BALTIMORE — In the moments after the Baltimore Ravens’ what-just-happened 36-35 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, the football world was fixated on a fourth-quarter conversation between coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Lamar Jackson before a critical fourth down. Harbaugh asked Jackson whether they should go for it, and Jackson said they should and then converted what was the victory-clinching play.
What shouldn’t go overlooked is how this upset victory became the loudest statement ever made by Jackson in the regular season.
In a span of 17 minutes, Jackson emphatically checked off two of the biggest remaining items on his NFL to-do list: prove he can beat Patrick Mahomes after losing the first three times, and show he can come back from a double-digit deficit. Trailing the Chiefs by 11 points in the fourth quarter, Jackson looked like a man on a mission, delivering the biggest comeback of his career.
Can a signature prime-time performance like this one quiet the critics?
“The noise will go away, then it will come back somehow,” Jackson said. “It’s going to always be like that as long as I’m playing. So I don’t really care about it. I’m just going to keep playing.”
Leading up to the game, Jackson downplayed any personal rivalry with Mahomes, even though this is only the fifth instance in the past 25 years where one NFL MVP quarterback has lost his first three starts against another MVP quarterback. And, unlike those previous Ravens losses, Baltimore’s supporting cast for this one was more like a skeleton crew.
The left side of Baltimore's offensive line (All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Tyre Phillips) was inactive with injuries. The Ravens’ top two running backs (J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards) are out for the season with knee injuries. First-round wide receiver Rashod Bateman is out at least one more game after undergoing groin surgery.
The prospects looked bleaker with 3 minutes, 14 seconds left in the third quarter, when Baltimore trailed Kansas City 35-24. The Ravens’ win probability was 9%, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The narrative had been Jackson couldn’t lead a big comeback because he wasn’t a consistent enough passer. But in the final three drives of the game, Jackson completed 4 of 6 passes for 44 yards and capped off two of the possessions with touchdown runs. On the only other series in the fourth quarter, after the talk with Harbaugh, he ran up the middle of the defense to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Ravens’ 43-yard line with 1:05 remaining.
It marked the second-biggest comeback win ever against Mahomes. (The only other team to beat Mahomes' Chiefs after falling behind by double digits was the Chargers in 2018.)
“I’ll just never, ever not have faith in him to make a play in any situation,” Harbaugh said.
There were doubters in the fourth quarter, and rightfully so. Jackson had been 0-6 when trailing by at least 11 points in a game.
Jackson responded with touchdown drives of 56 and 68 yards. He had beaten a previously undefeated Tom Brady-led Patriots team and he had fourth-down heroics against Russell Wilson in Seattle. But to lead a monumental comeback in conquering the Chiefs -- who he described as the Ravens' “kryptonite” -- places this win in a special category.
After sealing the win with his last-minute fourth-down run, Jackson spiked the ball in celebration and then jumped up and down while pumping his fist in the air.
"He was poised,” Ravens wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown said. "He stayed consistent. He’s the leader of this team.”