The Bills’ defense is no joke. Buffalo came into Week 14 ranked third in the NFL in both points and yards allowed. That unit was especially rough on opposing quarterbacks; it had allowed just nine touchdown passes in 12 games and limited QBs to a 78.5 passer rating in that span.
That group was ready for Lamar Jackson Sunday, but while the Bills found a way to contain the star of Baltimore’s 2019 highlight reel, they couldn’t keep him bottled up for long. That defense stayed disciplined through the bulk of Week 14’s showdown, holding Jackson to just 43 rushing yards — his third-lowest total of the season.
Though the current MVP frontrunner didn’t have one of his best statistical showings, he kept Buffalo guessing on the field with a combination of smart decisions and lateral movement typically only seen in old copies of Tecmo Super Bowl in the midst of a 24-17 win. In the process, he pushed the Ravens to 11-2, locked down a playoff spot, and kept Baltimore in the lead in the race for homefield advantage in the postseason.
Which plays showcased his MVP-caliber talent the most? Five in particular stood out — even if some of them didn’t gain any yards.
5. Lamar Jackson stiff-arms a 270-pound defensive end (and then loses 4 yards)
The outcome of the play was a negative, but Jackson made a statement in the first quarter by taking a designed run to his left, running into a diving Shaq Lawson, and then shunting off the pass rusher with a well-placed stiff-arm.
i feel like we glossed over it because he lost 4 yards on the play, but let's fondly remember the time Lamar Jackson stiff-armed a 270-pound defensive end into the turf pic.twitter.com/zKD0uybIhB— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 8, 2019
In the end, the stiff-arm didn’t matter. Lawson slowed down his target long enough for help to arrive, and even regained his footing quickly enough to help tackle Jackson to set up third-and-long.
Still, the Ravens’ quarterback, mostly known for breaking tackles with his hip movement and general shiftiness, proved he can also slap you away like an approaching third-grader if the situation calls for it.
4. A tremendous scramble just to throw the ball away
Jackson faced third-and-12 when he dropped back late in the third quarter of a 17-9 game. A first down would move the Ravens into Buffalo territory and create a much-needed scoring opportunity. Failure would mean giving the Bills the chance to drive for a potential game-tying touchdown after a punt.
Jackson knew this, and he wasn’t going down without a fight.
this was a tremendous amount of work just to throw the ball away on 3rd down pic.twitter.com/pacUBclXw6— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 8, 2019
The end result of the play was an incomplete pass (and a declined penalty for illegal touching after an offensive lineman batted the ball down), but Baltimore was no worse off for it. The Bills went three-and-out on their ensuing drive.
3. Just your standard 61-yard touchdown pass
The Bills brought a blitz up the middle, but Jackson found a way to exploit their weakness up the middle with a pinpoint pass to tight end Hayden Hurst despite defensive end Jerry Hughes diving shoulder-first into his crotch:
Hurst bursts for the 61-yard TD catch from @lj_era8! #RavensFlock @HaydenrHurst— NFL (@NFL) December 8, 2019
: #BALvsBUF on CBS
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Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/D5AfU98qAh pic.twitter.com/8ZRaq5ZjWw
It was a great play made mundane in the dense ecosystem of Jackson’s absurd 2019. This was an MVP-level pass, and it’s barely one of his three most remarkable plays of the day.
2. Jackson stole poor Matt Milano’s soul
On paper, this went down as a 7-yard rush. That is great for Milano, the Buffalo linebacker who would like the world to forget he participated in this play whatsoever.
Milano had the unenviable task of stopping Jackson in the open field and was reduced to flailing at ghosts as Jackson juked left, ran right, and left the Bills veteran on the ground in his wake. While the Ravens would only ride the momentum of this ankle-breaking to an early field goal, it set the tone for Baltimore’s Sunday — and showed Buffalo the danger of ever standing flat-footed in space with Jackson in its sights.
1. How the hell do you defend this?
The Ravens’ offense has built its playbook around its unique playmaker behind center. That means plenty of plays where Jackson can roast you on the ground or through the air, depending on how the defense reacts.
And it was on full display in Buffalo. Facing third-and-goal from the Buffalo 3-yard line with a 3-0 lead, head coach John Harbaugh forced the Bills to pick their poison.
Jackson took what appeared to be a designed run to his right with the Bills in close pursuit and tight end Nick Boyle set up as a potential lead blocker or target in the shallow side of the end zone. Safety Jordan Poyer stepped up to provide resistance at the goal line. The rest of the play hinged on his decision — and there was no right answer.
Jackson faked upfield, and Poyer bit because the Ravens’ quarterback has 1,000+ rushing yards on the season. That released Boyle for a quick flip pass over Poyer’s head, resulting in a bobbled — but still easy — touchdown catch.
If Poyer doesn’t bite on the fake, Jackson rushes for the touchdown on third-and-goal. He stayed trained on Jackson and got burned anyway. Barring a total breakdown, the Ravens were scoring on this play no matter what — and that’s what makes them so dangerous behind their ascendant second-year quarterback.