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Lamar Jackson, Ravens Send Message to AFC After Game of the Year Win vs. Browns

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 15, 2020

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) rushes for a 5-yard touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Football is amazing. Sometimes, everyone needs to be reminded of that fact.

The Baltimore Ravens' 47-42 victory Monday over the Cleveland Browns felt like a playoff contest with two of the AFC's best delivering more knockout punches than a Rocky film.

"It's going to be a game that goes down in history," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters.

The haymakers came fast and furiously with Justin Tucker landing the final 55-yard blow. While the kicker delivered the coup de grace, Lamar Jackson reasserted himself as the game's premier dual-threat quarterback—which makes the Ravens oh so dangerous throughout the rest of the regular season and possibly into the postseason.

Jackson and Co. morphed from a teetering squad into the NFL's version of Ivan Drago before our very eyes, because they found their groove at just the right time.

Let's not forget. These Ravens led the league last season with a 14-2 record. Jackson remains the reigning MVP. He is the ultimate equalizer. Sure, the roster isn't the same in certain areas, and Baltimore stumbled recently through a three-game losing streak and had a COVID-19 outbreak that altered its schedule. Despite everything, Harbaugh's squad remained in the thick of things.

Ron Schwane/Associated Press
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The Browns threw everything they could at the Ravens. But the resiliency showed by Baltimore—and particularly Jackson—made this contest one to remember.

Cleveland trailed 34-20 late in the third quarter. But it put together a pair of 12-play drives and gained a 35-34 advantage. Then, things got weird.

The barnburner was good enough to have viewers enthralled. But Jackson added drama when he left the game. While jokes about the reason behind his absence dominated social media, the uber-talented 32nd pick in the 2018 draft revealed his body had betrayed him.

"I was cramping," Jackson told reporters after the game. "I wasn't pulling a Paul Pierce."

Even the Browns were in awe of Jackson's Willis Reed impersonation.

"It was like a scene from a movie," Baker Mayfield acknowledged.

Upon his return to the field, Jackson, without his cape, broke the pocket, rolled to his right and caught the defense in a Catch-22: All the defenders seemed afraid he'd run the ball. Instead, he connected with Marquise Brown courtesy of a flick-of-the-wrist pass for a 44-yard touchdown.

Mayfield responded, showing exactly why the Browns used the first pick in 2018 to acquire their franchise quarterback. He decisively moved the ball down the field with 1:51 remaining. Mayfield completed four straight passes, including a 22-yard toss to Kareem Hunt that tied the game with the extra point.

A third-quarter interception would have deflated previous Browns signal-callers and teams. Not Mayfield. He made a mistake and responded as a leader should. After torching the Tennessee Titans last weekend for 334 yards and four touchdowns, he threw for 343 more yards and two scores while adding a rushing touchdown.

In a good old-fashioned shootout, Mayfield emerged as the quickest draw.

Yet Jackson didn't flinch. He completed four straight passes during the Ravens' final drive and gave Tucker the opportunity to win the game, and the GOAT converted.

Next Gen Stats @NextGenStats

Lamar Jackson came back into the game to lead the Ravens to a comeback win after missing 11 snaps in the 4th quarter (cramps). Jackson was perfect when holding onto the ball for 2.5+ seconds after returning to the game (4/4, 78 yards, TD). #BALvsCLE | #RavensFlock https://t.co/8irRcxUeiO

Jackson threw for 163 yards and ran for 124 more.

The contest's 20 points in the final two minutes were the most since the 2013 campaign, per ESPN Stats & Info (via ESPN's Jake Trotter). The nine rushing touchdowns tied a feat that hadn't been accomplished since 1922. The 89 points were the third-most in Monday Night Football history.

Drama on and off the field. High-flying offenses. Great quarterback play. A rivalry renewed. The latest Ravens-Browns meeting had everything you want in a football game.

Baltimore now has an opportunity. At 8-5, the Ravens still reside as the eighth seed. The Miami Dolphins sport the same record, though Brian Flores' squad holds the tiebreaker based on conference winning percentage.

Over the next three weeks, the Ravens' schedule is favorable. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be followed by the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals. (The Dolphins will face the New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills.) Baltimore could easily win all three and secure its path to the playoffs for the third straight year. And the Ravens should, especially with Jackson looking like the player who dominated the league a season ago.

Excuses can be made for why Baltimore hasn't been as good this year. Those don't matter.

What matters is what comes next. Jackson looked like his old self. He created inside and outside the pocket. He may have started slowly against the Browns with just three first-half completions, but his performance in the second half provided relief.

Cleveland struggled to contain the nifty runner. Once outside the pocket, Jackson became unstoppable. When the 23-year-old is confident and playing freely, he's nearly impossible to contain. And that's where the Ravens stand. They have a rejuvenated Jackson behind center, coming off the biggest win of the season.

David Richard/Associated Press

"He's resilient. He's resilient in everything he does," tight end Mark Andrews told reporters. "He works hard. ... The proof's in the pudding."

Andrews added, "He's playing at an elite level."

The Ravens are coming on strong. The possibility Jackson will get back on an MVP-like trajectory should frighten the rest of the AFC. They'll be the squad no one wants to face—and deservedly so.

As the game of the campaign came to a close, Baltimore showed there's a lot more to it than it had let on. The Ravens might have been on the ropes, but they've come back swinging.

   

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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