Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are that good.
Or the Miami Dolphins, tanking or not, are that bad.
The 2019 season got off to a predictable start Sunday in South Florida for both the Ravens and the Dolphins. Jackson, the second-year quarterback who unseated former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco last season in Baltimore, showed off his improved passing and the Ravens beat the Dolphins, who are firmly entrenched in a rebuilding process.
No one could have guessed, however, just how lopsided this would be, as Jackson threw five touchdown passes and the Ravens won, 59-10.
Week 1 of the NFL season is all about overreactions. So no one should jump to immediate conclusions. But for one Sunday, at least, Jackson looked like a league MVP candidate. And the Dolphins looked like a team already on the clock for the top overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
The Ravens led, 42-3, in the first half. Coach John Harbaugh, taking no chances, dialed up a fake punt with a 35-3 lead. Jackson threw four first-half touchdown passes, two of them to rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown. Jackson ended the day with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 and gave way to backup Robert Griffin III to finish.
The Cleveland Browns were the darlings of the NFL’s offseason and entered this season as the favorite in the AFC North, in the minds of many. But the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the division’s traditional powers, seemed amused — or perhaps bemused — during training camp about all that Browns hype. So be it, they seemed to be saying. The story will be told on the field once the season gets underway.
And while the Browns were struggling Sunday to a season-opening loss at home against the Tennessee Titans — could it really be the same, old Browns? — Jackson and the Ravens were sending an early-season message in Miami. Harbaugh perhaps overpromised during training camp, talking about how the Ravens would revolutionize how offense is played in the NFL. But, at least in the opener, Jackson and the Ravens delivered.
Jackson was dynamic last season as a rookie, taking over for an injured Flacco and helping the Ravens back to the AFC playoffs. But that was accomplished with Jackson’s mobility in a run-first offense that complemented Baltimore’s dominant defense. Jackson had six touchdown passes all of last season.
He nearly matched that total Sunday as part of a 17-for-20, 324-yard passing performance. Everyone knows what Jackson can do as a runner. The Ravens’ big task this season will be limiting Jackson’s carries and not exposing him to too many hits. But the real key to the season will be how much polish Jackson has added to his game as a pocket passer. He doesn’t need to be great in that department. Merely competent probably would be good enough, given what else he can do. He is off to a terrific start.
It all clicked Sunday for the Ravens. Brown had touchdown catches of 47 and 83 yards. He finished with four catches for 147 yards to live up to his “Hollywood” nickname. Tight end Mark Andrews also topped 100 receiving yards, with eight catches for 108 yards. Mark Ingram ran for 107 yards in his Ravens debut. Griffin threw a touchdown pass after taking over for Jackson.
And the Dolphins had no answers. They vehemently denied that they were in tanking mode even after trading left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Houston Texans for a king’s ransom of draft picks, including two first-rounders and a second-round choice. And, granted, Miami Coach Brian Flores and his players undoubtedly will do all they can to win games this season. These wins and losses go by Flores’s name, after all, and the players are playing for jobs.
But the Dolphins, it appears, are truly dreadful. They possess four first-round selections and four second-round choices over the next two NFL drafts. They could be headed to having the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft, which would give them the right to take the prospective franchise quarterback of their choice.
For now, though, it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, at least until Flores opts to give an opportunity to Josh Rosen, the former top 10 pick by Arizona obtained by the Dolphins after the Cardinals decided to turn things over to Kyler Murray. Rosen made a late appearance Sunday. And there’s not much help for the quarterback, whether that’s Fitzpatrick or Rosen.
It will be a long, long season for the Dolphins and their fans. That much seemed certain Sunday. Draft night can’t come soon enough.
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