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Harbaugh: Lamar Jackson played 'winning football'

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Starting his first career NFL game, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson jumpstarted a juiceless Baltimore Ravens offense with his electric legs, leading the home squad to a 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I thought he played winning football," coach John Harbaugh said after the win. "It's tough being a quarterback in this league. It's tough against a defense like that had everything on the line and played all out against him. ... I thought he played very poised. I thought he played the position. I thought he played quarterback very well. Managed us, operated us, got us in the right formations. Cadence was excellent. For a first-time out, rookie in an environment like that to have all those operational things go well speaks to his intelligence, his studiousness just his ability to run the show. That says everything. Now after that, the playmaking, that comes from God. He made use of that, too. So very proud of that."

Baltimore telegraphed its game-plan from the outset, driving 75 yards on 11 plays to open the game with a touchdown. Jackson threw the ball zero times on the scoring drive. Instead, the rookie gobbled up 46 yards on five carries, including gashes of 21 yards and 12 yards, and converting two third downs.

"I had butterflies before the first tackle, but after that tackle it was game on," Jackson said. "... A lot of people came up to me, I'm a rookie, my first time starting [and they said] to go out there and be myself. My teammates have my back; I have theirs."

Against a Bengals defense that struggles to tackle and came in giving up 141.2 yards per game on the ground (31st in NFL), it was a perfect time to deploy Jackson's dual-threat ability.

Harbaugh's team rode the rookie. Jackson took a whopping 27 carries, generating 117 rushing yards. Credit OC Marty Mornhinweg with playing to Jackson's strengths, calling a bevy of read-options, creative run formations, misdirection, QB draws and designed runs to get the rookie to the edge.

With Jackson gashing Cincinnati, the Ravens piled up 260 rushing yards. The threat of Jackson's running ability to the edge helped open gaping holes up the gut for undrafted rookie running back Gus Edwards, who galloped for 115 yards on 17 carries and a score.

The passing game is more of a work-in-progress for Jackson, especially the young signal-caller making plays in rhythm. The Ravens continually gave him quick reads over the middle to get the ball out of his hands quickly, and a bevy of bootlegs. When those first reads were taken away, Jackson normally bailed. Baltimore didn't threaten downfield at all in Jackson's debut. That will come with time.

Jackson finished the game completing 13 of 19 tosses for 150 passing yards (7.9 yards per attempt), one INT, two sacks and a 70.1 passer rating.

Jackson at times got jittery in the pocket and looked to escape at the first sign of pressure. The rookie's escape ability, however, is uncanny. He can dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge defenders to escape pressure and find targets. For example, he avoided several defenders to toss a 23-yard strike to John Brown at the end of the first half to provide a vital field goal.

As with all young quarterbacks, Jackson's improvisation did come back to bite him on at least one occasion. The rookie's biggest mistake of the day came on a play during which he tried to extend out of the pocket and make a late throw. Tossing while avoiding a pass rusher, Jackson never saw the defensive back come off his coverage to intercept the pass. The INT gave a limp Bengals team life at the time.

When asked after the game about his mindset following his first interception, Jackson said: "I have to score. I have to put my team in a good situation. I put our defense in a bad situation."

To his credit, Jackson bounced back from the mistake, leading two late scores to put Baltimore back on top.

Baltimore obviously wasn't going to run the same offense with Jackson that it does with Joe Flacco. The question moving forward will be whether Baltimore sticks with the rookie quarterback when Flacco is healthy. If he retains the job, can Jackson continually get hit 30 times a game a keep himself from getting hurt?

Those issues will be asked of Harbaugh as the week progresses. They'll be easier to answer after a much-needed victory.

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