The Baltimore Ravens, coming off a loss in Kansas City, resume their playoff chase when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
The Ravens (7-6) are one-half game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North and ahead of three other 7-6 teams based on the tie-breaker for the second AFC wild card. Sunday’s home game against 5-8 Tampa Bay is sandwiched between road games against the Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.
Veteran quarterback Joe Flacco is healthy enough to practice and play but coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday that 21-year-old rookie Lamar Jackson will remain the starter with Flacco dressing as the backup Sunday.
“Every decision is based on what makes us the strongest possible team we can be - whether it’s quarterback or defensive line or whatever - and that’s the bottom line,” Harbaugh told reporters on Wednesday.
The Ravens have won three of four games with Jackson starting. In those games he has completed 52 of 89 passes (58.4 percent) for 600 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
“It’s our team, all of us together,” Jackson said when asked if the Ravens were now ‘his team.’
“I don’t go out there and block, I don’t go out there and catch the ball, I don’t make tackles. I just do my part.”
His part has included a lot of running.
Jackson has carried 68 times in the past four games for 332 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Overall, Jackson leads the Ravens in rushing (475 yards), joining Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills as the only quarterbacks leading their teams in that category.
Playing Cam Newton twice year should help the Buccaneers prepare for Jackson.
“Any time when you have a running quarterback, you’re looking at a more physical game,” Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul told the team’s website. “Just to play that is difficult. I’m not going to lie, [Baltimore’s] option stuff is difficult and anybody in the NFL, D-end-wise, if they say it’s not - that’s a lie.”
The Ravens much-improved rushing attack now ranks fourth in the NFL with 134.5 yards per game. The Buccaneers defense is last in the NFC, allowing 387.9 total yards per game.
As the backup Sunday, Flacco had better be ready. In two of the past four games Jackson has missed plays due to being checked for a possible concussion (Week 13) and injuring his ankle while being sacked against the Chiefs.
The Ravens boast the AFC’s second-ranked defense, which is giving up 293.9 yards per game.
The Buccaneers (5-8) bring the NFC’s top-ranked offense in terms yards gained (430.1 per game) into Baltimore after failing to protect a 14-3 halftime lead in a 28-14 loss to the Saints.
A minus-17 turnover ratio has prevented some of those yards from translating into points. They’ve got three games to build the offense.
“I think we’ve shown throughout the year that we have the potential to be one of the best offenses in the league,” wide receiver Chris Godwin said. “We go out there and play our game, focus on our game, and focus on the things we’ve go to do correctly, we’re going to like the outcome most of the time.”
After two strong games with passer ratings over 110, quarterback Jameis Winston struggled against the Saints, completing 18 of 38 passes for 213 yards. He had two touchdown passes and one interception.
Tampa Bay safeties Justin Evans (toe) and Isaiah Johnson (concussion) did not practice Wednesday, nor did wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb).
For Baltimore, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (groin), safety Tony Jefferson (ankle), linebacker/defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle), and cornerback Tavon Young (groin) did not participate.
—Field Level Media