In one of the NFL's most dramatic finishes, Jackson raced out of the locker room and saved the Ravens' season Monday night, delivering an unbelievable comeback in Baltimore's 47-42 victory at the Cleveland Browns.
Returning for the final two minutes after a bout with cramps, Jackson threw a 44-yard touchdown pass and then calmly moved Baltimore into position for Justin Tucker's winning 55-yard field goal with two seconds left. Jackson was praised by teammates after his second career fourth-quarter comeback, and Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant tweeted from home: "Superman showed up right on time!!"
The Ravens (8-5) are now considered heavy favorites to earn their third straight postseason berth after nearly watching their playoff hopes fade against the upstart Browns (9-4).
"It was just go time for us, and it was our time, I feel," Jackson said. "We're where we want to be right now. We're excelling right now."
Jackson, who returned last week after testing positive for COVID-19, began experiencing cramps in his right arm with five minutes left in the third quarter. Then, after handing the ball off to J.K. Dobbins on a 1-yard touchdown run, Jackson felt cramps in his legs and hurried to the locker room with a trainer. Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged there was no indication Jackson would come back.
While Jackson was getting intravenous salt solutions, Baltimore saw a 34-20 lead at the start of the fourth quarter turn into a 35-34 deficit. To make matters worse, the Ravens were ready to go with wide receiver Willie Snead as their quarterback on fourth-and-5 with two minutes remaining. Backup quarterback Trace McSorley had his left knee buckle on a run, which led to Snead taking practice snaps.
"I was catching an attitude because it wasn't going the way we wanted it to," Jackson said. "And then I saw [McSorley] go down, and I was like, 'We've got to start now. We've just got to go out there now.' And I started running out there."
On his first play back, Jackson scrambled to his right and heaved a 44-yard touchdown pass to a wide receiver aptly nicknamed "Hollywood" (Marquise Brown) to put Baltimore ahead 42-35 with 1:51 remaining. It was the latest go-ahead touchdown pass of Jackson's career.
After the Browns retook the lead on Baker Mayfield's sliding 5-yard touchdown run, Jackson marched Baltimore 38 yards on four passes in 62 seconds. Tucker then nailed the winner to increase Baltimore's playoff chances to 86.5%, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. With a loss, the Ravens' projected odds would've dropped to 37.9%.
"It's a game that's going to go down in history," Harbaugh said. "With all the things that went on with this game, the timing, like you're talking about, of that right there ... if you wrote a movie about this, people wouldn't believe it. They would say it could never happen. 'Reality is stranger than fiction' or whatever that saying is. That's kind of what it is here."
In what was supposed to be the Browns' coming-out party -- their best team since the Ravens relocated from Cleveland to Baltimore -- the Ravens instead showed how much adversity they can overcome. It was a couple of weeks ago when the Ravens endured one of the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks in professional sports, in which at least a dozen players, including Jackson, tested positive in a 10-day span.
Although Baltimore routed the last-place Dallas Cowboys a week ago, this prime-time game in Cleveland represented the Ravens' last chance to prove they could not only make the playoffs but also make noise once there. Baltimore had been 1-4 this season against teams with winning records.
In addition to withstanding constant lead changes, the Ravens had to battle a slick field (Jackson had to change his cleats at halftime), attrition on defense (Harbaugh said there were so many injuries that getting 11 players on the field was a challenge) as well as whipping 19-mph winds for the winning field goal.
The Ravens are No. 8 in the seven-team AFC playoff field, but they are positioned for a strong finish. Baltimore's three remaining games are against the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals, who are a combined 8-30-1 (.218).
"We definitely needed to have this one," said Tucker, who is 14-of-14 on field goal tries in the final minute of regulation. "I think ultimately what the world saw on Monday Night Football is a Ravens team that played with faith and guts."
Jackson carried the Ravens with his legs in the first three quarters, setting a Monday Night Football record by a quarterback with 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the game. With wide receivers dropping passes and the offensive line struggling to pass protect, Jackson was 6-of-11 passing for 81 yards when he left for the locker room.
After returning, Jackson produced more passing yards in the final two minutes than he had in the first three quarters. He completed 5 of 6 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.
"He's resilient. He's resilient in everything he does," Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said. "I think the proof is in the pudding. I think when you see everything that he's done and how he plays and the way the team fought ... we're not a team that gets down and come back. I think we've shown that this year. We've shown time and time again that we could come back from being down in deficits. Obviously, this was a great game, and he showed it again."
After Cleveland tied the score at 42 with 1:04 left, Jackson completed a couple of 14-yard passes to Andrews before hitting him on a 4-yard pass to get to the Browns' 37-yard line. As soon as Tucker kicked his 16th winning field goal, Jackson leaped onto the field, grabbed Tucker in a bear hug and lifted him in the air.
"That was a true movie, Hollywood script," Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "Lamar has a unique way of being able to lead guys without having to say much. This week, he was a little more vocal, and I felt like he was going to bring his best game tonight. It just matched up all so well with how the week went, with him being a little more vocal as far as addressing the whole team on Zoom calls. It just all went together, and I was super pumped when that happened. It was just crazy."