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Lamar Jackson was spectacular for the Ravens, even though he wasn’t at his best

Lamar Jackson’s touchdown run in the third quarter was a pivotal play in Baltimore’s win Sunday over Seattle. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — Lamar Jackson sensed his team needed a moment, and so he created a moment. Sometimes, when you’re blessed with immense physical gifts and winning instincts, it can be that simple.

Before the Baltimore Ravens beat the Seattle Seahawks at their own game, before they celebrated a 30-16 victory Sunday in free safety Earl Thomas’s return to CenturyLink Field, the score was tied at 13 late in the third quarter. The Ravens faced a fourth-and-two red-zone situation. Coach John Harbaugh initially sent out kicker Justin Tucker. With one angry look, Jackson vetoed him.

“You want to go for it?” Harbaugh asked.

“Yeah, I want to go for it,” Jackson replied. “Let’s get to it.”

The quarterback already had persuaded Harbaugh, but all-pro guard Marshal Yanda was so inspired that, to support Jackson, he chimed in: “If he wants to go for it, I want to go for it.”

Jackson wasn’t exactly having a splendid afternoon. He ended up completing just 9 of 20 passes for 143 yards, his worst passing game so far this season. At that point, the Ravens hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown. But Jackson’s legs were working, as usual. His confidence was unshaken, too. He had a singular focus: to make something happen before his counterpart, Russell Wilson, did.

Over the years, Jackson had seen Wilson steal too many games like this one. Not today, Jackson thought. To beat a leading MVP candidate on his turf, Jackson had to channel his own will to win.

“I’m like, ‘This time, we aren’t kicking no field goal because Russell Wilson is getting the ball again, and if we didn’t score, it might look ugly,’ ” Jackson said.

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Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman called his best designed quarterback run of the day — “Quarterback Power” — in which Jackson would carry the ball between the tackles. It was a play that put the 212-pound Jackson enough at risk that Harbaugh warned the offense all week that it could run it “only when we need it the most.” Jackson took the shotgun snap, burst through the middle and into the end zone for an eight-yard score. The Ravens (5-2) controlled the rest of the game. Jackson secured a signature road victory and found a way to be spectacular even when he wasn’t at his best.

In some ways, it was game that validated all the breakthroughs Jackson has made during his second season as much as his ridiculous statistical performances. For the first time in seven starts this season, he didn’t complete at least half of his passes. Every yard came hard, but he resisted the urge to force things. On a rainy afternoon, he didn’t commit a turnover. He took just one sack, which was more the result of slipping on wet turf. And he dominated the game by rushing for 71 of his 116 yards after halftime.

Jackson made every key play, including directing a nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter that resulted in a field goal. With Wilson on the other sideline, Jackson’s knack for doing whatever it takes to win became even more pronounced.

“He is a competitor to the nth degree,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know how to describe how competitive Lamar Jackson is. . . . Lamar can beat you any kind of different ways.”

Jackson has an 11-3 record over the past two seasons as the Ravens’ starting quarterback. We often talk about winning quarterbacks in mystical terms because some of their best qualities are intangibles. But it’s not magic. You can quantify what they do to collect wins, and in Jackson’s case, he separates from his peers with his elite speed, vision while running and better-than-advertised arm talent.

With improved passing accuracy this season, Jackson can win using a variety of tools. Add his composure and leadership to all that physical talent, and that’s why the opponent never should feel comfortable when competing against Jackson’s team. This winning superpower really comes clear when watching Jackson against Wilson, who has an 80-38-1 career record and a championship on his résumé.

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Even though they are both mobile, Wilson and Jackson are very different quarterbacks. Wilson is more accurate and efficient. He is a master of improvisation, and he has become the best deep-ball thrower in the NFL. Wilson can run, but Jackson can fly. It seems like Jackson has electricity in his legs. He doesn’t escape from defenders; he disappears. At this point in his career, Jackson is good at creating big plays through the air, but the Baltimore passing attack lives off short throws to get him in a rhythm and stretch the defense horizontally. Wilson is looking for chunk plays at all times.

But at their core, they are the same in that they’re willing to use any skill they possess to win a game, and even if they are playing ugly, they can do something beautiful at any moment. On Sunday, the Baltimore defense held Wilson in check, scored two touchdowns off turnovers and watched Jackson do the rest.

“When you saw him in person, he’s faster than we saw him on film,” Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said. “He was able to just find the space and get out of things. There really wasn’t any missed tackles. He just ran around people and found a way.”

Carroll marveled at how the Ravens are helping Jackson develop because of their trust and desire to adapt to his special skills.

“I think they are doing a fantastic job with him in their offense,” Carroll said. “He’s totally unique, and they know it, and they’ve recognized it, and they’re playing ball with him.”

We’re midway through the season, so Jackson isn’t surprising teams with his improvement anymore. His statistics also aren’t being inflated as much by his season-opening brilliance against lowly Miami, when he completed 17 of 20 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns. He has played enough football now to cool off. He has had a three-interception game. On Sunday, he failed to complete 10 passes. Still, when you combine all the highs and lows, Jackson is putting together a Pro Bowl second season. Even better, he has the Ravens in position to build upon the success they had late last season after he took over at quarterback.

“He’s really special out there,” Wilson said, smiling at Jackson’s talent even as he lamented the loss.

Over the years, many opponents have had to grin in defeat and say the same about Wilson. You knew he’d have to return the compliment one day. Certainly, Jackson is worthy of wonderment.

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