BALTIMORE — In a span of three days, Lamar Jackson went from a trip to the hospital to rescuing the Baltimore Ravens’ season in his first NFL start.
After missing Thursday’s practice with a stomach illness, Jackson returned to end a three-game losing streak and provide a jolt of electricity in a desperately needed 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
Showing Michael Vick-like explosiveness, Jackson ran for 117 yards and threw for 150 in replacing Joe Flacco, whose 41-game consecutive start streak ended due to a hip injury.
“I thought he played spectacular. I thought he played winning football,” coach John Harbaugh said. “The playmaking — that comes from God. He made use of that, too.”
Here is how Jackson made his mark with his legs:
- His 117 rushing yards are the second-most by a rookie quarterback since 1970 (only teammate Robert Griffin III had more) and set a Ravens single-game record.
- Jackson became the first NFL quarterback since 2016 to rush for 100 yards in a game and produced the most rushing yards by a quarterback in four years.
- His 27 carries are the most by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
- He reached 15-plus miles per hour on 14 carries, which are the most by any player in a game this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
It’s quite a performance for a rookie first-round pick who didn’t exactly have a smooth week. Right before Thursday’s practice, Jackson suffered stomach pains and was sent to the hospital for precautionary reasons.
“I don’t know what happened to my stomach,” Jackson said. “I told our trainer, ‘You have to tell coach I can’t come out.’ As soon as I got there, it was over. I told them, ‘I’m coming back Friday morning.'”
In delivering the Ravens’ first win in 35 days, Jackson showed speed to get to edges, elusiveness in the pocket and the ability to hit targets over the middle with quick-hitting passes against the NFL’s worst defense.
Jackson’s impressive starting debut was certainly timely. The Ravens (5-5) currently own the No. 6 and final playoff spot in the AFC because of tie-breaker advantages over Bengals, Titans, Colts and Dolphins based on best win percentage in conference games. A loss to Cincinnati would’ve plummeted the Ravens’ playoff chances to 7.7 percent, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
“It keeps us alive, honestly,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Just to see what the offense did and the way Lamar fought. The composure he showed.”
There were some growing pains along the way for Jackson, the youngest quarterback to ever start a game for Baltimore at 21 years old. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner fumbled a shotgun snap (which he recovered) and he hit an offensive lineman’s helmet with a sidearm pass.
His biggest mistake came on the first drive of the second half, when Jackson faked out Carlos Dunlap and then threw an interception. The Bengals converted that turnover into a touchdown and eventually took a 21-13 lead.
“I put our defense in a bad situation,” said Jackson, who was 13-of-19 passing with a 70.1 passer rating. “We have to go down there and punch it in.”
Jackson rebounded on his next two drives, guiding Baltimore to a touchdown and a field goal to take a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter. On those two series, Jackson completed 4 of 5 passes for 58 yards and ran for 23 yards on four carries.
It was a drastic change of style from Flacco, a pure dropback passer. But Flacco had sputtered during Baltimore’s three-game losing streak, throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions while averaging 225 yards passing.
“I think everybody was ready to see Lamar,” receiver Willie Snead said. “We’re just looking for an edge at some point.”
Walking on the field to a resounding cheer to start the game, Jackson began with a bang, leading a 75-yard touchdown drive on his first series. Not attempting a pass, he ran five times for 46 yards, tying the most carries by a quarterback on an opening drive since 2001 (Alex Smith had five in 2013).
By the middle of the third quarter, Jackson had set the Ravens’ franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback. By the end of the third quarter, Jackson had eclipsed 100 yards.
The question now is which quarterback leads the Ravens going forward. Flacco will not require surgery on his injured hip, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He could miss the Ravens’ game at home Nov. 25 against the Raiders as well, according to the source, but is not expected to miss time beyond that.
Asked if it will be difficult for Flacco to play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, Harbaugh said, “Yes, it will be tough for him this week coming up.”