Skip to contents
NFL

Lamar Jackson’s Coolest Highlight Was An Incomplete Pass

Lamar Jackson celebrates
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson is the NFL’s version of a mid-credits stinger at the movies. You think a play is about to end, your brain starts to adjust to whatever new game situation the Ravens offense finds itself in, and then all of a sudden Lamar shakes you out of your lull with an unexpected addition to the action. That’s why people love him, and that’s why Baltimore has leaned on him for so much of their offense every week.

Monday night’s 27-13 win on the road against the Saints wasn’t an all-time Lamar performance. He picked up 133 air yards and 82 ground yards while ceding two of the three touchdowns to running back Kenyan Drake, and in the second half he got visibly frustrated when his team looked out of sorts and unable to get its plays off quickly. But his night still provided a handful of spectacular surprises, as usual, and as the Ravens held a comfortable advantage over a pretty nonthreatening New Orleans opponent, the most compelling reason to keep watching was to count how many ways Lamar could make you say “Wow.”

My personal favorite was, counterintuitively, an incomplete pass in the second quarter, because the way Lamar got the play to its eventual conclusion was in itself a sight to behold. With the Ravens up by a touchdown on their own half of the field, Jackson dropped back on third-and-9 and felt pressure before he could find an open man. A sack looked inevitable, but Lamar contorted himself to escape Cam Jordan’s grasp.

However, in doing so he crossed up his own offensive lineman, and when the two bumped into each other Jackson dropped the football. Even that wasn’t the end of his efforts to make a big play, though, because Lamar picked the ball up in stride, outraced a diving Jordan (poor guy) to the right sideline, then casually flicked his wrist to toss a pass 55 yards downfield, where some determined defense was the only thing that kept DeSean Jackson from hauling it in for a massive gain.

“Traditionally you cover for 3 to 4 seconds and the play is over,” Saints safety Tyrann Matheiu said after the game. “But a guy like that is a 7-, 8-, 9-second cover.”

Beyond Jackson’s knack for extending plays, though, I love his ability to recover when something goes wrong. Particularly at the speed of an NFL play, when a bad break ruins the plan the overwhelming instinct must be to cut it short or finish it as conservatively as possible. But Jackson just doesn’t let plays die. He didn’t fall on the football in the play above to negate the possibility of a momentum-shifting turnover; he just grabbed it and kept going.

On this fourth-quarter third-and-1—my favorite successful play from Monday night—it’s like he barely even noticed his own lineman getting in his way. He just ran past his fallen teammate (and two would-be tacklers), then juked and spun his way to a 17-yard gain and an eventual 14-point lead.

Jackson keeps winning games for the 6-3 Ravens, and from an individual standpoint he’s already rushed for more yards than all but four QBs in NFL history, at just 25 years old. His future remains very cloudy, though. Baltimore badly needs him, but the rest of this season is all that they’re currently guaranteed to get from him. Jackson and the Ravens couldn’t come to an agreement on a long-term deal this offseason, and while the franchise tag remains a last-resort option for the team to keep him in the short term, other GMs have to be keeping a close eye on this situation.

If Jackson can somehow make it to the open market with his talents intact, I can’t even imagine what kind of bidding war he could spark. But in the negotiations before that can happen, he and the Ravens will have to balance a pair of opposite considerations: how much value Jackson gives to any team he’s on, and the danger that his aggressive, fearless style of play could lead to significant injuries. Knowing what’s at stake for him this year, playing without a safety net after turning down a reported $133 million in guaranteed money, it’s a wonder that the Ravens QB hasn’t toned down his adventurous style. But on and off the field, Jackson’s not afraid to take risks.