Those wanting to catch a glimpse of thrill-a-minute Baltimore Ravens rookie QB Lamar Jackson were asked to take a leap of faith into deep waters: the second half of the preseason opener.
Typically reserved for players whose near futures will be steered toward insurance sales, the third and fourth quarters of Thursday’s Hall of Fame game between the Ravens and Chicago Bears did feel a bit different with Jackson out there. You know, for those brave enough to stick with the action that long.
Starting QB Joe Flacco didn’t play for the Ravens. Neither did Mitch Trubisky for the Bears and new head coach Matt Nagy. Instead, starting in their place were Robert Griffin III, the former No. 2 overall pick clinging to his NFL dreams, and Chase Daniel, the former undrafted QB who has thrived as the Teflon backup going into his 10th season.
And neither of them opened many eyes, with each throwing a tipped-pass INT on their first possession, and Daniel tacking on a second one with a brutal throw later. High-level quarterbacking this was not.
Griffin was stung by a pick that wasn’t his fault. Shocking development here, but former first-round WR Breshad Perriman couldn’t haul in RG3’s first pass attempt, and it fell into the hands of Bears S DeAndre Houston-Carson.
Griffin looked much better on the Ravens’ second drive, hitting Maxx Williams — was it Turn Back the Clock Night in Canton? — for a short TD. But Griffin couldn’t take advantage of great field position on the Ravens’ third possession following a Bears interception, taking a sack that would end up leading to a Baltimore field goal.
On his fourth series, Griffin threw behind a wide-open Tim White on first down, couldn’t spin out of a tackle on second and took another sack on third. It wasn’t that great a night for Griffin (7-of-11 passing, 58 yards) but nothing shocking either.
And Jackson, the Ravens’ second first-round pick in 2018, had to wait after RG3’s five offensive series. Josh Woodrum entered the game, treating the rabid crowd to a 6-yard out pattern on 3rd-and-20. Thrilling stuff.
It became clear that the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, the most fascinating addition to the Ravens this offseason, would be getting the entire second half. Other than irritating anxious Ravens fans and deadline writers the world around, the move actually made some sense.
The Ravens clearly wanted Jackson to get some rhythm and some reps. He’ll probably lead the NFL in preseason pass attempts as the Ravens give Jackson plenty of work as they figure out exactly how to unleash him in the regular season. All this talk about Flacco and Jackson appearing on the field in the regular season has felt a bit foolish, but it certainly will be fun once he gets his hands on the ball in some form.
Then, as if we hadn’t suffered enough, NBC's Michele Tafoya asked Ray Lewis, oh, two questions, and Lewis summed up his career, life motivation, ways of the world and other musings for the following six minutes straight. Yes, this was the moment Jackson made his pro debut. If you're into symbolism, this was a crushing blow.
It just wasn’t the showcase we were expecting coming into Thursday — do we blame Lewis or John Harbaugh more for ruining our Lamar Watching Experience enjoyment?
Thankfully, a Bears receiver fumbled the ball shortly thereafter, and Jackson got his Take Two. On first down of his second series, Jackson faked LB Joe Woods straight out of his shoes — not even close to making contact — and ripped off a 10-yard run on first down. On second, Jackson ran a West Coast play-action staple but couldn’t hit his teammate drafted before him, tight end Hayden Hurst, on a deep corner. But Jackson kept the drive alive with a solid strike to an open Jordan Lasley, another rookie pass catcher.
After a sack, Jackson appeared to hit Hurst for a TD strike, but the pass was not caught after Bears rookie S Nick Orr was called for a personal foul for leading with the helmet — yes, the new call came into play more than once in the first game after that rule was changed.
And Jackson took advantage of the penalty, hitting Hurst on a shorter score to give the Ravens a 17-7 lead. Those two played catch in the hallway of the Ravens’ facility the day after GM Ozzie Newsome made them his final two first-round draft picks, and they appear to be building a nice little chemistry in their brief time together.
On Jackson’s second drive, he evaded a sack on first down but was picked on his next play. Jackson appeared to stare down another fellow rookie, WR Jaleel Scott, and throw the ball too softly and too far inside, which was picked by Bears journeyman safety Doran Grant, who went to high school about 20 minutes down the road from Canton.
When Cris Collinsworth revealed Harbaugh’s confession to the NBC crew — that the Ravens coach felt Jackson’s accuracy was his “fatal flaw” — it provided us yet another cringeworthy moment on this First Night (aka Amateur Night) of football. And when Jackson was sacked on his third drive by Bears rookie DT Abdullah Anderson (the guy who couldn’t take him down the prior possession), it was clear this was not going to be a spotless debut for the No. 32 overall pick.
But there were no big proclamations to be made following this game for the Ravens. Yes, Flacco is the starter. Jackson has work to do, but this was always going to be the plan. The plan will continue with the next four preseason games, plus the practices in between, which include a few joint practices prior to the Colts exhibition in a few weeks. Every rep is crucial.
So while the online QB gurus were wringing their hands over Jackson’s scattershot effort, the width of his base, his throwing mechanics and all that jazz, it’s just part of the process of refining things for a talented but flawed prospect. It’s fine. And you know the Ravens are bottling up most of the fun stuff with Jackson. That could come out in the Week 1 game against Buffalo — or sometime soon thereafter. But it’s in the hopper somewhere.
Jackson finished his first preseason game 4-of-10 passing for 33 yards and ran the ball eight times for 25 yards (which included three kneeldowns for minus-3 yards). He had a few nice throws and a few nice runs, nothing crazy, and even his worst plays weren’t atrocious. Jackson’s debut will probably be categorized the way we do most: into the “forgettable” file.
Anyone remember Flacco’s 0-for-3, two-sack, one-fumble disaster in his preseason debut at New England? Of course not. It essentially meant nothing. It meant exactly as much as Trubisky’s thrilling first preseason game, which stoked Chicago hype to breathless levels for a few days last August. Then reality set in. These things can go either way.
Would we have felt better about Jackson had he picked apart the carrion of the Bears’ roster? Maybe. But there are four more preseason games to go for Baltimore and plenty more meaningless tape to sift through.