Jan. 2: Huntley is expected to get the nod for the Ravens as they seek to keep their playoff hopes alive against the Rams, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). Five Thirty Eight gives Baltimore just a 22% chance of qualifying for the postseason, and the club needs its backup passer to continue his run of quality play and pull out an unexpected victory.
Dec. 31: The Ravens’ playoff hopes are currently on life-support and no one knows that better than star quarterback Lamar Jackson. A report from Jamison Hensley, ESPN’s Ravens reporter, that Jackson once again did not participate for the portion of practice open to the media is not encouraging to Ravens’ fans. The versatile playmaker has missed the team’s last two games after leaving early in a Week 14 loss in Cleveland due to injury. Jackson sparked hope when he returned to the practice field Wednesday, albeit with a noticeable limp, but his absences yesterday and today are seen as a critical step back.
Jackson has often received criticism for a style of play that pundits believe would lead to injury. Despite their worries, the Ravens’ last two games were the only games Jackson has missed due to injury in his entire four-year career.
As a rookie in 2018, despite being a first-round pick, Jackson was not expected to start right away. The plan was always for Jackson to sit and develop behind former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Jackson still appeared in plays here and there for Baltimore, appearing in a Week 1 blowout of the Bills in garbage-time and running gadget plays wherein he would run the ball or just play as a decoy. A hip injury to Flacco in a Week 9 loss to the Steelers forced the Ravens’ hand and Jackson took the reins in Week 10 and never looked back. Jackson’s rookie year was a bit of patchwork with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg never planning to rely on Jackson. Jackson ran those gadgets plays and an offense designed for Joe Flacco en route to a 6-1 finish leading the Ravens to an AFC North title.
Jackson’s sophomore year went slightly better. The replacement of Mornhinweg with current offensive coordinator Greg Roman and an entire offseason to design and practice an offense built around Jackson’s talents led to the best season of the young quarterback’s career. In Jackson’s starts, the Ravens went 13-2 with Jackson completing 66% of his passes for 3,127 yards and throwing 36 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions. He, of course, used his talent as a runner to add 1,206 yards on 176 carries for 7 more touchdowns. Jackson did miss a game in this MVP season, though. He sat out the Ravens’ Week 17 win against Pittsburgh as Baltimore had already secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs and was resting most of their starters.
Jackson’s third season showed the quarterback come back down to earth a bit. The stats were not quite as gaudy, but the reigning MVP continued to collect wins. He did take one big step forward in 2020, silencing a narrative about his inability to win in the playoffs, beating a Titans team that had beaten them in the regular season. Jackson missed another game this season as he spent Week 12 on the COVID-19/reserve list.
So despite a charged narrative of Jackson’s inability to play his flashy style of football and stay healthy, up until the thirteenth week of his fourth NFL season, Jackson had missed one game as he rested for the playoffs, one game on the COVID-19 list, and one game in 2021 due to a non-COVID illness. When Jackson finally did get injured, much to the pundits chagrin, it was on a passing play. As Jackson performed a standard roll-out, he was chased from behind by Browns’ rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. As Jackson released the ball, Owusu-Koramoah dove at the quarterback’s ankles, a play prohibited in the NFL’s definition of the Roughing the Passer rule, landing on both ankles and causing the sprain that has been described as a possible bone bruise.
In Jackson’s absence, Tyler Huntley, an undrafted free agent in 2020, has performed admirably leading the Ravens to a near-comeback in Cleveland and losing by one point to the NFC-leading Packers on a failed 2-point conversion play. When Huntley entered COVID-19 protocols just before a game in Cincinnati, the Ravens turned to journeyman Josh Johnson who put up an impressive performance, but was unable to keep up as Joe Burrow sliced-and-diced an ailing Baltimore secondary.
Even if Jackson is able to return, the injuries have certainly crippled the Ravens’ once-vaunted defense. The teams’ two star cornerbacks and free safety are on IR and, like the rest of the league, they’ve struggled keeping their healthy players off the COVID-19/reserve list as the omicron variant tears through the league. Jackson has also been in quite a slump this season throwing only 8 touchdowns to 10 interceptions in his last 7 games before getting injured.
The Ravens have lots to overcome to earn some wins as the regular season comes to a close, but they also may need help getting into the playoffs. Baltimore currently does not control their own destiny, meaning there are situations in which the Ravens win their final two games and miss the playoffs, even while there are still scenarios wherein the Ravens win their division. The Ravens can win the division simply by winning their final two games against the Rams and Steelers, while the Bengals lose their final two games against the Chiefs and at the Browns. If Baltimore loses one of their final two games, they’ll need help around the league to continue their season as a wild card team.
Regardless of the situations outside of Baltimore and how they play out, it’s hard to imagine the Ravens making much noise if their best player isn’t the one taking snaps. As of right now, though, things are trending toward Huntley starting yet another game against an NFC division-leader.