BALTIMORE – All the Baltimore Ravens needed to do for a glimpse into a reality without their starting quarterback Thursday was look across the sideline.
Or tap into their memory of how the last two seasons ended.
In a game in which the Cincinnati Bengals lost quarterback Joe Burrow to a right wrist injury, it was Lamar Jackson who was the first quarterback to have an injury scare in the Ravens’ 34-20 victory.
At the three-minute mark of the first quarter and Baltimore leading 7-3, Jackson rolled right toward the Ravens’ sideline and managed to get rid of the ball as he was tackled by Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. The 2019 league MVP immediately grabbed for his leg, as the black-clad Ravens formed a cautious circle around him in front of their bench.
Jackson gingerly walked toward the bench and plopped himself down. The training staff consulted with him, and he headed into the sideline medical tent for an evaluation of his ankle.
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“We all know who he is,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said after the game. “There’s never any questioning his toughness. I didn’t think for a moment he wasn’t coming back in.”
Maybe he’d take a play or two off, Beckham thought. At 8:56 p.m. ET, Jackson emerged from the tent. He didn’t miss a single play.
“He’s the leader of this team,” Beckham said. “Everybody feeds off him. We see him come back out, and it makes you like, whatever you have going on, you feel like you’re hurting – he’s out there. We all gotta be out there. Big leadership moment from him. Definitely wouldn’t expect anything else.”
After the game, Jackson said he spent his time in the tent thinking about how he could get back out on the field and appease the training staff.
“We need to stop talking about this,” he joked after the game. “I’m good.”
Jackson then knocked on the wooden lectern he stood behind.
“Don’t speak it into existence,” he said.
Jackson finished 16 of 26 for 264 yards and two touchdowns through the air and ran the ball nine times for 54 yards.
“I’m feeling good,” he said.
Jackson seemed to move fine with the ball despite gingerly meandering back to the huddle or sideline on a couple of occasions. He was spotted wearing a heat pad while standing on the sideline.
“When that deal happened, to bounce back and play the way he did, still have some mobility, hang in there and make those throws, was impressive,” head coach John Harbaugh said.
But while running Thursday, Jackson appeared to have little interest in absorbing contact and would often sacrifice himself to the ground before a defender could arrive.
“I was just playing it safe,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to get hit – a crazy hit. I’m just trying to get as much yards as I could and just get down for the next play.”
After two years of watching from the sidelines as his team’s season slipped away, Jackson knows his team needs him down the stretch for Baltimore to make a deep postseason run.
In a 2021 Week 14 game against the Cleveland Browns, Jackson was carted off the field with an ankle injury that cost him the remainder of that season. The Ravens lost their final five games, including that one, and missed the playoffs. Last year, a knee sprain – the severity of which was long unclear – suffered in a Week 13 game against the Denver Broncos ended his season. The Ravens hung onto a wild-card spot but lost in Cincinnati with backup Tyler Huntley starting – and making the game-defining mistake in the form of a fumble at the goal line in the fourth quarter.
Now it is the Ravens – who still lost Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews to a likely season-ending ankle injury – boasting the healthier quarterback situation in the AFC North race. The Browns lost Deshaun Watson (right shoulder) for the season days after leading a second-half comeback at the Ravens’ home stadium. And the Bengals will be dealing with the fallout of Burrow’s latest ailment.
“I’m not happy that those guys are getting injured,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to see nobody in the league getting injured, especially a season-ending injury, because those guys got to feed their family just like I do.”