BALTIMORE (AP) — Just like last year, the Baltimore Ravens are prepared to enter the pivotal part of their season without star quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The big difference is, this time Jackson is expected to return and Tyler Huntley appears far more comfortable in his role as a stand-in for the 2019 NFL MVP.
Baltimore fans, the players and the coaching staff stirred restlessly Sunday when Jackson headed to the sideline tent after being sacked by Denver’s Jonathon Cooper on the final play of the first quarter. The concern grew when Jackson was ushered into the tunnel to the Ravens’ locker room so trainers could get a closer look at his injured knee.
Jackson never returned to the game, but things ultimately turned out fine for the AFC North leaders. Not only did Huntley engineer a late touchdown drive in the closing minutes of Baltimore’s 10-9 victory, but coach John Harbaugh revealed that Jackson will ultimately return this season — perhaps as soon as next Sunday at Pittsburgh.
“It’s going to be a number of days to weeks,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see if he can go back this week. If not, it will be sometime after that shortly.”
After the game, Jackson seemed like he was in a much better mood than seven days earlier, when he directed a vulgar tweet at a fan following Baltimore’s loss at Jacksonville. This time, Jackson posted a purple heart on Twitter along with two rocket emojis while quote-tweeting a message about the victory.
The Ravens (8-4) have had their struggles this season on offense, and Jackson has not always been exceptionally sharp. But his versatility and leadership — most notably his ability to scamper out of the pocket for big yardage — make him invaluable to Baltimore’s run-oriented attack.
Jackson missed the final four games of the 2021 season with an ankle injury, and Baltimore lost every one of them. The Ravens were 8-3 before finishing with a six-game skid. Huntley won only once as a starter last season, but the experience he gained proved beneficial during a 91-yard drive that he finished with a 2-yard run that gave Baltimore its only lead with 28 seconds left.
It was a welcome departure from the fourth-quarter collapses that accounted for each of the team’s four defeats this year.
“We’ll take that win,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who had four catches for 53 yards. “No matter how it comes, we’re going to take that all day.”
Said Huntley: “The outcome (today) was way better than last year. We finished up strong.”
Huntley completed his first six passes, but the Ravens trailed 6-3 at halftime. He ended up with 41 yards rushing and went 27 for 32 for 187 yards, decent numbers enhanced by his terrific performance during the game-winning drive.
“Calm, cool, confident. Acted like he’s been there before, which he has,” Andrews said. “Just so much love and respect for his game and what he’s able to do.”
Understood. But the Ravens have built their offense around Jackson’s versatility, and that is why they’re prepared to pay the quarterback a boatload of money for a long-term deal either this offseason or next.
Short-term, however, Baltimore would love to have Jackson taking snaps next week against its division rivals in Pittsburgh.
Whether that happens or not, Huntley — known affectionately by his teammates as “Snoop” — will be ready to go.
“Just like every week. Prepare,” he said. “That’s about it. That’s all there is to it.”
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David Ginsburg, The Associated Press