NFL winners and losers: About that criticism Lamar Jackson can't pass well enough
Baker Mayfield made many crucial mistakes throwing on Sunday. Sam Darnold looked lost in the New York Jets offense at times. Josh Allen looked mediocre for the Buffalo Bills, though he made one big touchdown pass to win.
And what about that fourth quarterback who was a first-round pick from last year’s draft, the one written off by many for not being able to throw well enough? Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson did pretty well for himself.
Jackson didn’t even have to play the fourth quarter because he was so good in the first three. Jackson was 17-of-20 for 324 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 59-10 win against a dreadful Miami Dolphins team. That’s a perfect 158.3 passer rating. That should keep critics quiet for at least a week.
And Jackson hasn’t forgotten the criticism.
Jackson looked very good. He often had a lot of time in the pocket, like his 83-yard touchdown to rookie Marquise Brown. When he was pressured near the goal line, he backpedaled and made a nice throw to Miles Boykin in the end zone for a 5-yard score.
Jackson had 6 yards rushing. And he was absolutely dominant. And we know he won’t have many 6-yard rushing games.
The impatience with Jackson’s passing ability was strange. Jackson was a rookie last season, thrown in the lineup due to an injury to Joe Flacco. The Ravens modified the offense to fit their rookie quarterback’s skills, and his strength was running the ball. That got the Ravens to the playoffs.
Instead of assuming Jackson could improve his passing before his second season, he was maligned, especially after struggling for three quarters of a playoff loss to the Chargers. Jackson improved his passing at Louisville, where he was a star in college. But there wasn’t universal optimism he could do so in the NFL, which was odd. Players generally improve from Year 1 to 2.
Jackson doesn’t need to be Patrick Mahomes for the Ravens to be very good. Jackson is still one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks we’ve ever seen. If he’s a good passer, he can be a cheat code in the NFL due to his rushing ability.
Maybe what we saw Sunday was a product of a terrible Dolphins defense. And it’s safe to say Miami will be awful this season. But it’s still hard to go 10-of-11 for 210 yards and four touchdowns in a half, as Jackson did Sunday, against any NFL team.
Jackson isn’t going to throw for five touchdowns and have a perfect passer rating most weeks, of course. But if we saw a breakthrough Sunday, and Jackson is ready to become even an above-average passer, good luck to anyone trying to stop the Ravens this season.
Here are the rest of the NFL winners and losers from Sunday’s Week 1 action:
Larry Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald could probably play forever.
Fitzgerald, at 36 years old and playing in a brand-new offense, was in peak form in Week 1. He made some great plays, including a game-tying touchdown near the end of regulation and a 45-yard catch in overtime after Arizona won the coin toss. The Cardinals looked absolutely dead when they trailed 24-6, but Fitzgerald helped drag his team back in it. Arizona ended with a 27-27 tie (it might have been a win if cornerback Tramaine Brock held onto a sure interception with five seconds left), but that’s not a bad result considering how poorly they started the game. On a team with rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, Fitzgerald is the one thing Arizona can depend on. He had 113 yards on eight catches.
Fitzgerald keeps coming back, despite annual retirement questions. He’s on his way to the Hall of Fame, but he’s still capable of greatness.
Sean McVay: Remember when sitting all your starters for the preseason meant you’d be rusty in Week 1?
The Rams looked just fine. McVay is one of the coaches changing the preseason by not playing starters. And his team went on the road Week 1, all the way to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. start, and it got a big win. The Rams never were in much danger against a talented Carolina Panthers team. It wasn’t the Rams’ best performance, but it was more than good enough for a 30-27 win.
Before long, we might see only a handful of teams playing starters before real football begins. The benefit is overstated. The risk is losing a key player to injury. McVay and the Rams showed preseason doesn’t matter.
Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry: With Andrew Luck retired, the Houston Texans seemingly having no plan and Nick Foles hurt, why not the Tennessee Titans as the favorite in the AFC South?
They looked really good on Sunday. The Titans handled a Browns team that came into this season with high hopes, falling behind 6-0 early and then going on a 43-7 run after that. It was the biggest Week 1 win for the franchise since 1991, when they were the Houston Oilers.
Mariota, entering a huge season in his career, had an efficient day. He was 14-of-24, for 248 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Titans have often lost Henry in the offense but have finally figured out he can be a centerpiece. He had 84 yards rushing and his 75-yard touchdown catch took back control of the game when the Browns had a little momentum.
The Titans had very little buzz in the offseason. They’ll get some after an impressive performance in the season opener.
Eagles, barely: OK, so some teams that sat all of their starters in the preseason came out looking rusty.
For a while on Sunday, it looked like the Eagles were going to take on a terrible loss. They trailed the Washington Redskins 17-0 at home. The defense was giving up big plays and the offense was doing nothing.
It ended up OK. Philadelphia scored the first 25 points of the second half. Carson Wentz got hot and threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns. DeSean Jackson had a memorable first game back with the Eagles, scoring twice.
There are still some things to work out, but that should come along. The Eagles have a ton of talent. It just didn’t look so good for the first half on Sunday.
Melvin Gordon: Last season, the Chargers went 4-0 in games that Gordon missed. They didn’t miss Gordon on Sunday either as he holds out for a new contract.
Austin Ekeler scored three times, including a game-winning 7-yard touchdown in overtime as won 30-24. The Colts, in the first game of the post-Andrew Luck era, battled to take the Chargers to overtime but couldn’t get a stop in the extra period.
Ekeler was fantastic. He had 58 yards and a touchdown on the ground and 96 yards and two touchdowns on six catches. Justin Jackson added 57 rushing yards on six attempts.
Gordon didn’t have much leverage before Sunday, and he has even less now.
Jameis Winston: Winston is entering a pivotal season in his career, and it did not start well. At all.
Winston threw a crucial pick-six in the first half, was late on a key fourth-and-goal pass that was batted incomplete in the fourth quarter, couldn’t get the Bucs in the end zone on a key red-zone possession later in the fourth quarter trailing 20-14 and with the Bucs down 23-17 with less than three minutes remaining Winston threw another pick-six to seal the loss. It was as bad as it could get.
Winston needs a big season to secure a large extension. The former No. 1 overall pick is in the final year of his rookie deal. He has never been able to overcome inconsistency and mistakes to turn the corner and be a reliable, upper-echelon quarterback. He’ll need to play a lot better than he did in the opener, or the Buccaneers might simply move on.
Dan Quinn: After last season, Quinn fired his offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. After that happens, there’s only one more move to make if things don’t turn around.
The most disappointing team in the NFL on Sunday was probably the Falcons. There’s not much shame in losing at Minnesota, but the Falcons were down 28-0 at one point. They looked terrible on both sides of the ball. It was a team that started 4-9 last season despite a very good season from Matt Ryan. If Sunday is a sign of things to come, Quinn might not last the season.
The Jaguars’ hope with Nick Foles: Not even one quarter into the season, the Jaguars’ hope for better days at quarterback took a huge hit.
Foles broke his left clavicle on a big hit while throwing a touchdown pass. Jaguars’ coach Doug Marrone said he didn’t know when Foles could return to the lineup. The Jaguars lost 40-26 and go forward with big questions at quarterback, which is a familiar story for that franchise. It’s hard to not feel like the Jaguars are already playing from far behind in the AFC South.
Maybe rookie Gardner Minshew is a diamond in the rough. He played well in relief of Foles on Sunday. But until we see Minshew put together many solid performances in a row, it’s hard to imagine him doing what a healthy Foles could have done.
Foles signed a four-year, $88 million deal with Jacksonville. It took less than a half of football for a lot of the excitement for that addition to subside.
– – – – – – –