CINCINNATI -- Joe Burrow hopped off the field, favoring the right leg and the calf that's been hampering him since the second day of training camp. A compromised Burrow would have been the most consequential development here Sunday-- with longer-term implications than even the final result -- except for what had happened on the opposite sideline.
There, Lamar Jackson had settled into his new offense as part of the Ravens' 27-24 victory on Sunday over the rival Bengals. Last week, in a sleep-walk of a victory over the Texans, the offense, and a new collection of receivers, looked, in the words of receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., like "an undercooked appetizer." This week, the offense was at full boil, with Jackson looking comfortable standing in the pocket and surveying the field, an injury-riddled offensive line offering ample time (zero sacks and just one quarterback hurry allowed) and Jackson completing passes to seven different pass catchers. The best of the throws was a perfectly lofted 17-yard beauty that dropped over Nelson Agholor's left shoulder – and a trailing defender – for a fourth-quarter touchdown. It was the kind of throw that should be shown on a loop the next time a question about Jackson's ability as a passer flares up.
"He's different," Agholor said on Sunday after the game, with a broad smile and wide eyes. "Like, he's different. I've always watched him extend plays and move around, but I've also watched him survey the field. I don't know many quarterbacks that can go through a full progression as quickly as he does."
Agholor is part of a revamped receivers room that has given Jackson the best array of tools he has ever played with. But, like many teams that did not play their starters in the preseason, the Ravens had to work their way into a rhythm. The Bengals looked like they were finally getting there in the second half -- they had just 63 yards of offense in the first half, and 219 yards and two touchdown drives in the second. The Ravens got there during the last week of practice, though. Agholor said he thought the level of focus and effort during practice would lead to a game like this and among the plays that the Ravens hit in practice was the Agholor touchdown. And even the absence of their starting center (Tyler Linderbaum) and left tackle (Ronnie Stanley), or an ankle injury to Beckham that knocked him from the game, could not slow them.
"Just experience," Jackson said. "We hadn't played for a while together. I feel like today we stepped it up. The offensive line blocked their tail off, guys were getting open. It made my decision making much faster."
New coordinator Todd Monken's offense is predicated on the pass, but the Ravens were in control Sunday because they were balanced. They ran for 178 yards -- Jackson had 54 of them -- and that gave them six more minutes in time of possession and also allowed them to do something the Ravens usually rely on their defense to do: close out games. After the Bengals scored to make it 27-24 with 3:28 remaining, the Ravens had to keep the Bengals off the field. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor later said if the Bengals had gotten the ball back, Burrow would have gone back in. He was not needed. The Ravens reeled off six straight runs, including a 12-yarder by Jackson and a 1-yarder up the middle by Gus Edwards, both on third down, to run the clock out.
"He got on rhythm early, and made some huge plays down the field," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said after the game of Jackson. "What he did with his legs was the difference maker in the game. Lamar wants to win. That's what Lamar is all about."
This was a particularly meaningful victory for the Ravens, because the Bengals eliminated them from the playoffs last season, when Jackson was injured, and this win gives the Ravens an early edge in the division. It's also the second year in a row that the Bengals will start the season 0-2, although their plight is more concerning now, because both losses came in the division, and Burrow admitted he tweaked his calf on the play before his final touchdown throw. He said after the game that the calf was sore. The Bengals play next Monday night against the Rams, giving Burrow, who missed the entire preseason due to his initial calf strain, an extra day to heal, but the Bengals an extra day to ruminate about the slow start that has put them in an early hole.
"When your quarterback misses camp, it's tough to start fast," Burrow said.
The Ravens are already where the Bengals need to get to, with their growing pains already behind them and even their injuries not slowing them. Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews played Sunday after missing the season opener with a quadriceps injury and slid immediately into a familiar role – he was Jackson's favorite target, and he caught five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. Andrews said Jackson looked "incredible," and especially pointed out Jackson's ball placement, but he cautioned that the Ravens have to keep their head down and not get too high or low in each game. It was a thought that Jackson had, too. This means nothing yet, he said. It's just two wins in a 17-game season.
Still, this version of the Ravens has the potential to be the most balanced, the most well-rounded in years.
Andrews was asked about the differences in Monken's offense.
"Situationally, he talks about being a coordinator and what that means, and that is being coordinated," Andrews said. "That's what we need to be -- we need to be coordinated. We've got to be on the same page."
In the long story of the season, they were on Sunday.