BALTIMORE — Most teams would have played it safe.
The Ravens led by six and faced third-and-11. Just over three minutes remained and the Cardinals were out of timeouts.
Many coaches would run the ball, let the clock run down, then try to pin the other team deep with a punt. Most teams would put the game in the hands of their defense in a similar scenario.
The Baltimore Ravens went for it on Sunday. Head coach John Harbaugh trusted his second-year quarterback to make the throw. He needed a rookie wide receiver to make the catch.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson made a remarkable throw to rookie receiver Marquise Brown for a 41-yard gain down the right sideline. Jackson dropped the pass in perfectly to Brown at the Arizona 15-yard line despite tight coverage by Cardinals cornerback Tramaine Brock with 2:57 left.
The gutsy call and pristine pass set the Ravens up to run out the remaining clock and secure a 23-17 win over the Cardinals before an M&T Bank Stadium crowd of 70,126.
“We’ve just got to get the first down, and there’s man coverage on him, no safety help over top, and he ran a great route,” Jackson said he thought as the play unfolded. “I just had to make a great throw. He came down with the catch. I had other options, but that was the best one to go to at the time.”
Brown said he had a had a feeling the ball was coming to him once he saw how the defense lined up.
“He couldn’t have thrown it any better than that. He put it in a great spot,” Brown said.
The gamble showed the extreme confidence Harbaugh and his staff have in Jackson. In seven starts as a rookie last year, Jackson never attempted more than 25 passes. On Sunday, he threw the ball 37 times. “They’ve got a ton of confidence in us as an offense and trust in the scheme and Lamar’s ability to make a big play and, obviously, ‘Hollywood’ to make the catch,” right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said of the coaching staff’s faith in the offense to call a risky play. “I’m just happy that he was able to do that and we were able to win the game.”
Jackson posted a perfect passer rating last week when the Ravens opened the season with a 59-3 trouncing of the Miami Dolphins. That rating slipped to 104.8 Sunday, as he threw for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Through two games, Jackson’s stat line reads a sensational 41-of-57 (71.9 percent) for 596 yards and seven touchdowns – a franchise record through two games. He has yet to throw an interception this season.
“If you look at his game and all phases, from high school to college to the pros, he gets better every year,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “He won the Heisman in his sophomore year and then gained more yards in his junior year. He will continue to get better with reps and continue to learn the system.”
Jackson hit second-year tight end Mark Andrews for a 27-yard touchdown on Baltimore’s first possession of the game, capping a 94-yard drive in which he went a perfect 5-for-5 for 74 yards. He scrambled once on the series, gaining 19 yards – 93 of 94 of the yards covered on the way to the end zone came from Jackson’s right arm or legs.
His second touchdown pass was a 1-yarder to tight end Hayden Hurst that completed an 85-yard drive with 3:49 left in the opening half.
What Harbaugh said sets Jackson apart from other quarterbacks – and football players in general – is his competitiveness. Jackson was visibly annoyed following the game. As Harbaugh spoke to reporters, he placed the blame for a delay of game penalty on himself. Jackson shook his head in disagreement as he sat in the corner. It was his own fault.
“[I] could have been better,” he said. “There’s a lot of passes I want back; some sacks I want back, but we came out with the victory.”
While Jackson was critical of a couple of incompletions, one thing even he could not nitpick was how well he ran the ball. The elusive quarterback rushed for 120 of Baltimore’s 182 yards on the ground. He accounted for 392 of the Ravens’ 420 yards of total offense.
“Lamar played a great game running the ball, and running the ball effectively,” Harbaugh said. “It was probably the difference maker in the game, and very smartly, in terms of getting out of bounds and getting down and all of that kind of stuff. So, I’m happy with all of that.”
The Ravens finally opened up the highly-touted new offensive playbook that featured many designed runs for Jackson. One week ago, he only scrambled three times for a total of six yards.
His 272 yards passing were the sixth most in NFL history by a quarterback who also rushed for at least 100 yards.
“I just had to take what the defense gave me, and sometimes I had to run. Sometimes I had to make scrambles because they had a great coverage, and some of our guys weren’t open. I just had to move sticks,” Jackson said. “I’d rather throw. That’s what my job is; just get the ball to my guys – the receivers and tight ends. I’d rather throw than run. I’d rather win, too.”
Follow Sean Grogan on Twitter: @Sean_CecilWhig