CARSON, Calif. — Lamar Jackson delivered a statement in his first prime-time game.
These old-school Baltimore Ravens are legitimate Super Bowl contenders in this new era of the NFL.
What grand declaration did the Ravens make on national television in beating a team that was considered the class of the AFC?
“We can play with anyone,” Jackson said. “That was a great team. We can fight, and everyone sees it now.”
Jackson hurt the Chargers more with his arm than his legs, hitting tight end Mark Andrews in stride for a 68-yard touchdown and throwing for a career-best 204 yards. The Baltimore defense sacked Philip Rivers four times, held the Chargers to a season-worst 198 yards and forced three turnovers, including a 62-yard fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback Tavon Young.
Ravens LB Patrick Onwuasor punches the ball out of Antonio Gates’ hands and CB Tavon Young returns it 62 yards for a touchdown.
The Ravens (9-6) are now well-positioned to reach the playoffs for the first time in four years and can take over first place in the AFC North if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose in New Orleans on Sunday. Baltimore’s final regular-season game is at home next Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
Asked on the NFL Network whether Baltimore can make a run to the Super Bowl, safety Eric Weddle said: “Anyone has a chance. If we get in the tournament, we have as a good a shot as anybody. I know for a fact no wants to see us. I know that.”
Not only did this victory stamp the Ravens as a dangerous team going forward, it was a long-awaited signature win. This marked Baltimore’s first victory over a team with at least 10 wins in the regular season in eight years, ending an eight-game losing streak to such teams.
This season, the Ravens showed they could compete against the NFL’s best, pushing the New Orleans Saints to the final seconds of regulation and taking the Kansas City Chiefs to overtime. In Baltimore’s penultimate regular-season game, the Ravens beat a Chargers team that had won 10 of its previous 11 games, including four in a row.
More importantly, the Ravens could have faced elimination this week if they had lost and the Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts all won. The Titans won before the Ravens kicked off at StubHub Center, which ramped up the pressure on Baltimore.
“Once again, our backs were against the wall,” coach John Harbaugh told his players in the locker room. “Nobody thought we would come out here and win except us. We are a strong, ass-kicking outfit.
One of the biggest regular-season wins in the Harbaugh era came one day after the Ravens announced Harbaugh would remain the head coach in 2019 as the sides work on an extension.
Harbaugh never brought the news that he’s returning next season to his players Friday. Several players said they first learned the news from comedian Kelley James, who was brought in by Harbaugh to entertain the team. James mentioned it during his act.
“That just made me super-happy, just based on what everybody is saying outside and how composed he is with the team, how he ignores the noise,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “It trickles down to the players. That energy, it keeps us going, keeps a positive mindset throughout the year. Like I said, he’s become one of my favorite coaches.”
The Ravens led for all but one minute thanks to Jackson and a ferocious defense. After a fumble by Baltimore running back Kenneth Dixon, Melvin Gordon scored a 1-yard touchdown to put the Chargers ahead 10-6 in the third quarter. Two plays later, Jackson connected with Andrews for the Ravens’ longest touchdown pass in two years, quite an accomplishment for a quarterback more known for his scrambling than his passing.
When told he set a career high in passing (which happened in his first game against a top-10 defense), Jackson threw his hands up in the air and said, “”Woo! A 200-yard game finally, huh?”
The night also served as redemption for the Baltimore defense, which has been criticized for the past two years for not finishing games in December. This time, the Ravens closed out the game with Young’s touchdown and Marlon Humphrey‘s interception in the end zone with 1:21 remaining.
“Man, I think you go back and look at that game on tape, and I’m excited to watch that, because our defense — that’s an ass-whupping,” Andrews said. “That’s plain and simple.”
The Ravens technically don’t control their playoff fate. Baltimore could be bounced from the postseason if it beats the Browns and the Houston Texans (10-4) lose out.
But the Ravens took a significant step in advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and making a championship run with an unconventional offense and the best defense in the league. It was only a month ago when the Ravens had lost three in a row to fall to 4-5 and then-starting quarterback Joe Flacco was sidelined with a hip injury. Now, Jackson has gone 5-1, giving the Ravens a new offensive identity, as well as a new hope.
“We’ve proven people wrong as we’ve gone on,” Jackson said. “People just expecting us to go out there and just blow the game. We go out and we compete, we fight. And we just came out with the victory.”