Lamar Jackson and Baltimore hold the top seed in the AFC. While the Ravens want to keep that spot and make the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, they also want to make sure Jackson is under center in January.
He hasn't been able to say that for the past two seasons.
Not only do the 8-3 Ravens begin a tough late-season run Sunday night at the Los Angeles Chargers, but Jackson enters a part of the schedule when he has been injured the last two years.
It was Week 12 last season when Jackson suffered a knee injury against Denver. Two years ago, the dynamic quarterback was sidelined in Week 13 when he injured an ankle against Cleveland.
Jackson appeared to tweak an ankle during Baltimore's 34-20 victory over Cincinnati on Nov. 16, but earlier this week, he said he is 100% and ready to go.
When it comes to remaining healthy this season, Jackson is trying to keep things simple — just don't get hit.
"I'll say I don't slide, but I get down. I get under hits; I'll say that but that's it I guess," he said. "That's all I know – don't get hit."
Jackson is fifth in the league in completion percentage (69.5%) and sixth in passer rating (100.1). With Jackson and Gus Edwards, the Ravens also have the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack, averaging 155.1 yards per game. Edwards is second among AFC running backs with 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Even though Baltimore finishes the season with road games against Jacksonville and San Francisco followed by home dates against Miami and Pittsburgh, it should be rested for the stretch run.
The Ravens have their bye next week before hosting the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 10.
"It's good. It's where you want to be at this point, but it doesn't mean anything until after the last game in terms of playoff seeding," coach John Harbaugh said. "We control a certain amount of our destiny. I don't know what the tiebreakers would say, but to some degree, we do. We just have to keep winning."
The Ravens are facing a reeling 4-6 Chargers squad coming off three-point losses to Detroit and Green Bay. They have the league's second-worst defense and are ranked last against the pass.
"I don't think that structurally there needs to be a change. We're working through adjustments with personnel," coach Brandon Staley said about the defense. "Just getting the right combination of players out there that will execute consistently."
Odell Beckham Jr. caught four passes for 116 yards in Baltimore's victory over Cincinnati last week, a welcome sign for the Ravens after losing tight end Mark Andrews to an ankle injury.
"I believe my chemistry with all the receivers is coming along well the longer the season's been going," Jackson said. "We just have to keep locking in in practice and keep building more because playoffs (are) rolling around, (and) the end of the season is rolling around. We just have to keep stepping in the right direction."
Andrews has at least shared the team lead in receptions for four straight seasons, but that's not the case in 2023. Rookie Zay Flowers has 53 catches for 588 yards.
Justin Madubuike has a team-high 9½ sacks for Baltimore, but third-year linebacker Odafe Oweh has come on lately. He has a sack in three straight games and four of five since returning from ankle problems.
"Even though he's not as healthy as he was, he's still able to go out there and make plays at a high level," linebacker Patrick Queen said. "So imagine when that ankle does get healthy. I'm really proud of him."
Chargers receiver Keenan Allen leads the league with 83 receptions and is fourth in receiving yards (1,011) despite teams double-covering him, and Mike Williams sidelined by a season-ending knee injury after three games.
Justin Herbert will count heavily on Allen again or check down to running back Austin Ekeler as the other receivers struggle. First-round pick Quentin Johnston had a critical drop on the Chargers' final possession last weekend at Green Bay that would have put them in field-goal range and given them a chance to send the game into overtime.
The Chargers had four drops against the Packers, occurring in critical situations. Two were on third down, and the others were in the red zone.
"We haven't done what we would like to do out there. It's tough for us, but the only thing we can focus on now is the next one. We're not going to let these past ones affect our next performance," Herbert said. "We know that we have the right guys out there, we have the right scheme. It's just about executing, and we can do that."
KEEP AN EYE ON ….
Chargers safety Derwin James, who is expected to play more at cornerback and be matched up against slot receivers.
James is second on the team with 67 tackles but also has received four unnecessary roughness penalties.
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