As Tylan Wallace flipped into the end zone, Lamar Jackson unbuckled his helmet, tossed it like a party streamer and started to run. The game was over, the celebration just beginning, and nothing could stop the Ravens’ star quarterback from the west end zone. Not the rain, not the Los Angeles Rams, not the wall of sound building with every ecstatic step.
“That,” Jackson would say afterward, “looked like a movie.”
The Ravens were there, celebrating a 37-31 victory, because Jackson had led them to that very end zone just over 20 minutes earlier Sunday afternoon. The offense’s 13-play march late in the fourth quarter had not produced the game’s decisive touchdown — only the game’s most important. Before the game bowed to Wallace’s heroics, the Ravens had needed Jackson’s. Before Wallace took back a punt 76 yards for the first walk-off punt return touchdown in franchise history, Jackson had taken the Ravens 75 yards for a go-ahead score.
Jackson assumed control with 4:41 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Ravens trailing 28-23 after a Rams touchdown and failed 2-point conversion. The offense hadn’t scored a touchdown since early in the second quarter. The rain was pouring; Jackson acknowledged later that it was hard at times to grip the ball.
Still, the drive unfolded as if coordinator Todd Monken trusted no one except his quarterback. Just one of the Ravens’ 13 plays was a designed run — a 1-yard loss by running back Keaton Mitchell. On Jackson’s 12 drop-backs, he went 7-for-10 for 73 yards, scrambled once for 9 yards and took one sack. His best throw was a 21-yard touchdown to wide receiver Zay Flowers. His most important throw was the one after that, a 2-yard completion to Flowers that gave the Ravens a 2-point conversion and 31-28 lead with 76 seconds remaining in regulation.
“Lamar deserves so much credit,” coach John Harbaugh said after Jackson went 24-for-43 for 316 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, along with 11 carries for a team-high 70 yards. “You forget Lamar sometimes. All these other things are happening, and we’re not going to talk about Lamar Jackson, who drove the offense. Then guys stepped up and made plays. … He’s a very unique player, and most of the time it works out really great just like any player. He’s one of a kind. There’s nobody like Lamar Jackson.”
As the Ravens huddled up for the first time in their pivotal drive Sunday, Jackson told his teammates that they had to score, that execution and focus were paramount, left tackle Ronnie Stanley recalled. Jackson’s message might’ve been as much a mantra for the offense as it was a reminder to himself.
In each of the Ravens’ three defeats this season, the offense had wasted late-game possessions, fading in the clutch. In a Week 3 overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens managed just two first downs over their final four possessions. Two weeks later, Jackson threw an interception, lost a fumble and turned the ball over on downs on the Ravens’ final drives of their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Week 10, needing breathing room on their final possession, the Ravens couldn’t build on their narrow lead over the Cleveland Browns, who put the game away with a field goal as time expired.
Jackson’s first pass of the drive Sunday was inconspicuous. He missed running back Justice Hill, open in the flat, after sidestepping pressure from star defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Next came a drumbeat of steady gains: 12 yards to Hill, the 9-yard scramble, 9 yards to Flowers, 11 yards to Flowers, a miss, 14 yards to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., another miss, 6 yards to wide receiver Nelson Agholor, 5 yards to Agholor on third-and-4.
“Two-minute drill — we practice it every day,” Hill said. “The way [Jackson] executed it was beautiful. It’s not a surprise for us. It’s just like what we do in practice.”
Then the Ravens started going backward. Mitchell was stopped at the Rams’ 15-yard line. Jackson was sacked for a 6-yard loss. As the team huddled on third-and-17, Jackson explained the play call. Agholor told Jackson that, with his crossing route, he could run one of the Rams’ safeties out of the picture, leaving Flowers open on another crossing route.
“And that’s exactly what happened,” Jackson said.
The Ravens lined up with four targets to Jackson’s right — Hill, Agholor, Flowers and wide receiver Rashod Bateman — and one to his left, tight end Isaiah Likely. As Jackson drifted back, Donald came unblocked and beelined for Jackson. Downfield, Agholor’s movement had opened a throwing window, as predicted. Jackson gathered his feet and looped a pass over the head of Rams linebacker Ernest Jones.
The ball traveled 34.3 yards through the air, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, and hit Flowers right on his numbers. The rookie, having separated easily from safety Jordan Fuller, secured the pass inside the 1, fell backward and celebrated.
“He’s a very unique player,” Stanley said of Jackson. “He’s a special, special competitor. Those throws, I’ve seen so much. I’ve been playing with him since he was a starter, and even before he was a starter, I’d seen his arm and what he can do. And so I’m not surprised, but some of the throws he makes, not many people can make those type of throws.”
Said Flowers: “Somebody had to make a play. … Lamar threw a great ball. Coach Monken called a great play.”
The offense’s work wasn’t done; the Ravens’ lead was just one point. On the subsequent 2-point try, as Jackson rolled out, his eyes first went to Likely, coming open briefly in the flat, but his route seemed too shallow to warrant a throw. So Jackson hopped back, eluding Jones, and found Flowers again, improvising near the sideline, for a completion that looked far easier than it was. “So much poise,” Harbaugh said.
“You never know what [Jackson] is going to do,” Flowers said. “Just runs around the field, like, I don’t even know. He’s just going to break out, run around, and he’s just going to do the same thing as him. He’s going to find [a receiver].”
It didn’t matter that the Ravens’ late lead disappeared quickly, with kicker Lucas Havrisik effectively forcing overtime on a 36-yard field goal late in regulation. It didn’t matter, either, that Jackson’s pass to Flowers was the last he completed; he went 0-for-2 in overtime, and the Ravens punted after a three-and-out on the first possession of the extra period.
Jackson had given the Ravens life. The rest, Wallace would take care of.
“Just proving we can make it happen,” Jackson said. “When we really need it, we’re down, trying to win the game. We don’t want to put them back out there on the field, but we just have to score. We have to score, and we delivered.”