That game also provided a reminder of the risk of injury inherent in football, when running back Mark Ingram left in the fourth quarter with what Harbaugh described Monday as a “mild to moderate calf strain.” Ingram, one of 11 other Ravens to join Jackson as Pro Bowl selections, will be accompanied on the sidelines Sunday by guard Marshal Yanda, safety Earl Thomas and defensive tackle Brandon Williams.
“I think it’s a solid decision,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if it’s easy."
Ravens players who sit out Sunday won’t experience game action for two weeks, because Baltimore will have a first-round playoff bye. Harbaugh addressed the rest-vs.-rust conundrum, saying there was “a strong case to be made either way.”
“I recognize the other side of it,” he said. “It’s two good choices. We’re going to have to practice really well. The guys who aren’t playing are going to have to practice. We want to win this game. After that, we want to be the very best team we can be coming into the divisional [playoff] game.”
Even while ceding a game to some of the other contenders for the MVP award, Jackson is widely expected to win it, after he authored a remarkable first full season as the Ravens’ starting quarterback. The final pick of the first round in the 2018 NFL draft, Jackson has helped 13-2 Baltimore to the best record in the NFL while leading the league in touchdown passes (36) and QBR (81.1). He also set a single-season record for quarterbacks with 1,206 rushing yards.
After the win in Cleveland, the 22-year-old Jackson said he wanted to play this week but acknowledged it would be Harbaugh’s decision. Harbaugh said he appreciated the quarterback’s competitive mind-set.
“But one thing about Lamar, and all of our guys, they’ll be 100 percent behind the guys who are playing,” he said. “And they’ll be doing everything they can do to get those guys prepared to play in this game and win the football game.”
Jackson’s absence from the Ravens’ lineup Sunday opens the door for backup quarterback Robert Griffin III to get the start. That will be the first for Griffin since Week 17 of the 2016 season.
Griffin, 29, is in his second season in Baltimore after having been out of the NFL altogether in 2017. Before that, he spent one season in Cleveland, following three with the Redskins, who made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
The 2012 NFL offensive rookie of the year, Griffin took the league by storm as a dual-threat quarterback, and while injuries quickly diminished his effectiveness, he should be able to carry out much of a Ravens playbook that gives Jackson plenty of options to keep the ball and run.
Harbaugh said Monday that third-string quarterback Trace McSorley, a rookie out of Penn State who also has above-average mobility, will be activated for the first time this season and could share some of the quarterbacking duties with Griffin.
The coach added that he was eager to also see other Baltimore players who haven’t been able to get on the field, and said his team had no intention of making life easy for Pittsburgh in a “rivalry game.” At 8-7, the Steelers need to win Sunday and get some help, principally in the form of a Titans loss, to make the playoffs.
“They have everything to play for,” Harbaugh said. “We recognize that, and we’ll be looking to put our absolute best foot forward.”