BALTIMORE – The Ravens are making a serious playoff run behind fleet-footed rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, the key figure in Baltimore’s rejuvenated ground game.
Jackson picked apart the Tampa Bay defense on a soggy field, running for 95 yards and throwing for 131 to carry the Ravens to a 20-12 victory Sunday.
Anointed the starter over veteran Joe Flacco earlier in the week, Jackson justified the decision with a riveting performance. Slipping between and sliding around potential tacklers, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner operated the run-pass option in much the same fashion as during his glory days at Louisville.
Jackson directed two drives that lasted more than seven minutes before closing out the game with a drive that consumed the final 7:08. He carried 18 times and completed 14 of 23 passes, one of them for a touchdown.
Tampa Bay (5-9) isn’t the first team to struggle to stop Jackson, and probably won’t be the last.
“You’ve got everybody covered, but the play gets extended,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh noted. “Lamar can throw on the run, or he can run. I just think that’s a very valuable (talent) to have.”
Baltimore (8-6) is 4-1 since Jackson took over for the injured Flacco, the only loss in overtime at Kansas City. Jackson has rushed for 427 yards in those five games. The Ravens held the ball for more than 37 minutes compared to 22:50 for Tampa Bay.
“You’ve got to stay on the field on offense,” Harbaugh said. “If you do that, you have a chance to generate some points.”
The Ravens amassed 242 yards rushing on 49 attempts. Gus Edwards finished with 104, Kenneth Dixon contributed 48 and Jackson averaged 5.3 yards per rush – even though he took a knee for the final three plays inside the Tampa Bay 10.
“He makes you play 11-on-11 football instead of 11 on 10,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said of Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in the NFL draft. “We had him wrapped up a couple of times and he squirted out of there and was able to extend plays.”
The loss eliminated Tampa Bay from playoff contention.
Baltimore’s second-ranked defense did its part, holding the Buccaneers to one touchdown and 241 yards. In the fourth quarter, Marlon Humphrey picked off Jameis Winston’s pass and forced an incompletion on fourth down from the Baltimore 33 with 7 minutes left.
“It’s very frustrating because we didn’t execute,” Bucs guard Ali Marpet said. “When you get chances to score and you don’t take advantage of them, it makes it more frustrating.”
The Ravens went up 17-9 by opening the second half with a 78-yard drive that lasted nearly five minutes. Jackson extended the march with a 17-yard completion to Mark Andrews and peeled off a 22-yard run before Edwards scored on a 10-yard burst up the middle.
“I seen ‘em coming,” Jackson said of his pivotal run. “I just had to make a play, make a bad play good. It was a success.”
Baltimore then forced a punt, but return man Cyrus Jones inexplicably touched the bouncing ball. Tampa Bay recovered and turned the miscue into a field goal.
Jackson answered with a 15-play drive that covered 38 yards and produced a field goal for a 20-12 lead.
Baltimore squandered its first promising drive late in the first quarter when Jackson botched a handoff and the Bucs recovered the loose ball at their 49. A 23-yard pass to Mike Evans set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Peyton Barber.
On the conversion, the wet football slithered through the hands of holder Bryan Anger.
The Ravens responded with the kind of drive that showed why Harbaugh picked Jackson over Flacco, who’s now healthy following a right hip injury. Jackson contributed 19 yards rushing to a 73-yard march that used 16 plays, lasted more than eight minutes and ended with a shovel pass from Jackson to Chris Moore, who scooted around right end for a 5-yard TD and a 7-6 lead.
Winston then burned the Ravens with a third-and-20 scramble-and-launch 64-yard pass to Evans on a third-and-20 that produced a field goal.
IT’S BEEN A WHILE
Baltimore is the first team since the 1976 Steelers to rush for at least 190 yards in five straight games, according to the Ravens.
“Right now we’ve got a good thing going,” Edwards said.
Bucs: TE Alan Cross left with a shoulder injury in the second quarter and did not return.
Ravens: OLB Matt Judon hurt his left knee in the third quarter but returned. … TE Nick Boyle left with a concussion.
Bucs: Final road game against Cowboys next Sunday. Dallas leads the series 14-4 (including playoffs).
Ravens: Face Chargers on road Saturday night, first meeting between the teams on the West Coast since 2012.