BALTIMORE — All the Baltimore Ravens needed to do to get a glimpse of reality without their starting quarterback Thursday was look across the sideline.
Or tap into their memory of the end of the last two seasons.
In a game in which the Cincinnati Bengals lost quarterback Joe Burrow for the season with a right wrist injury, it was Lamar Jackson who was the first quarterback to fear a injury during the Ravens’ 34-20 victory.
Three minutes into the first quarter and Baltimore leading 7-3, Jackson drove directly toward the Ravens sideline and managed to shake off the ball as he was tackled by Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. The 2019 league MVP immediately grabbed his leg, as the black-clad Ravens formed a cautious circle around him in front of their bench.
Jackson carefully walked over to the bench and plopped down. The training staff checked on him and he headed to the secondary 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. “We never question his tenacity. I didn’t think for a moment that he wouldn’t come back.
Maybe he’d take a game or two, 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. “Everyone feeds off him. We see him come back, and it makes you feel like, whatever’s going on, you feel like you’re in pain – he’s there. We all need to be there. Great moment of leadership on his part. I certainly wouldn’t expect anything else.
After the game, Jackson said he spent his time in the tent thinking about how he could get back on the field and appease the coaching staff.
“We have to stop talking about that,” he joked after the match. “I’m doing well.”
Jackson then knocked on the wooden lectern he was standing behind.
“Don’t make it exist,” 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 feel good,” he said.
Jackson seemed to move well with the ball despite delicately meandering toward the huddle or sideline on several occasions. He was spotted wearing a heating pad while standing on the sidelines.
“When that deal happened, to bounce back and play the way he did, still have some mobility and hang on and make those throws, it was impressive,” head coach John Harbaugh said.
But as he ran Thursday, Jackson seemed uninterested in absorbing contact and often sacrificed himself to the ground before a defender could arrive.
“I was just playing it safe,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to get hit – crazy hit.” I’m just trying to gain as many yards as possible and go for the next play.”
After two years of watching from the sidelines as his team’s season wore on, Jackson knows his team needs him down the stretch for Baltimore to make a deep postseason run.
During a Week 14 2021 game against the Cleveland Browns, Jackson was carted off the field with an ankle injury that cost him the remainder of the season. The Ravens lost their last five games, including this 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 clung to a wild-card spot, but lost to Cincinnati with backup Tyler Huntley starting — and made the decisive mistake in the form of a goal-line fumble in the fourth quarter.
Now it’s the Ravens — who still lost Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews to a likely season-ending ankle injury — who boast a healthier quarterback situation in the AFC North race. The Browns lost Deshaun Watson (right shoulder) for the season after leading a second-half comeback at Ravens Stadium. And the Bengals will have to deal with the consequences of Burrow’s latest illness.
“I’m not happy that these guys are hurt,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to see anyone in the league get hurt, especially if it’s a season-ending injury, because those guys have to feed their families just like I do.”
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