 in their past 15 home prime-time games:
1. The game is sheer joy to Lamar Jackson.
Jackson gets furious with himself for mistakes, whether that’s a fumble, an interception, an overthrow when the play was there to be made. But watching him on the field, his sheer, unbridled joy is as apparent as his dazzling ability.
With the Ravens trailing 35-30, they faced third-and-goal from the Chiefs’ 1-yard line. Jackson faked a handoff to Ty’Son Williams, and as the defense collapsed on Williams, Jackson kept around right end and was all by himself. He did a flying somersault into the end zone for the lead, which would prove to be the game’s final points.
Then after completing a third-down pass to Sammy Watkins left them 1 yard shy of the first down, Jackson had no doubt that he wanted to go for the first down.
It hearkened back to Jackson’s line at Seattle a couple of years ago: “Hell yeah, Coach, let’s go for it!”
All of this came after his dazzling, improvised, jump-pass 42-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown in the third quarter. As a passer, Jackson finished 18 of 26 for 239 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Jackson is as competitive as anyone, and he surely heard plenty about how he was 0-3 against the Chiefs (he is 30-5 as a regular-season starter against everyone else). But on the practice field, around his teammates, around the equipment staff, and on the game field — even after throwing an interception — he always exudes this sense that there is nowhere on earth he’d rather be.
2. Odafe Oweh changed the game, without any sacks, just like the Ravens knew he could.
From the time the Ravens drafted linebacker Odafe Oweh, they heard concerns about the fact that Oweh had no sacks in his last year at Penn State. So what, the Ravens said. The guy has ridiculous speed, and he can affect the game in so many ways that go beyond sacks.
This game was exhibit A.
Oweh, in just his second career game, had two of the biggest defensive plays for the Ravens on a night that, truth be told, they didn’t make a lot of them. The Chiefs drove at will at times, as they are wont to do, and the Ravens didn’t help themselves with some terrible tackling, including four missed tackles on Travis Kelce’s 46-yard touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 35-24 lead.
But on the Chiefs’ next possession, Oweh chased down Mahomes, who made an uncharacteristic mistake. As Oweh started to drag Mahomes down, he tried to force a throw to Kelce that was picked off by Tavon Young, leading to the first of Jackson’s two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Then with the Chiefs driving in the last two minutes and already in field-goal range, Oweh got a hand on the ball and ripped it from Edwards-Helaire’s arm, then pounced on it to give the Ravens the ball.
“That’s the kind of play we envisioned when we drafted him,” Harbaugh said.
Oweh even lined up opposite Kelce in coverage a couple of times, using his 6-foot-5, 251-pound frame to try to jostle and disrupt the Pro Bowl tight end at the line of scrimmage.
Oweh, incidentally, was drafted by the Ravens with the No. 31 overall pick, which the Ravens got as part of the package when they traded Orlando Brown to the Chiefs this offseason.
To be sure, with Oweh’s speed, the sacks will come. But as the Ravens have said from the outset, he brings so much more.
3. The revamped offensive line held up well.
The offensive line was overmatched in a season-opening loss to the Las Vegas Raiders last week, especially at tackle, and then All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley was lost for this game after suffering a setback with his surgically repaired ankle last week.
The Ravens would need to move Alejandro Villanueva, who struggled badly in the opener, back to left tackle, a position he had at least played for six years in Pittsburgh, and insert utility lineman Patrick Mekari at right tackle. A patchwork, fix-it-on-the-fly arrangement was not ideal against a Chiefs front featuring Pro Bowl picks Chris Jones and Frank Clark.
The Ravens more than held their own. Running behind that group, the Ravens piled up 251 rushing yards on 41 carries, an average of 6.1 yards a rush.
Jackson was sacked once, but the pocket held up much better tonight than it did last week, and Jackson gave the offensive line all the credit for the surge on the final fourth-and-1 call that essentially ended the game.
Harbaugh said aftertward that Stanley, who was listed as questionable, was not close to playing, and his status going forward should be more clear in a week or so. That suggests the Ravens’ offensive line will look like this for the foreseeable future, and after the way they played in this game, that doesn’t seem as daunting as it did six days ago.
“They stepped up big-time,” Harbaugh said.
4. John Harbaugh’s trust in Jackson is genuine and rewarded.
John Harbaugh loves going for it on fourth down. He says the analytics support the decision, and apparently that even includes when he is leading by one against Patrick Mahomes with a minute left and the ball on his own side of midfield.
And especially when he has Lamar Jackson as his quarterback.
NBC cameras captured video of Harbaugh yelling out to Jackson on the field before the play, “Hey, Lamar! Lamar! You wanna go for this? OK, let’s go.”
“I knew he was going to say yes,” Harbaugh related after the game, “but we were going for it at that point.”
Credit to both Harbaugh and Jackson for building this relationship and this trust. Say this for Harbaugh: He doesn’t coach scared. He doesn’t blink on fourth down, and when Jackson says he wants to go for it because he thinks he can get a yard, Harbaugh listens to him.
How many NFL coaches are going on fourth-and-1 in that situation, with Patrick Mahomes on the other sideline and a minute to go? Harbaugh hears Jackson say he can get a yard, and Harbaugh believes him.
“I have complete confidence in Lamar Jackson to make every play,” Harbaugh said. “I wish I had put him in a better position last week to make a play. I’ll just never, ever not have faith in him to make a play in any situation.”
Harbaugh has unapologetically built this unconventional, run-first offense around this singularly dynamic talent, and on a night like this, it’s easy to see why, and how, he puts his trust in him.
By the way, he’s not the only one.
About that fourth-down run, Marquise Brown said, “Once I saw the play call, that we were putting the ball in Lamar’s hands, I had 100 percent confidence that we were going to convert.”
5. Dismiss Harbaugh and the Ravens at your peril.
For many, the purple sky was falling this week. The national pundits gave the Ravens virtually no chance. After all, they hadn’t beaten the Chiefs in any of the past three meetings when healthy, and now the Ravens were dealing with a remarkable run of injuries.
They were down their top three running backs, their Pro Bowl cornerback and their All-Pro left tackle. They also still didn’t have top blocking tight end Nick Boyle, or versatile, veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith, or first-round draft pick receiver Rashod Bateman. Then during the game, they lost safety DeShon Elliott to a concussion.
They were also coming off an emotional, overtime loss and returning home on a short week to face the two-time defending AFC champion, and they had a roster that included several players that practically just finished getting a name stitched on a jersey.
Dismiss the Ravens at your peril. Harbaugh has a way of thriving on doubt, and getting his team motivated to play their best when skeptics are at the door.
The Ravens weren’t perfect in this game, and Marlon Humphrey and others acknowledged as much. They missed way too many tackles, they threw interceptions, they easily did enough to lose this game. Except they never doubted, and they never quit. Harbaugh’s teams don’t.
“It’s not perfect. It’s not pretty, sometimes, usually, but it is us,” Harbaugh said. “That’s how our guys play.”
They served notice that the purple sky is not falling, and as long as they have No. 8 running the show on offense, they have a chance to beat anybody, any time.
“It’s just us. Our guys fight,” Harbaugh said. “We fought last week, and they always will.”
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