Five days after the tweet heard around Baltimore and many parts beyond, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson stepped in front of the television cameras on Friday afternoon and was asked to explain himself.
“My bad,” Jackson said into a microphone at the Ravens practice facility in Owings Mills.
The quarterback was referring to the profanity-filled response he sent after Sunday’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, responding to a critic who commented that the Ravens should take whatever money they might give the quarterback for a long-term contract and spend it on several other players instead.
Jackson’s reply included the idea that the person “never smelt a football field” and several hostile comments.
Earlier in the week, ESPN described a phrase in Jackson’s response as “anti-gay,” a characterization the quarterback later disputed [on Twitter] and said defamed his character.
He didn’t address the claim during his remarks Friday, at least directly, though he did say while talking about the critic that got to him in the first place: “I’m not mad at him. I have to love. God told us to love everybody, so I love everybody.”
He did say he was mad after the team’s 28-27 loss to Jacksonville.
“When I got on to social media that was the first thing I seen, and I just busted my behind — my whole team did, coaches did — and I just reacted to it,” he said.
“I wasn’t thinking about actions. I was bitter. I feel like you should be bitter after a loss though. I feel like the fans should be mad we lost too, but not mad at us. We try. But it happened. I apologize if I hurt feelings out there.”
On the field, the Ravens star quarterback and other players have shown their frustrations, despite a 7-4 record that has the team tied for the AFC North division lead (and holding a head-to-head edge over the Cincinnati Bengals) and in playoff contention.
Since the Ravens came off their bye two weeks ago, they grinded out a 13-3 win at home over the lowly Carolina Panthers before the Jaguars game, in which they allowed the go-ahead score in the final seconds, blowing a nine-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Denver Broncos (3-8) are the third-straight three-win team the Ravens will face — Sunday at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium — and they could be the toughest. Denver has the NFL’s third-ranked overall defense, and though their offense has struggled, they have Super Bowl-winner Russell Wilson at quarterback.
The Ravens are an 8.5-point betting favorite and will be looking to move on from their latest stinging defeat and all social media firestorms. They’ve led every opponent by more than eight points this year (or by more than one possession, as referenced below), yet they have four losses, which makes for infamous history.
The late-game defensive breakdowns last Sunday against the Jaguars were obvious, but angst had been growing before then. The offense has struggled to find the end zone of late, which could be another challenge against Denver’s top-rated red zone defense.
At the same time, what should be an efficient process of calling plays on time has become troublesome.
Very often, Jackson can be seen frantically clapping in shotgun formation behind rookie center Tyler Linderbaum as the play clock nears zero. “We got to speed our process up,” Jackson said.
On the Ravens’ first drive inside the Jaguars’ 20-yard line, the offense caught a delay of game penalty, slowing its momentum. They got three points instead of potentially seven, which made a difference in the end.
“[Lamar is] one of the best guys at dealing with the play clock, and getting the ball snapped,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We just have to adjust as coaches. It’s up to us to organize it in a way that we just don’t get in those situations. If we have to have less offense, or less movements in the plays, or whatever it might be, that’s just what you do. It’s on us.”
About a month ago in New Orleans, Jackson yelled at his offensive line after a delay of game call, but afterward he innocently chalked it up to just something that happened in the heat of the moment. He and left tackle Ronnie Stanley joked about it on Twitter.
It’s ironic now.
Two weeks ago, in the fourth quarter against the Panthers with the Ravens looking for their first touchdown, Jackson lined up under center for a key play and the play clock hit zero again. He reacted by kicking a football in the air, which might have looked playful, but also drew criticism because it’s the sort of action that can result in a delay of game penalty, had it not already been called.
Jackson was also sick leading into the Carolina game and bruised his hip during it, causing him to miss some practice time, and he’s also been without weapons like wideout Rashod Bateman (broken foot) and running back J.K. Dobbins, who is still dealing with a knee injury.
Then came Sunday.
After the Ravens third loss this season when leading by two scores in the fourth quarter, Jackson was visibly frustrated — which is not all that unusual, but he was more upset than perhaps ever in a post-game setting.
In one exchange where he might have typically replied more politely, Jackson responded to one reporter’s inquiry about how it felt to lose at TIAA Bank Field again (where his college career ended with Louisville) with: “How would you feel if you lose?”
Jackson ended the session by repeating the phrase “We just have to do what we do,” and that the Ravens shouldn’t have lost the game. Despite the team’s mistakes, Justin Tucker still almost won them the game with a 67-yard field goal that came up just short.
After the game, Jackson opened Twitter and saw this message from a stranger: “When someone is asking for over 250 mil guaranteed like [Jackson] games like this should not come to [Justin Tucker.] Let Lamar walk and spend that money on a well rounded team.”
He deleted his reply after about three hours, but the story made mainstream headlines and continued into Monday. On Friday, he said his girlfriend told him to delete the response.
Though Harbaugh has said he expects Jackson to be with the Ravens “for a long time,” and general manager Eric DeCosta said contract talks will continue after the 2022 season, the quarterback’s open-ended contract situation has lingered in the background since he and the team weren’t able to reach an extension before the season began.
With that as background, by Monday morning Harbaugh was talking to his quarterback about the whole story — a distraction the team could easily deal without.
“Really, you just beg guys not to get into the Twitter world right after the game, especially after a loss,” Harbaugh said. “It’s never going to be positive. It’s not going to be a nice place. That’s kind of reflected in Lamar’s response, because what he said was just so out of character for him.”
This week, Jackson was first scheduled to speak to reporters on Wednesday, but left practice early to receive treatment for a quadriceps injury, which delayed his appearance to Friday.
Asked what he takes from the experience, Jackson said, “Don’t say what I said. There’s kids watching, I don’t need the kids saying that. Watch what you say. Try to stay off Twitter if anything, if something like that happens again.”
Beyond learning that lesson, perhaps the next best-case scenario would be for the weeklong drama to end with all the frustrations being emptied out on the Broncos.
“Hopefully we’re not losing no more,” Jackson said.
‘A race to be in control’
The Ravens’ play-call sequence begins in a booth high above the field with offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who communicates with Jackson via a headset in his helmet that cuts off communication with the coach with 15 seconds left in the play clock, per NFL rules.
Roman said this week that part of the offense’s strategy is to use a lot of play clock to build its time of possession advantage, and the sequence also must often account for substitutions, which happen on-the-fly.
“It’s got to be a fast operation, especially when you’re substituting,” Roman said. “What we’re talking about is a race to be in control. It’s not, ‘Hey, how fast can we get to the line and snap it?’ It’s, ‘How can we do what we want to do and be in control of the situation?’”
He also attributed part of Sunday’s timing issues to “technical difficulties.”
On a related note, Harbaugh confirmed that Roman, the team’s offensive coordinator since 2019, has been in preliminary talks with Stanford University about its open head coaching job. Jackson didn’t have any reaction when asked about that on Friday.
Dobbins, Hamilton return to practice
The Ravens are getting a little bit healthier.
Rookie defensive back Kyle Hamilton, who didn’t play last week against Jacksonville because of an injured knee, was back at practice this week.
So was Dobbins, who ran through drills a few weeks after having surgery on his repaired to knee to clean out scar tissue. If or when Dobbins returns to game action remains to be seen, though. “This was a ramp-up week for him,” Harbaugh said.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey and Stanley are still dealing with ankle injuries.