BALTIMORE — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh considered making a quarterback change in Sunday’s AFC wild-card game, but he said he made the “right decision” to stick with Lamar Jackson over Joe Flacco.
In a 23-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the 21-year-old Jackson looked like the youngest quarterback to ever play in a postseason game before throwing two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Jackson’s rally ended with 19 seconds remaining at midfield, where he fumbled for the third time.
“In the end — talk about the fourth quarter — Lamar played really well in two-minute,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think Joe would have played any better in two-minute. You have to say, based on that part of it [and] at that point in time in the game, it was the right decision.”
Harbaugh made it clear after the game that Jackson is the future and Flacco is no longer in the Ravens’ plans. It’s expected that Baltimore will trade or release Flacco this offseason.
“Lamar is our quarterback going forward — no question about that,” Harbaugh said. “Joe Flacco is going to play really well in this league. Joe can still play, and I think we saw that, first half of the season. Joe is going to have a market. A lot of teams are going to want Joe. I’ll be in Joe’s corner, wherever he’s at, unless we play him.”
Jackson completed his first two passes Sunday, both within the first two minutes of the game. He wouldn’t complete his third pass until deep into the third quarter.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Jackson was 3-of-10 for 25 yards and an interception. His quarterback rating was zero.
“We just played like we didn’t want to be here. I did, not my team,” Jackson said. “I feel like I played poorly. We have to move on now, get ready for next year.”
Fans booed Jackson and the offense every time they walked onto the field in the third quarter. There was even a chant for Flacco, the former Super Bowl MVP who has thrown 24 touchdowns and four interceptions in his past 10 playoff games (104.1 passer rating).
Does Flacco feel he could have made a difference?
“No, no, you can’t even go there, man,” said Flacco, who has handled his benching with class. “I thought Lamar did a great job of just hanging in there. You know, he gave us a chance at the end.”
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith went over to fans behind the team’s bench who were chanting “Flacco.”
“You know, I love Flacc, but No. 8 [Jackson] got us here,” Smith said. “For the fact that you’re a fair-weather fan that quickly, when things go rough, and you turned your back on him, that just got under my skin a little bit. I just went to them and told them, ‘Yo, you either ride or die or you get the hell out of here. Period.’ That was it.”
Asked about the boos, Jackson said, “We still love the fans. No hard feelings. They were looking for better in us. We didn’t perform well. It happens sometimes.”
Jackson struggled with his accuracy and getting around the edge against a Chargers defense that played with seven defensive backs for 57 of 58 defensive plays.
But the offensive line didn’t help Jackson. He was sacked seven times, two more than any other rookie quarterback in NFL playoff history.
“He’s still a great player,” Chargers safety Derwin James said. “He fought to the end. We got to him a little early. We wanted some of that sweet potato pie he was talking about.”
Jackson came alive with the Ravens trailing 23-3 with 9 minutes, 9 seconds remaining. He completed 11-of-19 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns to nearly deliver the biggest comeback in Ravens postseason history.
It was a disappointing finish for Jackson, who won six of seven starts in the regular season and led NFL quarterbacks with 695 yards rushing.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Harbaugh went over to Jackson to shake his hand and give him a hug.
“He’s the future,” safety Eric Weddle said. “As you guys can tell, he’s devastated right now, and that’s what is going to drive him in the offseason. He’ll come back 10 times better than he was this year. He’s going to be a great one. I can’t wait to see where his career ends up.”