The Baltimore Ravens continued their impressive preseason Monday, improving to 3-0 with a 20-19 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indianapolis fell to 1-1, though Andrew Luck played in front of the home fans for the first time since the 2016 season. He and backup Jacoby Brissett (14-of-23 for 172 yards) couldn't match the combined scoring effort of Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson, as each Ravens signal-caller threw for a touchdown.
The Colts still had a chance to win near the end, but third-string quarterback Phillip Walker was stopped on a draw play on a two-point conversion with two minutes, 24 seconds remaining.
Flacco Shows He's Best Option to Start 2018
Jackson has attracted much of the preseason attention in Baltimore because he was a first-round pick who won the 2016 Heisman Trophy behind dynamic playmaking with his legs and the ability to rifle throws past defenders with the flick of his wrist.
But he isn't the immediate answer under center for the Ravens.
Joe Flacco was sharp as the starter, finishing 7-of-9 for 72 yards and a touchdown. He fit throws through holes and connected with new weapons John Brown and Michael Crabtree.
The addition of those options in the passing attack is one reason Flacco is still the best option to start the season. His strong arm meshes well with the big-play potential of Brown and Crabtree, and he can lead the Ravens to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 campaign with enough deep balls throughout the season.
Jackson is the quarterback of the future and showed glimpses of his ceiling while fighting inconsistency, finishing 7-of-15 for 49 yards. His best play was a play-action touchdown pass to Chris Moore, and he added 26 yards on four carries, though he drew mixed reviews.
There is no need to rush Jackson into what will eventually be his starting role, though, especially with Flacco able to serve as a veteran mentor who is still capable of making plays.
Luck Needs More Time to Return to Elite Level
Luck is just 28 years old and has the talent to return to the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, but Monday proved it will require patience.
The Stanford product finished 6-of-13 for 50 yards and zero touchdowns with one interception and was sacked twice. It was a far cry from how the three-time Pro Bowler looked when he led the league with 40 touchdown passes in 2014 and threw for 4,240 yards and 31 scores in 2016, but that was to be expected after he missed so much time and was playing without important teammates.
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Andrew Luck returns to Lucas Oil Stadium for his first home game in 596 days (since January 1, 2017). That was Week 17 of the 2016 season when the Colts beat the Jaguars, 24-20, on Luck's game-winning TD to Jack Doyle with :09 remaining in regulation. https://t.co/AdEWYuqcjS
Luck was sidelined for the 2017 campaign after undergoing shoulder surgery, and Kevin Patra of NFL.com noted the procedure was for an injury Luck first suffered in 2015. He had to shut down a previous comeback attempt and is just returning to form.
Even Luck acknowledged it will take time, per Andrew Walker of the Colts' official website:
"I'm having so much fun playing football again. I'm having fun with these guys. I'm having fun with this team. We're doing things better. I know I'm doing things better. There is a whole boat load of work to be done, a whole boat load. By no means though are we anywhere close to what we hope the finished product looks like, but the beauty of it is that we are not worried about that right now."
Luck has two preseason games to get to that finished product before the results count in the standings.
Brown Flashes Potential to Open Up Baltimore Offense
The only way the Ravens are going to compete in the AFC North is with improved wide receiver play, and fans saw hints of just that.
Brown turned heads with a toe-tap touchdown on a contested catch, while Crabtree broke free and connected on a deep ball with Flacco. It hinted at a welcome change after Mike Wallace (748 yards) was the only Baltimore wide receiver with more than 440 yards in 2017.
The Ravens added Crabtree, Brown and Willie Snead this offseason, and the 28-year-old Brown, in particular, has stood out after he signed a one-year prove-it deal.
The touchdown was a continuation of a strong training camp for the pass-catcher:
Health issues limited him to 10 games and a career-worst 299 receiving yards last year, but Brown isn't far removed from the 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns he recorded in 2015. His speed (4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash) also suggests he could be the perfect fit with Flacco's strong arm.
Opposing secondaries will have to worry about his ability to burn man coverage and shade his way, which should create openings for the consistent Crabtree and Snead to exploit. The receivers on display Monday are a significant upgrade and provide reason for optimism.
The Colts will remain home to face the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday, while the Ravens will travel to Miami to play the Dolphins on the same day. It will be the penultimate preseason game for both teams, so expect the starters to see plenty of action.