The Washington Post

After subpar start, Jackson leads Baltimore to win




EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Season openers can reveal a lot about a team or not much at all. Narrow the sample size down to the first half of Week 1, and the findings get even more exaggerate­d, a test case of sample size variance.

In the Ravens’ case Sunday, the first two quarters of a 24-9 win over the New York Jets seemed to be realizing every worst fear about their offense and every high hope for their defense.

Lamar Jackson was playing like a quarterbac­k bracing himself against the weight of the NFL’S most scrutinize­d contract situation, and his teammates were playing as if he could do it all himself. There were errant passes and dropped passes. There were missed reads and missed blocks. The offense was as dreary as the slate-gray sky looming over Metlife Stadium.

The Ravens’ saving grace was a defense that looked more like the units that historical­ly have held up the franchise, more like the talented group that was envisioned when last season started. The line got after quarterbac­k Joe Flacco. The linebacker­s flowed from side to side. The secondary was making plays and toying with the Jets’ offense.

By the time Jackson and Flacco embraced near midfield late Sunday afternoon, the Ravens’ win complete, the Week 1 narratives had mellowed out some. The offense had shown an uncommon burst in a breakaway third quarter. The defense had faltered here and there. There were injuries to evaluate and film to study, but at least there was a win to savor, the Ravens’ first since Nov. 28. Even if it was against the Jets.

“I feel like it was just us feeling it out there,” said Jackson, who missed the final four-plus games of 2021 with a bone bruise in his ankle, coinciding with the Ravens’ six-game losing streak, and sat out the preseason along with many other starters. “Yes, we’re just getting back into the swing of things. We played better. We came out better in the second half and started putting points on the board.”

After completing 17 of 30 passes for 213 yards with three touchdowns and an intercepti­on, along with six carries for 17 yards, Jackson was asked whether he had turned down a contract extension worth $250 million as ESPN reported. “Guaranteed?” he asked, referring to his desire for a deal similar to Cleveland Browns quarterbac­k Deshaun Watson’s. “No, there’s no truth to that,” Jackson said. He later told ESPN that he turned down an extension offer with about $160 million to $180 million fully guaranteed.

In the third quarter, Jackson looked worth every dollar Baltimore has offered him. His first half had been rather forgettabl­e: 10-for-16 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown, just one carry for four yards. The Ravens, still missing running back J.K. Dobbins and left tackle Ronnie Stanley, entered halftime with 11 rushing yards on just seven attempts, their fewest with Jackson as starter.

In one eight-minute stretch, however, Jackson transforme­d into the quarterbac­k who has made season openers his personal playground­s. On third and 10 from the New York 17-yard line, Jackson hung patiently in the pocket until wide receiver Devin Duvernay crossed his line of sight. The two had connected in the second quarter on a 25-yard touchdown, Duvernay winning a jump ball to give Baltimore a 10-3 lead.

Duvernay’s second score was much easier: a 17-yard pass he snagged over the middle of the end zone that extended the Ravens’ lead to 17-3. Duvernay finished with four catches, matching his career high, for a career-high 54 yards.

“Not surprised,” Coach John Harbaugh said of Duvernay, who entered the season with two career touchdown receptions. “This guy, he’s done so many things for us that really doesn’t always show up in the stat book, but he’s made big plays for us in the past. He works so hard; he’s been doing it in camp every single day.”

Jackson’s dagger came five minutes later. It required some good fortune, which was not always overflowin­g Sunday. In between losing starting left tackle Ja’wuan James to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury and losing starting cornerback Kyle Fuller to a knee injury of unknown severity, the Ravens watched running back Mike Davis lose the ball on a thirdquart­er, open-field carry, only to somehow recover it amid a wave of Jets defenders.

The next play sent the home fans streaming to the exits. Jackson’s 55-yard bomb hit Rashod Bateman in stride, and the secondyear wide receiver stared into the stadium’s lower bowl of seats, packed with purple, as the Ravens’ sideline erupted.

But just as the offense was better than it let on early, the defense left room for improvemen­t ahead of Sunday’s showdown against the Miami Dolphins and their arsenal of weapons. There were missed tackles and penalties that wiped out two sacks. There was the occasional blown coverage. A surprising­ly leaky run defense (17 carries for 83 yards) opened the door for the Jets’ only first-half score.

The Jets outgained the Ravens 378-274 but were less efficient on a per-play basis and didn’t convert a third down until midway through the fourth quarter. Flacco, starting for the injured Zach Wilson, finished 37 for 59 for 307 yards with a touchdown and an intercepti­on.

 ?? ADAM HUNGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Devin Duvernay finished with two touchdown receptions against the Jets to double his career total.
ADAM HUNGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS Devin Duvernay finished with two touchdown receptions against the Jets to double his career total.

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