Lamar Jackson can end Ravens' QB debate with third straight win

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Lamar Jackson can do more than deliver a win Sunday that can go a long way toward ending the Baltimore Ravens' three-year playoff drought.

Jackson can essentially settle the debate at the Ravens' starting quarterback position.

If Jackson beats the Atlanta Falcons, he would improve to 3-0 as a starter, which would make it extremely difficult for the Ravens to go back to Joe Flacco even if he has recovered from a right hip injury. A victory on the road -- which would check another box off Jackson's list -- and it's legitimate to wonder whether Flacco has played his final game in a Ravens uniform.

Jackson has brought a much-needed dose of excitement, a new offensive identity and momentum at the right time of the season.

Before Jackson's first start, Baltimore was reeling with a below-.500 record and a three-game losing streak. In winning his first two NFL starts, Jackson has put the Ravens (6-5) back into the playoff hunt (they would be the AFC's No. 6 seed if the regular season ended today) and established a modern take on grind-it-out football.

After Sunday's win over the Oakland Raiders, coach John Harbaugh mentioned the possibility of Flacco returning to practice this week. That spurred talk among Baltimore fans about whether the Ravens should stick with Jackson or shift back to Flacco.

A healthy Flacco could be seen as the best chance for the Ravens to make a deep run in the playoffs. He has big-game experience, a strong arm and the track record of winning at New England, Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

The point became moot on Wednesday when Flacco didn't practice and Harbaugh was noncommittal on when the Super Bowl-winning quarterback would return.

“I have no expectations on medical-type stuff," Harbaugh said. "I’ve learned that over the years. You just let it play out."

So far, it has played out beautifully for Jackson, who slipped to the No. 32 overall pick in this year's draft but is playing more meaningful football than the other four quarterbacks taken in the first round.

Some will scoff at Jackson's perfect record. He's winning with his legs and has yet to prove he can consistently throw the ball (his QBR of 27.0 is the third worst in the NFL since Week 11, ahead of Nick Mullens and Josh Rosen). He has beaten two of the league's worst defenses in the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders. He's enjoyed the big advantage of playing at home.

The results, though, are undeniable. With Jackson leading the way, the Ravens have produced 509 rushing yards over the past two weeks, which are the most in the NFL and a franchise record. Baltimore is eating up the clock with an average of 36 minutes, 10 seconds (compared to 30:39 with Flacco), which would keep the ball out of the hands of Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers in December. Overall, Jackson's 55 offensive efficiency is the same as Flacco's.

With Jackson's unique skill set, he has become a preparation nightmare for other pass-crazed teams.

“It’s amazing how athletic he is, and how good of a quarterback he is," tight end Mark Andrews said. "He is able to do so much that makes defenses stay up late at night."

There are certainly pitfalls looming. Jackson could struggle to match the points put up by the Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs in the next two games. His running style -- 37 attempts in two games -- increases the chances of injury.

Barring that, Flacco may not play another down for Baltimore this season and beyond. The Ravens can create $18.5 million of salary-cap space if they part ways with Flacco at the end of the season and designate him as a post-June 1 cut (or wait to trade him after June 1).

With a win in Atlanta, it would be clear: The future is now for the Ravens and Jackson.