In beating Falcons, Lamar Jackson stakes claim to keeping QB job

ATLANTA -- There is talk that the Baltimore Ravens will have to make a decision at starting quarterback this week because Joe Flacco will be recovered from a hip injury.

Lamar Jackson might have ended any quarterback controversy in helping the Ravens beat the Atlanta Falcons 26-16 on Sunday.

Once again, Jackson led the offense with his legs and did enough with his arm to keep Baltimore as a favorite for a wild-card spot. He continues to give this team a physical, run-first mentality. He repeatedly delivers a much-needed dose of excitement at the most crucial part of the season.

Can the Ravens take the job away from Jackson after he has gone 3-0?

"It’s a question that’s still yet to be answered,” coach John Harbaugh said. "I think just on the face of it, has he done enough? Sure. Absolutely. He’s done enough. He’s played great. He’s 3-0. He’s played well. What way we’ll go, what direction we’ll go, we’ll see.”

Without being asked, Harbaugh made the point that Flacco has yet to be cleared to play in a game. There is a chance that Flacco could be allowed to do more in practice this week, although Harbaugh acknowledged he wouldn’t divulge that to the media.

In Flacco’s absence, Jackson has been the spark to end a three-game losing streak and perhaps a three-year postseason drought. With four games remaining, Baltimore (7-5) has a one-game lead for the final playoff spot in the AFC.

"There will be no quarterback controversy in our locker room,” Harbaugh said. "Our guys want to win. They know all three guys can win. Whatever way we decide to do, it’s only going to be to make our team the strongest it can be. Maybe, we’ll play all three. Maybe, we’ll play one of them. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out. But like I said, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to that.”

If Harbaugh has a tell about the starting quarterback situation, it’s possibly his enthusiasm for the new brand of run-gouging, clock-eating attack with Jackson.

"This is an unconventional offense,” Harbaugh said. "This is an offense that I don’t know if any of us know exactly where it’s going."

The drawback with Jackson is the frustrating growing pains. The offense doesn't run as smoothly as Jackson glides for first downs.

He is prone to turnovers, having thrown three interceptions and fumbling once (which got returned 70 yards for a touchdown by the Falcons) in three starts. He struggles with accuracy and overthrows receivers open for big plays, as he did Sunday when John Brown broke free at the Falcons' 15-yard line.

Who does linebacker Terrell Suggs, the longest-tenured player on the Ravens, think should start at quarterback?

"That ain't my job to say, man,” Suggs said. "You know me. I think he does a good job with the offense they give him to run, but I've been around here a long time. I'm a big fan of my teammates, particularly Super Bowl MVPs."

Flacco, the Super Bowl MVP in 2012, is certainly the more polished quarterback right now. Jackson, though, is better suited for the team at this time.

The Ravens take chunks off the clock, which keeps the NFL's top-ranked defense fresh. Baltimore had the ball nearly twice as long as Atlanta (39 minutes, 39 seconds to 20:21), which was a big factor in the Ravens limiting the Falcons to a season-worst 131 yards of total offense.

"I told the guys before that last drive, 'I mean, we've been sitting out for 15 minutes, so we better have the energy. You better hit whatever you see these next few plays, and let's go win this game,’” safety Eric Weddle said. "So it's complementary football that we're playing, and we've just got to keep it rolling."

Jackson finished 12-of-21 for 125 yards passing and ran 17 times for 75 yards. They're not scintillating numbers, but they're winning ones.

Jackson truly staked his claim to the starting job for the rest of the season in the fourth quarter, when he returned after being cleared from the concussion protocol. With Ravens up 16-10, Jackson converted a third down with a 16-yard run and then hit Ty Montgomery for 8 yards on another third-down pickup, which put Baltimore in range for a 47-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

"I didn’t want to put my defense back out there on the field without us putting up any points,” Jackson said. "I felt like we needed to keep them on the sideline as much as we could and keep the ball in our hands and don’t anything happen for the defense. [The Falcons] have Julio [Jones], Calvin Ridley and [Mohamed] Sanu. I don’t want those guys to get the ball back."

Uncertainty at the starting quarterback position is unfamiliar ground for the Ravens. For the past 11 seasons, Flacco was under center for every meaningful game.

The best way to avoid a quarterback controversy is to not dwell on it, according to left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

“You just don’t focus on it,” Stanley said. "You focus on the things that are going to help you win the next game, and worrying about who’s going to be behind you is not going to help us win."

When Jackson took over as the starter during the bye week, the Ravens had lost three games in a row and were spiraling downward. They couldn't run the ball and struggled to throw the ball deep.

Jackson came in to beat two of the worst defenses in the NFL -- Cincinnati and Oakland -- at home. In his first road start, Jackson marched Baltimore down the field on the first drive, capping it with a 13-yard touchdown run. Another box was checked for Jackson.

The popular narrative is the Ravens will have a choice at quarterback heading into Sunday's game at Kansas City. But Flacco was not moving around well this past week. He had a noticeable limp.

With Jackson undefeated, Flacco's recovery might not be an issue. Jackson might have ended the quarterback debate in becoming the fifth rookie quarterback since 2001 to win his first three starts, joining Ben Roethlisberger, (2004), Craig Krenzel (2004), Mark Sanchez (2009) and Carson Wentz (2016).

“The main thing about Lamar to me is his poise,” Harbaugh said. "He just really handles himself well, doesn’t get overwhelmed by any of it. If he makes a mistake, he recognizes it for what it is. He doesn’t overthink it. He wants to do better. He doesn’t want to let his teammates down. You heard that and that’s genuine. He’s got that and you appreciate that.”