The cameras perfectly captured the moment, showing the level of trust Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh has in his quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Facing fourth-and-1 on their own 43 with just over a minute to play and nursing a one-point lead, Ravens coach John Harbaugh had already decided that he was going for the first down rather than punting the ball back to the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. He just wanted to make sure Lamar Jackson was on board, too.
“Lamar, Lamar,” Harbaugh yelled from the sideline, trying to get his quarterback’s attention. “Do you want to go for this?”
Jackson, who had just completed a 6-yard pass to Sammy Watkins to set up the fourth-and-short and a Chiefs timeout, has never answered no to that question in his life. Predictably, he didn’t this time.
“Hell yeah,” Jackson shouted back at Harbaugh.
If he did, and failed, he would surely lose, and the noise would grow louder than ever.
Harbaugh didn’t care. Neither did Jackson.
Harbaugh said later that he and his quarterback have each other’s back, that he has “complete confidence in Lamar Jackson to make every play.”
Upon hearing Jackson’s opinion, Harbaugh said into his headset, “All right, let’s go.”
Jackson kept the ball, drove forward and picked up 2 yards and the first down, setting off a wild celebration on the field and the Ravens sideline. Jackson and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva met for a flying chest bump. Harbaugh leaped into cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s arms on the sideline.
Harbaugh and Jackson have won a ton of games together during their three-plus-year partnership. In that moment, Sunday’s prime-time 36-35 victory over the Chiefs before an announced crowd of 70,417 felt as big as any of them, just for everything it represented.
The Ravens and Jackson had never gotten the better of Mahomes and the powerful Chiefs in three previous tries, and it didn’t look like it would happen Sunday night. Jackson threw a pick six on the game’s third play from scrimmage. He ended the Ravens’ third drive with an end-zone interception. The Ravens trailed 35-24 with less than seven minutes left in the third quarter.
The Ravens were reeling, staring into the abyss of an 0-2 start and the latest indication that they had not narrowed the gap on the AFC’s top team. But then the magic happened.
Tavon Young picked off a desperation pass from Mahomes, setting up Jackson for a five-play, 56-yard drive that ended with the quarterback diving in from 2 yards out to make it a 35-30 game.
The Ravens then forced a quick punt and Jackson initiated a 14-play, 68-yard drive that absorbed just over eight minutes. Flipping into the end zone on third-and-goal from the 1, Jackson gave the Ravens a 36-35 lead with 3:14 to play. He whipped the ball high into the Baltimore night in celebration, but then reality set in.
“I saw three minutes on the clock, (and) I was like, ‘Damn, that’s a lot of time,’” Jackson thought.
Kansas City needed just three plays and 74 seconds to get into Harrison Butker’s field-goal range. Then RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire took the handoff, and fumbled. The Ravens defense punched on the loose ball, gaining possession.
The Ravens still needed to ice the final minute, 20 seconds off the clock, and Andy Reid had all three of his timeouts. Predictably, the Ravens kept the ball in Jackson’s hands. He ran for 1 yard on first down and then 2 yards on second down. He hit former Chief Sammy Watkins for 6 yards on third down.
When the Ravens decided to go for it on fourth down, everybody knew that Jackson was keeping the ball, and a tired Kansas City defense still couldn’t stop it. In addition to throwing for 239 yards and a nifty jump pass for a touchdown to a wide-open Marquise Brown, Jackson also rushed for 107 yards and two scores.
“It feels good to get that monkey off of our back. It just feels good,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to move on to Detroit now. We didn’t win the Super Bowl yet; it’s just one game. We’ve got to just keep staying focused.”
It’s true this his just one game, but it was the most important regular season game on the schedule for the Ravens and Jackson. At some point Jackson had to defeat Mahomes otherwise the pressure would only mount with each head to head matchup. Assuming the Ravens have Super Bowl aspirations, getting past Mahomes and the Chiefs is essential so gaining confidence, albeit a regular season game, was huge.
What Jackson can do is unlike anything the NFL has ever seen. It’s worth the mistakes, the imperfections, the overthrows, the interceptions. It is electric, irresistible, at times unstoppable, and it’s why, when the imperfections appear, teammates like Marquise “Hollywood” Brown don’t flinch.
“Even when he threw his two picks, it was like, ‘Ah, yeah, you threw a pick, but look at that, look at this,” Brown said. Look at the flick-of-a-wrist deep balls, and video game jukes, and the poise. “He still came in there and did what he do,” Brown continued. “I love it.”
They’ve embraced that as an identity, because they understand that the good outweighs the bad like a sumo wrestler would an infant.
“It’s not perfect,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not pretty sometimes — usually. But it is us.”
Jackson is unpredictable, but so magnificent that on Baltimore’s sideline, trust in him never wavers. And that’s why the coaching staff, even after the two picks, entrusted him with a pass over the middle on third-and-7 with 1:11 remaining.
“I have complete confidence in Lamar Jackson to make every play,” Harbaugh said.
That bond, relationship and trust between Head Coach and QB is one every team dreams to have. But it goes beyond the normal coach-player relationship.
Since day one Harbaugh has bought in on Jackson, despite having a decade of success with the complete opposite player than Jackson: Joe Flacco.
It’s not every day that a veteran middle aged white male coach gives his complete confidence and keys to the franchise over to a 22 year old African American, “running back.”
But Harbaugh did so and beyond. He reshaped his entire roster around Jackson. Standard blue print of building a NFL roster in the 21st century? Harbaugh threw that out the window and constructed a roster built for Jackson’s success.
We are three seasons in and Harbaugh, Jackson and the Ravens are reaping the rewards of building a foundation built on trust and loyalty.
You love to see it.