John Harbaugh didn’t flinch.
Lamar Jackson is going to be the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens.
There was some speculation that Joe Flacco would reclaim his starting spot when he was cleared by doctors to return from the hip injury that has sidelined him since Nov. 4.
Jackson, however, went 3-1 and revitalized the Ravens running game in Flacco’s absence.
Now, the former Heisman Trophy winner will have the opportunity to help the franchise snap a three-year playoff drought.
“We just try to go out there and win,” Harbaugh said. “Like we say from the beginning, every decision is based on what makes us the strongest possible team we can be, and that’s – whether it’s quarterback or defensive line or whatever – that’s the bottom line. That’s what it boils down to, and that’s how we feel about this decision, and we’re rolling.”
Jackson has the unified support of his teammates. One source said there would have been “an uprising” in the locker room if Jackson went back to the bench. Jackson took the promotion in stride and was humble about the opportunity.
“Joe [Flacco] is still part of the team. It’s his team still – just like it’s mine. It’s all of our team,” he said. “We’re brothers. We’re here together, each and every day. We’ve been here since camp putting our life on the line. It’s still his team, man – nothing [has] changed.”
The decision to stay with Jackson appears to be the most prudent. The Ravens running attack has risen from 22nd in the league to No. 4 with Jackson behind center.
In addition, the Ravens showed that a run-oriented offense can be effective against high-powered teams like Kansas City. Jackson has run for 336 yards, the most by a quarterback in his first four starts in the Super Bowl era, according to research by ESPN.
Most importantly, the team seems unified with the decision.
“Lamar is an easy kid to root for,” the source said.
The source also said that Harbaugh made the decision to stay with Jackson and there was no pressure from ownership.
Flacco appeared to take the demotion in stride. He declined to speculate about his long-term future in Baltimore. Instead, there was just a sense of disappointment about losing his starting role.
“I can’t say I was surprised,” said Flacco, who has thrown for 2,465 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. “I think the bigger thing is just – even though I’m disappointed, like I said, about my different role and all that – is just trying to stay excited about what my role is and the possibilities that may bring. Anything can happen in this league very quickly.
“We’re right in the middle of a really good playoff run. We have a lot of important playoff games ahead of us. I’d firstly be doing my team a big disservice by not preparing the same way I always do, and after that I’d be doing myself a big disservice, too, because you never know what’s going to happen or when you’re going to have to be called on.”
Admittedly, Jackson has a lot of work ahead of him in the offseason to become a better pocket passer. For now, he will continue to play to his strengths and lead the offense.
Jackson added: “It’s ‘our’ team – all of us together. It’s our team. I don’t go out there and block. I don’t go out there and catch the ball. I don’t make tackles. I just do my part. It’s all of our team”
The Ravens will very likely need to win their final three games to make the playoffs. They will play another high-caliber offense against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
The Buccaneers are ranked second in the league with 437.5 yards per game. Tampa Bay has struggled to protect the ball and are ranked 31st with a minus-17 turnover differential.
So, the Ravens might have to keep pace on offense and put points on the board. The Ravens are confident that Jackson can meet the challenge.
“He has been exciting. He is fun to watch, that’s for sure, and they’ve been tearing it up with their run game,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said about Jackson. “And, their run game makes you play assignment football, and you can’t argue with the results. 3-1, they’ve been playing good football with him in there.”