For the second time in three weeks, the Baltimore Ravens had a chance for a statement win against a quality opponent Sunday. For the second time in three weeks, quarterback Lamar Jackson helped stake Baltimore to a big lead, with the Ravens jumping out to a 20-3 advantage over the Buffalo Bills.
And for the second time in three weeks, the Ravens couldn't seal the deal, with the Bills scoring the game's last 20 points to emerge with a three-point victory.
There were multiple reasons why the Ravens collapsed Sunday at home and two weeks ago in Miami.
Jackson isn't completely free of blame, but if Baltimore continues to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the team risks wasting another great season from their MVP quarterback. And given the gargantuan payday that Jackson will receive in the coming offseason, it could prove to be a wildly expensive mistake.
Over the first three games of the 2022 season, Jackson played as well as any quarterback in the league. He completed 63.6 percent of his passes, tossed 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions, averaged a career-high 8.5 yards per attempt and posted a passer rating of 119.0, which is almost six points higher than his MVP season of 2019.
Oh, and Jackson carried the ball 26 times for 243 yards and two scores, averaging a ridiculous 9.3 yards per attempt. Entering Week 4, Jackson was tied for fifth in the league—in rushing.
He had as many yards on the ground as Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers and more than Derrick Henry of the Titans, Joe Mixon of the Bengals and Aaron Jones of the Packers.
Those rushing numbers are admittedly ridiculous, but it's Jackson's improvements as a passer that have really stood out early this season. Per Clifton Brown of the Ravens website, offensive coordinator Greg Roman said that Jackson is simply maturing in that facet of the game.
"I also think the game's slowing down for him," Roman said. "I think he trusts his offensive line. He's a wise man, and wise men learn from experience. I think it's a natural evolution for him, his maturity at the position.
"There's room for more growth and experience, but he's showing a lot of adaptability which is exciting, because we can move forward and go in different directions, do different stuff, experiment with different things."
For his part, Jackson credited good old-fashioned hard work for his improvement.
"Just a lot of studying, a lot of work out here on the field—and it's translating over to games," Jackson said. "So, that's pretty much it. I feel comfortable, though."
The problem is that as many times as not, Jackson's hard work has been wasted.
To be fair, Jackson's numbers Sunday against the Bills were his worst of the season. Jackson managed just 144 passing yards on 20-of-29 passing with just one passing touchdown and a pair of interceptions. His passer rating on the day was just 63.0.
But those numbers carry a couple of caveats. The first is that the weather in Baltimore was absolutely atrocious, compliments of the remnants of Hurricane Ian. It's not like Josh Allen's numbers were really any better—his passer rating was 68.4.
The second caveat was that the first Jackson interception was on a tipped pass, and the second was on a terrible decision by John Harbaugh to go for it on fourth-and-goal late in a tie game. Jackson had to try to force the throw.
Um, coach. Justin Tucker is on your team. Just saying.
Even while Jackson was struggling somewhat throwing the ball, he was still electrifying. On several occasions, the Bills had him dead to rights, only to see Jackson somehow avoid a sack.
Most people couldn't do that on Madden, let alone on an NFL field.
But Baltimore's defense let Jackson down…again. The 326 yards of offense that the Ravens allowed isn't a bad number at first glance. But on a day when the Ravens possessed the ball for over 38 minutes, the defense just couldn't get stops when it needed to.
It's not the first time this season that has happened.
In Week 2, the Ravens returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and raced out to a 28-7 halftime lead over the Miami Dolphins. At the beginning of the third quarter, the Ravens led 35-14.
Jackson threw for 318 yards, ran for 119 more and accounted for four scores, but Baltimore still lost 42-38 because the defense was gashed to the tune of a jaw-dropping 547 yards and half a dozen touchdown passes.
After that implosion, defensive lineman Calais Campbell admitted to reporters that the Ravens had a lot to clean up.
"There's going to be a lot of stuff to clean up," Campbell said. "We made mistakes, and we have to own it. That's just part of the game. It's part of the early part of the season, but no excuses. We have to wear that one. It sucks, but they beat us.
"We're a veteran team; we're not going to let this beat us twice. We're going to regroup. We go in there, we study the tape, we figure out what happened, and then we move on."
Well, the Ravens absolutely did let it beat them twice. And after the latest defensive meltdown, cornerback Marcus Peters had one of his own on the sideline.
To be fair, it's not entirely the defense's fault that the Ravens haven't been able to put teams away. Simply put, Jackson is the Baltimore offense right now. Outside of him, the run game has sputtered.
Against the Bills, non-Jackson ball-carriers posted a so-so 89 yards on 22 carries. Entering Week 4, Jackson's 243 rushing yards were over three times as many as the next-closest rusher.
As great as Jackson is, he cannot single-handedly carry an entire team for 17 games and win consistently. It just can't be done. He needs help.
Hopefully, as JK Dobbins rounds into shape, the ground game will get on track. However, the defense is a much more pressing concern.
On paper, the Ravens would appear to have the personnel to be much better on that side of the ball, but games aren't played on paper. And for whatever reason, Baltimore's defense is just bad.
If the first month of the season is any indication, Jackson will continue to be a human highlight reel. He's arguably the most dangerous player in the league with the ball in his hands, and he's throwing the ball better than he ever has.
But Jackson can't do it all himself. And unless the Ravens quickly solve the issues plaguing the team, missing the playoffs for a second straight year and squandering the final season of Jackson's rookie deal is a real possibility.
Starting next year, Jackson's salary will skyrocket, and some difficult personnel decisions will follow.