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Lamar Jackson and the Ravens Passed Their Test With Flying Colors

Suddenly, the Patriots appear mortal while Baltimore has the look of an AFC contender. What’s even more impressive about the team’s 37-20 win over New England is that they did it the exact way they’ve beaten everyone all season.

New England Patriots v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson’s third touchdown in the Ravens’ 37-20 win over the Patriots was a group effort. Jackson appeared to be stuffed on third-and-goal at the New England 1-yard line, but then Baltimore right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. wrapped his arms around Jackson and, in a combination of a bear hug and a suplex, pulled his quarterback into the end zone.

NBC’s Michele Tafoya asked Jackson after the game whether he knew Brown was the one tugging him.

“I couldn’t tell,” Jackson said. “I just knew one of the guys was pulling me.”

The touchdown was Baltimore’s fifth of the night and fourth on offense, doubling the number of touchdowns the Patriots defense has allowed this season. It also put the game out of reach and established the Ravens as a true AFC contender.

Baltimore didn’t have to adjust its typical goals or game plan much to win. The Ravens rushed efficiently (210 yards on 41 attempts, or 5.1 yards per carry) and sustained long drives (37.2 yards per drive) with lots of plays (65 plays on 10 drives) which let them dominate time of possession (37:01). All of those numbers are in line with Baltimore’s season averages entering the game: The Ravens lead the league in rushing (204.1 yards per game), yards per drive (42.5), plays per drive (7.2), and time of possession (35:00 time on average). Not only did the Ravens beat the Patriots, but they beat them the exact way they beat everyone else.

Lamar Jackson finished with 17 completions on 23 attempts for 163 yards, (7.1 yards per attempt) and one touchdown. He also rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries (3.8 yards per attempt). The statline does not communicate how beautiful he made some of those yards look. When Jackson is at his best, his play on the field looks less like football and more like the chase scenes from Baby Driver:

The physics of this third-quarter scramble are mind-boggling. With the Ravens up 24-20 and facing a first-and-10 at the New England 16-yard line, Jackson rolled right on a bootleg but was immediately chased by Patriots defensive end John Simon. Jackson stopped, turned 90 degrees upfield, and made a hard left toward the sideline where he was contained by linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Jackson then cut 45 degrees diagonally upfield, found center Matt Skura blocking, put his hand on Skura’s back, slowed to a jog and then propelled Skura forward to pancake the defender, accelerated back to a sprint, and then cut out of bounds for a first down. He was not touched by a defender on the play.

Jackson and Baltimore frustrated the Patriots from the jump. On their first touchdown of the game, Baltimore came out in a modernized heavy formation—nine men on or along the line of scrimmage with Jackson in pistol formation and a running back behind him. He faked the handoff up the gut to running back Gus Edwards and sprinted past the crashing linebacker Jamie Collins Sr., who was trying to tackle Edwards for a loss. Five yards behind the line of scrimmage, Jackson realized he was alone running to the pylon and began trotting to the end zone for the untouched score.

Baltimore’s win snapped a 21-game winning streak the Patriots had against first- or second-year quarterbacks. As NFL Research noted, it was the first game that a player has had multiple rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown against Bill Belichick since Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown eviscerated the Patriots 38-13 with the wildcat offense in 2008. As The Ringer’s Kevin Clark wrote, that game was one of the few times Patriots defenders like Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel lost their cool. Sunday night felt similar. Cameras showed linebacker Dont’a Hightower, the longest tenured of the Boogeymen Patriots linebacking corps who has played for either Belichick or Nick Saban his entire adult life, screaming at his teammates on the sideline.

But Hightower wasn’t the only one to lose his cool. Tom Brady threw an iPad (sorry, Microsoft Surface) in frustration, though despite the big windup he didn’t put too much zip on the tablet. To be fair he’s lost some arm strength.

He did put too much zip on a bizarre fourth-quarter interception where he lofted the ball deep and into the arms of awaiting safety Earl Thomas, who fielded it half like a punt and half like a gift from God. The pick, which came with Baltimore leading 30-20, was the last time the Pats had the ball with a chance to win. The Ravens defense held Brady to 30 completions on 46 attempts for 285 yards (6.2 yards per attempt), one touchdown, the pick, and an 80.4 passer rating. While Brady looked anxious (by his standards) toward the end of the game, Jackson was calm and collected against a defense that absolutely throttled the rest of the quarterbacks taken ahead of him in the 2018 NFL draft, from Josh Rosen (seven completions vs. three sacks) to Josh Allen (eight combined sacks, fumbles, and interceptions vs. 13 completions) to Sam Darnold (seeing the undead) to Baker Mayfield (aged approximately seven years in one week).

The knock on the Patriots’ historic defense halfway through the season was their soft schedule. Yes, they had won their eight games by the biggest margin of victory in NFL history through seven games and second only to themselves in 2007 through eight games, but that run came against a cartoonish lineup of players. The Patriots defense got its first real test on Sunday night against the Ravens, and they didn’t fail as much as the Baltimore Ravens passed with flying colors.