An image of Lamar Jackson, both feet in the air, arm cocked in a modified Heisman pose as he prepared to burn a blitzing Chiefs defense with a sidearmed jump pass, is iconic and beautiful and perfectly emblematic of how singularly talented Jackson is. Or, if that didn’t do it for you, how about the time a quarter later when he sideways flipped into the end zone?
It was also, amid an 36-35 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, the ideal summary of what the Baltimore Ravens are right now, as a team wholly dependent on one person’s magic (at least on offense), riding football’s razor edge each week hoping that his theatrics can keep pace with whatever the opponent is dealing back.
The brilliant part about Greg Roman and John Harbaugh’s vision for their post-Joe Flacco lives was that it gave them so much control for so long. The moment the Ravens began confronting defenses, first with their troika of tight ends, their gigantic fullback and their downhill running backs, was that it told the defenses what they were supposed to do in order to stop it. It dwindled their options down to one thing, one personnel grouping, one scheme with just a handful of calls, which Baltimore conveniently had the solution for.
The beauty of the whole operation was that, outside of the transcendent star at quarterback, the ancillary pieces seemed somewhat replaceable. You can find a third tight end. You can get another running back. You can plug in a new guard here and there. For the time being, you have your pick of the litter at fullback, given that most teams still, confoundingly, aren’t drafting them to help diversify their offense. But when it all melts down, seemingly over the course of a few cursed practices, where do you go from there?
The offensive line takes time to gel and compensate for its weaker parts. The receiving corps, most of which is healing in an ice bath somewhere, are not deep enough to drift toward another scheme. And so there are moments when Jackson negates it all anyway, running this scheme salad and winning on downs that he has no conceivable business winning, juxtaposed against a few series later when he gets pummeled in the backfield while frantically scanning the field for some sliver of open space.
Until they regain some semblance of control, this is what their lives will be like. For the viewing public, it’s wonderful. Baltimore, over the past two weeks, has played in two of the most entertaining regular season football games of the last five years. Jackson, like Patrick Mahomes, can almost always ensure that his team is never completely out of a football game. On Sunday night, the Chiefs’ win probability spiked at 91.6% with a little over six minutes to play in the fourth quarter, with the league’s most potent offense holding an 11-point lead.
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The victory should obviously show Jackson’s unshakable value as a franchise quarterback. While it may not always look like what the anonymous scouts and opportunistic, bias-bating members of the media searching for relevance might think it should look like, it’s producing victories. You can throw an interception that may be uncharacteristic of a more risk-averse quarterback if you have the knowledge that you can (and body of evidence to support) immediately eradicate whatever win probability dip it may have caused with some other herculean play. It’s winning games against some of the best teams in football. It’s ousting a conference foe that has been outpacing Baltimore for a few seasons now.
Baltimore will, by season’s end, look completely different than they do at this moment. They will inch closer to the battering ram unit they have historically been, only, perhaps, with a more complete group of receivers once first-round pick Rashod Bateman makes it back on the field. They cannot be less healthy than they are at this moment, and, as a result, are taxed trying to keep up with a stream of spot starters and rookies all taking on bigger roles than they were meant to.
Jackson, though, is constant. And what else could you possibly ask for in the absence of total control?
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