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With season on the line, rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards carried Ravens to another week

With season on the line, rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards carried Ravens to another week

This was one of the most interesting weeks the Baltimore Ravens have experienced in a very long time.

Coming off three-straight losses and preparing to face division rivals with their season on the line, their starting quarterback was likely out with an injury, their backup spent an afternoon in the hospital with a stomach illness and job security was the buzz around town. 

But when the clock read one at M&T Bank Stadium and it was do-or-die, two rookies took their team and carried them to a win, literally and figuratively. 

In his NFL start, first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson was 13-of-19 for 150 yards in the air while rushing for 117 yards on 27 attempts.

All afternoon long we were in awe of his speed, and probably at times nervous, by just how confident the rookie was in taking the game into his own hands.

"I thought he played spectacular," head coach John Harbaugh said after the win. "I thought he played winning football. It's tough being a quarterback in this league."

"For a first-time-out rookie in an environment like that...All those operation things, I think, speak to his intelligence, his studiousness, and just his ability to run the show. And that's everything. The playmaking — that comes from God. He made use of that, too. Very proud of that."

Jackson hasn't been one to put his feelings into many words, and in the week leading up to his NFL start, the Heisman Trophy winner continuously remained humble.

When asked how it felt to lead the Ravens to a 24-21 win over the Bengals, Jackson said, "I don't know. Come out with a win. It was pretty good, I guess."

On the Ravens' opening drive, Jackson rushed five times for 46 yards while converting two third downs that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run from Alex Collins. The QB is so fast that according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson reached 15+ mph on 14 rushing attempts. No other player has hit 15+ mph on more than nine rushing attempts this season. 

Plus, his 27 carries were the most by a quarterback in an NFL game since Pittsburgh Steelers' Joe Geri's in 1950. 

"I think he brings a different dynamic to the game. As you can tell, our offense looks totally different, obviously from when Joe [Flacco] is in. It's hard for defenses to game plan for Lamar. And I think that shows with Gus [Edwards] having 100 yards as well. It's good to see, and it's a great win."

That brings us to our next rookie speedster; Gus Edwards.

The undrafted free agent out of Rutgers put up 115 rushing yards on 17 attempts averaging 6.8 yards-per-carry and one touchdown.

"I've got a great coaching staff," Edwards said on getting his big chance and playing well. "I've got a great group of veteran running backs [that] told me to always be prepared, from day one when I came in here, they told me what it was going to be like. This game, a lot of things played into it, and you;you've always got to be ready."

The last time the Ravens had two 100+ rushers in a single game was December 23, 2012 against the New York Giants when Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce ran for 107 and 123 yards respectively. Sunday also marked the first time in NFL history that a team had a rookie quarterback and running back each surpass 100 rushing yards in a game, per Elias Sports Bureau.

For a team that had many daunting questions surrounding them just a week ago, two young bloods came out and managed to change the aura in the city of Baltimore, at least for now. 

"It's just a confidence builder to be honest," Willie Snead said on having a quarterback like Jackson. "When we were running the ball how we were, it just gives us so much momentum and a lot of flexibility to do what we want. It was awesome to see that today, and [we] look forward to keep doing it."

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Another week, another question mark at quarterback for the Ravens

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Another week, another question mark at quarterback for the Ravens

Lamar Jackson has gone 3-1 since taking over for an injured Joe Flacco as the Ravens starting quarterback, with the lone loss coming in overtime against Super Bowl favorite Kansas City Chiefs.

The offense has been unstoppable on the ground and very hit-or-miss through the air (with more misses than hits). The defense has looked revitalized. The Ravens have dominated time of possession stats, even with Jackson’s fumbling issues.

On the surface it would seem like the Joe Flacco Era is over in Baltimore, as his month-long injury has given way to a new style of football in Baltimore.

That may not be the case, however.

CBS mentioned early in the broadcast Sunday that Flacco had been cleared this past week, and John Harbaugh confirmed it postgame. The only reason Flacco wasn’t active this week was a lack of preparation time; medically, he’s ready to return.

But are the Ravens ready to return to him?

Most fans are probably fully on board with Jackson moving forward. Winning three games and taking an elite team to overtime on the road in the fourth game have a tendency to win over observers. Harbaugh isn’t just a casual observer, however. He has to make the ultimate decision of what will give his team the best chance to keep winning in the next three weeks and make the postseason.

We expect much clarity early in the week. Harbaugh has played it close to the vest throughout the last four weeks. In the days leading up to each matchup, fans have speculated that Jackson will remain the starter, and in each scenario, the Ravens head coach has gone out of his way to avoid naming a starter until as late as possible.

It’s a smart ploy from Harbaugh, as Flacco and Jackson play such contrasting styles that keeping it a surprise is detrimental to the opposing defense.

Anecdotally, it seems like the Ravens employing a rush-heavy attack (they finished two yards shy of a fourth-straight 200-yard game on Sunday) has kept the defense rested into the 4th quarter of each game, which has helped them finish strong prior to the Chiefs game. And the offense, while not scoring as many points as it did under Flacco, isn’t too far behind and has managed to at least sustain drives at a much better rate.

Jackson has played well for an unproven rookie who was assumed to need plenty of development to be an impact quarterback, but that’s still a lot of qualifiers. Even against poor defenses, Jackson hasn’t exactly exploded. The Chiefs game was clearly his best passing performance, and still he was under 150 passing yards, though he did finally have a multi-TD outing.

It’s a unique scenario in which the option that gives the team a better chance to score (possibly Flacco) may not be the option that gives them a better chance to win. Not to mention the fact that Jackson is clearly the future of the Ravens, and playing against quality teams in the midst of a postseason stretch run can only aid his long-term development.

It’s a question without an answer, at least for the next week. But it’s definitely one on the minds of Ravens fans, players, and coaches alike as the franchise enters one of the most significant three-game stretches under John Harbaugh. If he comes up with the right answer, it will mean celebrating in Charm City and Harbaugh solidifying his future with the team. If not, then the Ravens may just barely miss out on yet another postseason, and every option will be on the table for owner Steve Bisciotti.

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Robert Griffin III plays the final minutes of Ravens' OT loss to Chiefs

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Robert Griffin III plays the final minutes of Ravens' OT loss to Chiefs

With the Baltimore Ravens needing to get in field goal position to stay alive in overtime against the Kansas City Chiefs, it wasn’t Joe Flacco or Lamar Jackson under center with the game on the line on third and 22. 

It was Robert Griffin, III. 

It was the second straight week Griffin has had to step in for relief for Jackson following an injury. A hit on Jackson by Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston sidelined the Ravens’ rookie, forcing Griffin to come in at a less-than-ideal time. 

Griffin had no time to work his way into a rhythm or pass time until Jackson potentially returned. His first pass attempt to John  Brown was nearly picked off and his second pass to Willie Snead was incomplete. Following the game, several Ravens players -- including Griffin -- felt Chiefs defensive back Kendall Fuller interfered with the play. 

Moving forward, the Ravens find themselves in a dilemma. If healthy, stick with the young Jackson who won three games in a row and was in the game against the class of the AFC, albeit limited in the passing game, give Griffin a shot who gives the team more options in the passing game or go back to the veteran Flacco for the stretch run of the playoffs. 

At 7-6, the Ravens are holding on to the final playoff spot by the slimmest of margins. Head coach John Harbaugh has an important decision to make before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town next week. 

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