The Baltimore Ravens were eliminated from the NFL postseason after falling to the Los Angeles Chargers 23-17 on Sunday, Jan. 6. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was drafted in the first round back in April, made his first playoff start for the Ravens while veteran quarterback Joe Flacco remained on the sideline as the backup.
Jackson only completed two passes in the first half for 17 yards and also threw an interception. Jackson and his offense was also shutout in the first half.
Some were wondering whether Ravens head coach John Harbaugh should have made a change at quarterback in the second half. Jackson would go onto play the remainder of the game and finished by completing 14 passes out of 29 attempts throwing for 194 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson also ran the ball nine times gaining 54 yards.
There can be a debate on whether Flacco should have come in to play during the second half, but Jackson did rally his offense in the fourth quarter and had a chance to drive his team down the field for a possible game-winning touchdown. Instead Jackson fumbled in the final minute of the game and the Chargers recovered going onto secure the victory.
Those who were hoping for Flacco to take the field might have been thinking about one game or leaning on an experienced quarterback rather than thinking of the future. The future of the Raven offense will be based around Jackson and his team showed their commitment to their young quarterback in a must-win game.
Harbaugh discussed his decision on continuing to play Jackson in the second half during his post-game press conference.
“He played really well,” Harbaugh said. “You have to say, based on that part of it, at that point in time in the game, it was the right decision. We went down and scored two touchdowns.”
The decision to play Jackson was a good one as it allowed him to gain valuable experience. Experience can help down the road especially for a young player who just finished off his first NFL season. Jackson found a way to almost bring the Ravens back after struggling for the majority of the game. Flacco might have been able to equalize or maybe even win the contest, but it would not have benefited the franchise in future seasons.
Harbaugh was also very clear on who the Ravens starting quarterback would be going into next season.
“I mean, Lamar [Jackson] is our quarterback going forward – no question about that,” Harbaugh said.
Flacco’s future sounds like it could be elsewhere.
“Joe Flacco is going to play really well in this league,” Harbaugh said. “Joe can still play; I think we saw that in the first half of this season. Joe’s going to have a market. A lot of teams are going to want Joe, because they understand that.”
Harbaugh was very clear with his comments on Jackson being the future of the team and also indicating that Flacco most likely will be on another team next season. Allowing the rookie and future of the team to gain postseason experience may not have been the worst plan despite losing.
The good and bad were displayed regarding Jackson’s play against the Chargers. The good parts of his play included Jackson being able to almost lead a comeback despite struggling for the majority of the game. The bad part of Jackson’s performance showed that he still needs to develop his passing skills and improve upon his ball handling skills.
Jackson made his first start in week 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals and finished the season winning six out of seven games. Jackson had 1,201 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, three interceptions and fumbled 12 times losing four of them during the regular season.
Jackson is a dual threat quarterback and it showed this season. He had 695 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
Jackson did have the best total defense during the regular season which also contributed to the winning efforts of the Ravens.
The Ravens offense changed after Jackson became the starter and with that came some ball handling errors.
“The truth is, we didn’t get enough work at it in the offseason, in OTAs, training camp, all that,” Harbaugh said.
Correcting the ball handling will be a major priority in the offseason.
“That’s something that we’ll go to work on when we come back,” Harbaugh said. “That will be priority [No.] 1 – to be a great ball-handling team.”
Harbaugh is well aware of Jackson’s pros and cons and he clearly stated that his team will not go back to Flacco or play another quarterback. Playing Jackson despite fans wanting to see Flacco was a great decision since the future of the team got meaningful time in a must-win contest.
Jackson should now know what to continue to do on the field next season and should be aware of what needs to be improved. The dual threat ability Jackson brings cannot be found with most NFL teams meaning that opposing defenses could face unique challenges trying stop the Ravens offense. Jackson just needs to develop his passing skills and must become better with ball handling.
Playing Flacco may have also been somewhat risky. Flacco does have a history of postseason success, but he last played against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week nine. Changing the offense in the middle of an important game could have posed another possible challenge. Letting Flacco come into the game would have taken away Jackson’s chance to show what he is capable of when trailing in a huge moment.
Reverting back to Flacco would bring in the question of whether the Ravens would have been truly ready to move on from the experienced player, but sticking with Jackson shows that the head coach is fully committed to what he said after the game.
The Ravens would have played the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round if they had won the game. Flacco coming back and possibly winning the game would have created somewhat of a quarterback controversy for the next week.
The Ravens did not make a mistake when deciding to let Jackson play into the second half even after struggling. The young quarterback gained experience and the Ravens now know about Jackson’s ability to perform in a must-win atmosphere.
Time will tell if Jackson is indeed the new franchise quarterback in Baltimore. You have to give a chance to the young player replacing the veteran and that is exactly what the Ravens did in their Wildcard loss. The Ravens will now look toward the offseason and will have lots of time to prepare for an offense where Jackson is the full time starter for an entire season.