The New England Patriots had a problem on Sunday night. And it wasn’t just their offensive line or the Baltimore Ravens’ shifty and rugged running back Mark Ingram.
This was bigger and scarier … and shiftier.
The entire NFL might want to take notice because this is now everyone’s problem:
We thought the Ravens and coach John Harbaugh were grasping at straws not only by drafting Jackson last year, but sending “Cool” Joe Flacco away and going all-in on the interesting quarterback out of Louisville.
Sunday, when the pressure was on, the Patriots were grasping at straws trying to figure out how to control this shifty, agile and talented young man.
Patriots de facto defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, failed. At least when it counted most.
There are a few ways to peruse Sunday night’s debacle with a pro-Patriots bent.
The Ravens were rested and had two weeks to prepare. The Patriots made a few, rare mistakes and had bad fortune.
That offsides penalty on the Ravens field goal attempt, which probably was induced by the long-snapper’s flinch and lead to an easy/embarrassing Jackson rushing touchdown.
There was James White stepping on the foot of a Patriot offensive lineman, nullifying a sure touchdown, settling for a field goal instead.
And there was Julian Edelman’s heart getting in the way, as he fought for extra yards, fumbling the ball just before he touched the ground. It not only KO’d a scoring drive, but it was returned for a touchdown.
In the end, though, they are excuses. They are the same excuses that the Patriots have relished from opposing sidelines.
Which brings us back to the reason the Ravens won: Jackson.
While he wasn’t great or electric, particularly as a passer, his ability to avoid sure sacks — four Patriots surrounded him and he snuck away untouched for a first down — and turn them into game-changing plays is extraordinary.
In fact, the Patriots basically “controlled” Jackson for most of the second and third quarters. But that’s only 30 minutes. Jackson, who rushed for two touchdowns, owned the other 30 minutes.
“I don’t see him as young,” said Harbaugh of Jackson, who has only 16 games to his name (12-4) as a starting NFL quarterback. “He’s wise beyond his years in a lot of ways … he has a very high IQ. He also understands the moment. He has poise … just process all of that in that kind of moment, which is what makes the position at quarterback so difficult.”
What Harbaugh is saying is that Jackson isn’t just a great athlete with 4.3 speed in the 40 yard dash, but he’s really smart.
It’s one thing to praise your quarterback, oftentimes forcing it for some good press, but this seems real.
“There is no moment that is too big for him,” said Ingram, who gutted out 115 yards on 15 carries. “He is super competitive and super driven.
“Defenses are worried about Lamar,” added Ingram. “If you are trying to take our QB away, there are some eyes that aren’t on me. That might help me have some runs that I’m able to break because they are overplaying on him.”
Ravens tight end Nick Boyle probably said it best.
“He’s really, really good. We see it every week, plays that make us go ‘Wow! Did you see that?’” said Boyle. “He’s our leader. Knowing he’s back there, doing what he does, we always have a chance. That’s pretty cool.”
And for the Patriots and the rest of the NFL, it’s pretty daunting, too.