Less than a month ago, the Baltimore Ravens were on a three-game losing streak, facing playoff elimination with seven games to go and job security was very much on the line.
Now, heading into Sunday's game against the Falcons, the team sits in the final AFC playoff spot and is looking to earn their first three-game winning streak of the season with a squad that has been rejuvenated thanks to a rookie quarterback under center.
Lamar Jackson's NFL start came with the weight of the Ravens' postseason on his shoulders and he came away victorious. Now the rookie is faced with his first road start in Atlanta with the pressure of maintaining the momentum built over the last two weeks.
“There is a new set of issues with playing on the road that will be another level, absolutely,” head coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday.
“Crowd noise, cadence, snap counts, communication, even the earphone and getting the plays and things like that, being prepared if that is a problem. All those things will be … yes, it will be a new level. It will be a challenge for all of us. But, he’s up to it. Looking forward to seeing how he does.”
But the first-round pick ‐ who has been nothing but calm and humble throughout the entire experience ‐ is remaining just that as he's expected to start Sunday while Joe Flacco is still out with a hip injury.
“I don’t really know,” Jackson said Wednesday when asked what he's expecting. “Just for me going out there, getting another game, I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into. I have to wait to see what Atlanta brings us.”
“I love road games,” he added. “Just to try make the crowd turn to our [side], make it be like our home environment. … I just want to make it my home, my team’s home.”
Through two starts, Jackson is 27-of-44 in the air for 328 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions on top of 37 rushing attempts for 190 yards and one rushing touchdown.
Jackson had the good luck of making his first two starts in friendly territory at M&T Bank Stadium and having an undrafted free agent rookie running back help lead the charge in Gus Edwards. He also faced the 31st ranked Cincinnati Bengals defense Week 11 and the 30th ranked Oakland Raiders defense Week 12.
Now as he heads to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to take on the 29th ranked Falcons defense, he can expect a team that have lost their last three eager to hand the youngin' his first NFL defeat. But according to the Ravens' defense, the intimidation factor should be nothing new.
“It’s not going to get more hostile than what he’s had here,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You don’t get to see how we treat him at practice, but he’s been preparing for hostile environments. We’ll try and tone it up a little bit more for him.”
A third-straight win in Week 13 will not only provide the Ravens with a little bit of cushion as they try to reach the postseason for the first time in three season, but will make Joe Flacco ever starting again in Baltimore a true debate.
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