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Lamar Jackson Proves Baltimore Ravens Can Take Down Anyone in the AFC

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystSeptember 20, 2021

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, right, rushes past Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Daniel Sorensen in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Baltimore Ravens put the ball in their top playmaker's hands when the moment demanded it. In doing so, Lamar Jackson and Co. finally overcame their boogeymen, the Kansas City Chiefs, with a 36-35 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.  

With 1:05 left to play, head coach John Harbaugh asked his quarterback a simple question: "Do you want to go for this?"

Baltimore held a precarious one-point lead. A Kansas City stop on a 4th-and-1 play from the Ravens' 43-yard line might have handed a victory to the Chiefs since they would have almost been in field-goal position with the league's most potent offense ready to roll.

Instead, Harbaugh did exactly what he should have done: He had confidence in the 2019 league MVP, who doubles as the best running quarterback the NFL has ever seen. 

A series earlier, the Chiefs—specifically head coach Andy Reid—failed to make the right call. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the best football player on the planet. He makes mind-boggling plays seem routine. Yet the Chiefs handed the ball to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who fumbled. With the game on the line, Mahomes should have the ball in his hands. He can and will make something happen. He's done it so many times already that his doing so feels inevitable, no matter the situation. 

Jackson is different yet still electrifying. His ability to run the football places defenses in constant high-leverage situations since one scamper can change a game's complexion at a moment's notice. 

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The Ravens needed one yard. They ran the ball at will most of the night against the Chiefs. As the 11th man, Jackson must be accounted for at all times. He's not afraid to run between the tackles, either. In fact, Baltimore's scheme is built around reads on which the quarterback slices between blockers. He did so on that fourth down to secure the victory. 

The moment felt like "The Death of Superman." In the famous DC Comics storyline, Superman faced Doomsday—a seemingly unbeatable foe with no real weakness. Until this point, the Ravens were 0-3 against Kansas City since Jackson became the starting quarterback. In the comics, the two titans produced an epic battle, with the fictional hero giving everything he had to slow the beast.

Jackson may not be Superman—that's Cam Newton's moniker—but he rose after being beaten down time and time again to finally emerge victorious. 

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 19: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens dives into the endzone past the tackle of Michael Danna #51 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The quarterback acknowledged how important the outcome was. 

"It feels good to get the monkey off our back," Jackson told reporters

Is Jackson perfect? Far from it.

His first-quarter performance exemplifies potential concerns. First, Jackson missed a wide-open Marquise Brown for a potential long touchdown. The quarterback threw an interception on the following play, though Sammy Watkins did slip to help create the turnover.

Two series later, an ill-fated decision to throw into triple coverage cost the Ravens at least three points since they were already on the Chiefs' 28-yard line.

Jackson can make those types of mistakes yet still be a threat every time he's on the field because he always brings the running element. As such, the Ravens offense can impose its will. The Chiefs are horrible against the run. They surrendered 251 ground yards Sunday night. Jackson provided 107 of them. 

Sure, he still struggles when driving the ball down the field or outside the numbers with consistency. While he needs to improve in these areas, they're less of a concern because of what he can do within the Ravens' ground-and-pound approach. Eventually, Jackson will break a designed run or make a play when working outside structure.

Two costly interceptions aren't a death sentence. They're simply obstacles. Jackson overcame them with two rushing touchdowns. He outraced Chiefs defenders to the corner of the end zone twice. 

Oh, Jackson still threw for 239 yards and a score. But the touchdown toss is yet another example of the quarterback's unique style. Not many signal-callers can make a jumping, twisting pass to an open receiver while being pressured. 

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What?! 📺: #KCvsBAL on NBC 📱: https://t.co/SsXyNx0bwQ https://t.co/FQkPmG9sqP

Mahomes and Jackson made plays Sunday that simply aren't seen from typical quarterbacks. Amazingly, the latter helped offset significant concerns for Baltimore. 

The Ravens entered the contest with league-leading 15 players on injured reserve. The offensive line had to be reworked, with Alejandro Villanueva moving from right to left tackle and backup Patrick Mekari getting the start on the strong side. Baltimore's secondary can be best described as patchwork. Oh, and the team's top three running backs are all out with season-ending leg injuries. Jackson's dynamism overcomes plenty and makes the Ravens extremely dangerous. 

With the victory, Baltimore showed it's as good as any team the AFC has to offer because its margin for error is much greater thanks to who's behind center. 

The Chiefs tend to operate in the same manner. The combination of Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill often force opponents to play at a near-perfect game or lose. Now, the Ravens have Kansas City's number since the Chiefs are so bad against the run. Through two games, Reid's squad is allowing 6.0 yards per tote. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens drops back to pass during the NFL game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on September 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Ravens 33
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

A look around the conference bodes well for Harbaugh's squad.

The Cleveland Browns already lost to Kansas City. Baltimore should have two slugfests with its division rival, though Jackson provides a clear edge at the game's most important position. The Buffalo Bills struggled when facing the physical Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Baltimore brings similar qualities.

Provided Jackson takes care of the football as a runner, his team will likely flip the outcome of last week's loss to the Las Vegas Raiders if the two meet again. The Los Angeles Chargers just surrendered 198 rushing yards in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Denver Broncos may be undefeated, but Jackson is clearly a better option to win a game than Teddy Bridgewater. 

The season might have just started, and the Ravens are 1-1, but the team's identity is established and the coaching staff knows exactly what it has in Jackson.

"It’s not perfect. It's not pretty. But it's us," Harbaugh said

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

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