Lamar Jackson and Ravens again hitting stride in December


BALTIMORE -- Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are playing their best football of the season at just the right time.

Looking just as dangerous as he did in last season’s NFL MVP campaign, Jackson threw three touchdowns and ran for another as the Ravens routed the outclassed Jacksonville Jaguars 40-14 on Sunday.

This marks the first time Baltimore has scored 40 or more points in consecutive games since November 2019, when the Ravens had the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The only bad news for Baltimore was the Miami Dolphins beating the New England Patriots. Winners of three straight games, the Ravens (9-5) remain No. 8 in the seven-team AFC race behind the Dolphins because Miami (6-4 in the AFC) currently has a better conference record than Baltimore (6-5).

The Ravens’ chances of reaching the playoffs are 88%, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

“We’ve just got to keep focused on what we have in front of us,” Jackson said. "We’ve got the Giants in front of us now. We’ve got to focus on those guys, get on the film, and watch those guys and pray next week, the ones we need to lose, lose, because we’ve still got to try to get to the playoffs -- that’s our goal. But one game at a time. We can’t peak too soon.”

For the first three months of the season, Jackson and the Ravens struggled to regain the rhythm of last season. It got so bad for Baltimore that Jackson even acknowledged defensive players were calling out the Ravens’ plays.

But, strangely enough, it all changed when Jackson tested positive for COVID-19. After returning, Jackson has totaled 10 touchdowns (six passing and four rushing) in his past three games, showing the same relentlessness and energy as last season.

Baltimore is now 40-0 when entering a game as a double-digit favorite. The Ravens are the only NFL franchise not to lose such a game.

"You always just hammer home what’s at stake and looking straight ahead, having your eyes neither wander to the left or to the right, but keeping focused on what’s in front of you,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think it just goes back to guys who are character guys and understand perspective and understand what’s at stake. I’m proud of our guys for being able to do that over the years. This bunch just did. ... Really, this game was one of the best jobs that we’ve had the whole time we’ve been here.”

Promising trend: Domination in December. The Ravens are now 12-2 in this month since 2018, when Jackson took over as a starter. That’s the best record in the NFL in that span. Baltimore has outscored teams 398-161 in December in the past three seasons.

QB breakdown: Jackson produced four touchdowns for the sixth time in his career. He was efficient in the red zone, throwing touchdown passes to Miles Boykin (four yards), Dez Bryant (11) and Mark Andrews (three). He also had a five-yard touchdown run. For the most part, Jackson did his damage through the air, completing 17-of-22 passes for 243 yards. Jackson recorded a 133.1 passer rating, his third straight game with a rating better than 100.

Most unexpected play: Rookie third-round pick Tyre Phillips, a 330-pound offensive lineman, picked up Jackson’s fumble early in the fourth quarter and ran 22 yards with it. Phillips was given a game ball by Harbaugh in the locker room. "We’ve never seen an offensive lineman pick up a ball and actually gain yards without fumbling,” Harbaugh said. "We’ve actually shown our guys many plays of that, and we tell our linemen [to] bat it down or protect the ball or get down, or whatever, because we’ve shown them so many plays where guys fumble the ball. I think Tyre was paying attention, because he had that thing covered up nice. But that’s a first – no question about it."

Pivotal play: Safety in the first quarter. Jackson’s interception on the opening drive gave some early hope for the Jaguars. Two plays later, linebacker Matthew Judon sacked Gardner Minshew in the end zone for a safety. Even with two top cornerbacks (Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith) and defensive end Calais Campbell all sidelined by injuries, the Ravens defense shut out the Jaguars for the first 35 minutes, 51 seconds of the game.

Getting revenge: Earlier in the week, Minshew said Ravens pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue would be “out for blood” in his first game against his former team and he was certainly right. Ngakoue recorded two sacks, including forcing a fumble from Minshew in the red zone in the third quarter. This was undoubtedly the best game in Baltimore for Ngakoue, who only had one sack in his previous seven games for the Ravens. “This is what they brought me here to do,” Ngakoue said. "They brought me here to come change the game and be a critical part of the defense, and that’s what I intend on doing, and that’s my job, and that’s what I need to do every Sunday. So, just fortunate that that was able to happen today.”

Up next: Sunday against the New York Giants. The Ravens are 6-1 against teams with losing records this season, including 3-0 against the NFC East.