Four quarterbacks were taken ahead of Lamar Jackson in the 2018 NFL draft. At the time, it seemed to be the safer route. Sure, Jackson displayed incredible, one-of-a-kind athleticism at the quarterback position, stuffed the stat sheet to the brim and nabbed the Heisman in 2016. But there were questions about his throwing mechanics, his ability to run an NFL offense and various nitpicks that spiraled into a wormhole of stupidity inevitably leading to discussions of when Jackson would flame out and make the move to wide receiver.
Such a move does not appear to be forthcoming. As two legends of the Ravens’ not-so-distant past in Ed Reed and Ray Lewis watched from the sidelines, Jackson offered a thrilling glimpse into the franchise’s future as Baltimore handed the Patriots their first defeat of the season, 37-20. John Harbaugh’s toils finally bore fruit on the national stage, as he and Greg Roman’s redesigned offense kept the top-ranked New England defense off-kilter for most of the night. Jackson completed 17 of his 23 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown while scampering 16 times for 61 yards and two scores.
The tone was set early, with the third play of the game offering a window into the rest of the night for both sides. Lined up in the shotgun on third-and-5, Jackson appeared dead to rights as Dont'a Hightower burst through the line and corralled him around the waist. As Jackson teetered and began falling backwards, he steadied himself just long enough to flick a dime into the outstretched hands of a diving Hollywood Brown for a first down. That conversion launched a drive that ended in a touchdown, and the Ravens never trailed again.
Jackson flashed his elusiveness whenever the occasion called, slithering away from tackles and sidestepping bumbling defenders to extend plays that should have ended 10 seconds earlier with a sack or a heave out of bounds. The rest of Baltimore’s offense, pardon the cheap turn of phrase, did its job, with Mark Ingram charging through gaps in the Patriots’ front seven for 92 first-quarter rushing yards (and 115 on the night). The Ravens looked faster, juiced up by a raucous home crowd and consistently beat New England to the edge with top-end speed that would make Al Davis blush. Jackson spread the ball to seven different receivers, four of whom logged over 20 receiving yards on the night. The Ravens were disciplined and consistent as they scored in every quarter, only allowed one sack, took just four penalties, converted half their third downs and dominated time of possession by over 14 minutes.
The Ravens played like the Patriots were expected to, and the Patriots played like the teams they have been beating up on over the first eight weeks of the season. Don’t be mistaken, Jackson was the difference-maker and won this game for Baltimore, but he had an uncharacteristic amount of help from New England. Julian Edelman lost his first fumble since 2016 on the first drive after halftime as the Patriots were executing their usual demoralizing double-dip. The defense took several crucial penalties in the red zone and on third downs, and surrendered more than double their next-highest single-game point total allowed on the season. Frustration was visible on the sidelines, with defensive leaders like Hightower and Kyle Van Noy shown yelling at the bench, images we simply have not seen from the team this season.
The offense continued to backfire, as Brady posted an ugly 30-of-46 for 285 yards with a touchdown and a pick to pair with just 74 rushing yards from his backfield. New England played a truly horrific first quarter, possessing the ball for under two minutes and finding itself in a 17-0 hole it never clawed out of. It will be good fodder for what is sure to be a hellish week of practices cooked up by the Hooded One, but this team failed its first true test. The defense stumbled, the lifeless offense didn’t pick them up and the Patriots folded like a cheap beach chair under the combined weight of their own mistakes and the quality of the Ravens.
But Jackson deserves the spotlight tonight, and the win comes with an extra little morsel he is sure to enjoy. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen were the four quarterbacks chosen ahead of him in 2018, and those players have appeared in a combined seven games against New England. Mayfield, Darnold, Allen and Rosen have gone 0-7 in those contests.
Lamar Jackson is 1-0 against the Patriots. Class of 2018, take notes.