For one of his latest tricks — and I had seen many of them a few years back — Lamar Jackson came out of nowhere (or, at least, the locker room) to save the Baltimore Ravens.
Wait — even that doesn’t do justice to his heroics on the night of Dec. 14. The Ravens’ third-year quarterback spent most of the fourth quarter receiving an IV to alleviate cramping, as Baltimore fell behind the Cleveland Browns in a game important to the Ravens’ playoff hopes. But when his backup, Trace McSorley, suffered a knee injury, Jackson hurried to the rescue.
First he threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Marquise Brown on fourth down, with just under two minutes left. And after the Browns knotted the score at 42-all, he drove the Ravens 38 yards to set up a 55-yard field goal by Justin Tucker with two seconds remaining. Baltimore added a safety to win, 47-42, the second in a string of five straight victories to end the regular season, propelling the Ravens (11-5) to the playoffs.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters after the Cleveland victory that it was “a game that’s going to go down in history.” And Baltimore running back J.K. Dobbins was quoted by Yahoo Sports as saying that the ending was “like a movie.”
Again, I had seen Lamar do some incredible things when I was coaching him at Louisville, particularly in 2016, when he won the Heisman Trophy. There was a memorable leap over a Syracuse defender, in a game that saw him generate an incredible 610 yards from scrimmage. There was a game against No. 5 Clemson in which he generated 357 yards total offense. There were 10 games in which he threw for 200 yards or more and eight in which he ran for 100 or more. And in all he produced 3,543 yards and 30 TDs through the air, and 1,571 yards and 21 scores on the ground.
But his Dec. 14 effort was something else again. Lamar, the NFL MVP in 2019, had missed a Dec. 2 loss to Pittsburgh after testing positive for the coronavirus, but was playing well in a freewheeling game against Cleveland.
The two teams went back and forth all night, with Baltimore building a 34-20 lead through three quarters. But then Lamar retreated to the locker room with a trainer in tow. And cramps was the announced reason.
The Browns rallied to go up 35-34, with Lamar watching on television from the locker room — and agonizing.
“I’m catching an attitude,” he later told reporters, “because I’m like, ‘Man, it ain’t going the way we want it to.’”
McSorley’s injury did nothing to improve his mood.
“I’m like … ‘We just gotta go out there now,’” he told reporters. “And I start running out there.”
It was fourth-and-five when he entered the game. He rolled right and found a wide-open Brown, who continued to the end zone for the TD. Baltimore added a two-point conversion to go up, 42-35.
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield found Kareem Hunt for the tying touchdown with 1:10 left, but Lamar completed four passes on a six-play, 38-yard drive to set up Tucker’s field goal.
There was some social-media speculation, even from injured Baltimore backup quarterback Robert Griffin III, that Lamar wasn’t so much cramping as in need of a bathroom break. It was a move reminiscent of one pulled by retired Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce, who departed Game One of the 2008 NBA Finals via wheelchair and later returned to lead his team to victory. Years after the fact, Pierce admitted that he only needed to go to the restroom.
But Lamar was insistent, telling reporters he “didn’t pull a Paul Pierce.”
He finished the night 11-for-17 for 163 yards and touchdown through the air. He also rushed nine times for 124 yards and two scores.
Then he did what he did at the end, which was unbelievable. To most.