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From hospital to history: Inside Lamar Jackson’s first start – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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BALTIMORE — Three days before Sunday’s must-win game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh questioned whether Lamar Jackson would be healthy enough to make his first NFL start.

Jackson was at the hospital after suffering pains in his stomach and missed all of Thursday’s practice. Not only did Jackson pass all the medical tests, the rookie first-round pick made the grade in replacing the injured Joe Flacco.

Jackson’s 117 yards rushing in Sunday’s 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals set a Ravens record and etched himself in the NFL record books. He became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl Era to record at least 100 rushing yards in his first career start.

Thanks to Jackson, the Ravens (5-5) ended their three-game losing streak and now own the No. 6 and final playoff spot in the AFC.

Here’s a look through the words of those who lived one of the craziest and exhilarating weeks in the Ravens’ existence:

Getting the call

Harbaugh knew during the bye that Flacco was probably not going to play because of a hip injury he suffered in the last game. The final determination came early in the week, when Flacco wasn’t medically cleared after visiting a doctor in New York. Harbaugh’s options to replace Flacco were Jackson or Robert Griffin III.

Harbaugh: “I won’t say [QB Robert Griffin III] wasn’t considered. We could have played with Robert and played very well. But, Lamar is our backup quarterback. He was our No. 2 guy all year — it wasn’t a question. Really, from Day 1, he has earned it. He was the next man up.”

Jackson: “It was pretty cool [when told of the news he was starting]. I just knew I had to work harder, focus in, focus in on the gameplan.”

Wide receiver Willie Snead: “I think everybody was ready to see Lamar. We’re just looking for an edge at some point. [We were] 4-5, and we were itching for a victory.”

Jackson: “A lot of people were coming up to me. I’m a rookie; it’s my first time starting, [telling me] ‘Just go out there and be myself.’ My teammates have my back, I have theirs.”

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Trip to the hospital

The Ravens’ plans to start Jackson suddenly became uncertain Thursday when the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner was sent to the hospital.

Harbaugh: “When the stomach thing happened, I have to admit, I was concerned about that. I didn’t know what that was. We got a pretty good report once he got to the hospital that it wasn’t serious. It wasn’t appendicitis or anything like that. Thank God. I texted him, and he told me he was fine, so that made me feel good. He came back Friday morning ready to go — very blessed on that one.”

Jackson: “I don’t know what happened to my stomach. It was right before Thursday’s practice. I told coach … I told our trainer, Ron [Medlin], ‘You have to tell coach I can’t come out.’ My stomach just started hurting, I don’t know where. They sent me to the hospital. As soon as I got there, it was over, and I told them, ‘I’m coming back Friday morning.’”

Harbaugh: “[In missing Thursday’s practice], I don’t think it was too bad because he had the extra day on Monday [coming off the bye], and he’s been practicing all year. A lot of the things that we ran today have been in the offense since Day 1. We didn’t just create an offense in the last week and a half. That’s stuff we’ve been running ever since OTAs.”

Beginning with a bang

Jackson received a loud ovation when he stepped on the field for the first time as an NFL starter. He didn’t disappoint, directing a 75-yard touchdown drive that featured 11 plays — all runs — including a 21-yard quarterback draw. Jackson, though, wasn’t the portrait of poise heading into the game.

Jackson: “I think I stayed up all night last night. I was like, ‘Man, we need to play right now!’ I was ready to play last night, and 1 o’clock came, and it’s go time.”

Harbaugh: “Well, I saw the first 15 plays and there were a lot of runs in there. But, a lot of those were RPOs, too, pass-options, and they gave us the run. Lamar [Jackson] reads that out so well. There were some runs that could have been throws in there. With the third downs, we were just in a position where we could run it — we didn’t have to throw it as much. But, we’ll be throwing the ball quite a bit in the future. It wasn’t by design; it kind of played out that way.”

Jackson: “It was awesome. We came out with a bang. We came in and scored. The second drive, we didn’t score. The third drive, we didn’t score, so I started getting ticked off. I was like, ‘We have to put points on the board. Our defense keeps getting out there. We’re not performing well.’ So, yes, it was pretty cool for the first drive.”

Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict: “It’s like facing two different offenses. With Joe Flacco, he just stands back there and isn’t very mobile but he throws the ball hard. This guy [Jackson] is very unpredictable.”

Dealing with adversity

Jackson’s biggest mistake came on the first drive of the second half, when he threw an interception. The Bengals converted that turnover into a touchdown and eventually took a 21-13 lead.

“It’s crazy; he looked even faster in the game than he does when we practice against him every day. He’s just got a giddy-up that no one sees every day.”

C.J. Mosley on Jackson

Jackson: “I hated that. I put our defense in a bad situation, and [safety Shawn Williams] caught an interception and ran to the 30-yard line. And, I’m like, ‘They’ll probably kick a field goal to score. We have to go down there and punch it in.’”

Ravens safety Eric Weddle: “The way he bounced back and his composure … he threw that pick and what did he do the next drive? He went down and scored. It was like nothing had happened. You can’t teach that. It’s something that you see in him. He’s very even keel, cool, calm and collected. I love that.”

Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley: “It’s crazy; he looked even faster in the game than he does when we practice against him every day. He’s just got a giddy-up that no one sees every day. It was amazing seeing him out there playing and getting his first win. Hopefully we can start a good run now.”

Making the final play

With the Ravens holding a 24-21 lead, cornerback Marlon Humphrey broke up an Andy Dalton fourth-down pass with 1:42 remaining to seal the win in Jackson’s first start.

Jackson: “When our defense stopped them, coach said, ‘We have to get ready for victory [formation]. That’s when it all went to my head. I was overwhelmed. I was like, ‘We really did it. We came out and we won.'”

Chad Steele, Ravens vice president of public relations: “After the last play, he gave the ball away to the official. I’m like, ‘Lamar, that’s your first win. You need that ball.'”

Jackson: “I chased the guy, had a strip-sack on the referee. I played defense today, too.”

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Bills WR Kelvin Benjamin believes he’s hit ‘rock bottom’ this season

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Having caught only 20 passes for 302 yards through 10 games, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin believes he has reached “rock bottom” this season as he prepares for unrestricted free agency in March.

“It’s just a bad season,” Benjamin said Monday as the Bills, with a 3-7 record, returned from their bye week. “It is what it is. Just football, man. You have good seasons, you have bad seasons. I’ve had successful seasons in this league. I’ll have plenty more. For some reason, it’s just not the year.”

Some fans in Buffalo have criticized Benjamin on social media for his performance this season, as well as for a perceived lack of effort that Benjamin has previously disputed. Benjamin said Monday he feels “bombarded” and has avoided social media.

“I can’t really get on there and really have fun with it no more because they (have) kind of taken the fun out of that,” he said. “(I’ve been) just bombarded by the fans and bombarded by the people. The way of our life, I guess, right now.”

Benjamin, a former first-round pick selected No. 28 overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2014, is on pace for a career-low 32 catches for 483 yards this season.

“This is as low as my low (has been),” he said.

Playing a season-low 50 percent of snaps in the Bills’ win Nov. 11 over the New York Jets, Benjamin was held without a catch on three targets. One incompletion came on a pass from quarterback Matt Barkley when Benjamin appeared to make a leaping catch in the end zone but could not keep the ball secure before he hit the ground.

“You think about the people (who are) already sending you messages, before you even look at them,” Benjamin said of the missed opportunity at a touchdown. “You feel like you let your hometown down. You feel like you’re letting your family down because I need those balls.

“Every ball, I pride myself on catching it, bringing it down. Even those balls, I want to come down with it. I’m tougher on myself than anybody. I’m the first guy to criticize myself and the first guy to get on myself about anything. Unfortunately I didn’t come down with them, the balls that we needed, the balls that I needed. It’s football, and you just got to move on from it.”

The Panthers traded Benjamin to the Bills in October 2017 for third- and seventh-round picks in the 2018 draft. The Bills are paying Benjamin a fully guaranteed $8.5 million salary this season as part of the fifth-year option in his rookie contract exercised by Carolina.

Benjamin will become a free agent next offseason after several other receivers in the 2014 draft — including Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry — have already received long-term deals.

“It’s definitely going to be a fresh start,” Benjamin said of the upcoming offseason. “Once I find a team, or if I’m still in here in Buffalo, whatever, I’m just going to keep pushing. I learned a lot about myself. Just keep going. That mentality, just keep pushing. Once you hit rock bottom, I guess, it’s only up from there, right?”

Benjamin admitted Monday he dwelled earlier this season on not yet having received a similar contract to his 2014 draft counterparts.

“I think coming into the season that was hard,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie. It was always on my mind. I was trying to block it out and just have fun with the game. But at times, I was dropping balls and I was even more critical of myself. Kind of like that domino effect.”

Bills coach Sean McDermott said Monday that rookie first-round quarterback Josh Allen is expected to return Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars after not playing since an Oct. 14 elbow injury. Allen, one of four starting quarterbacks for Buffalo this season, threw Benjamin his only touchdown catch this season during the closing minute of a Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Benjamin said he wants to “put his body on the line” during the remaining six games of the season.

“Stop trying to worry about stats,” he said. “Stop trying to worry about pleasing everybody. Just play for myself. Let the chips fall where they fall.”

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Redskins to sign Mark Sanchez to be backup QB

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ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Redskins will sign quarterback Mark Sanchez to back up Colt McCoy, multiple sources told ESPN.

Redskins starting quarterback Alex Smith broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg in Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the Houston Texans. McCoy, in his fifth season with Washington, will start in place of Smith. But the Redskins had no other quarterback on the roster or even on the practice squad. They opted for Sanchez from a group that included E.J. Manuel, Kellen Clemens, Josh Johnson and T.J. Yates.

Sanchez does have several ties to the Redskins from his four seasons with the New York Jets. Redskins passing game coordinator Kevin O’Connell was a backup quarterback for parts of three seasons with the Jets during Sanchez’s time there. Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh served in the same role with the Jets from 2009-12. And Redskins offensive line coach and assistant head coach Bill Callahan held the same title for three seasons during Sanchez’s tenure.

Sanchez, the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, offers the Redskins veteran experience. He has started 72 games and six more in the postseason. He has thrown 86 touchdown passes and 86 interceptions in his career and owns a career 73.9 passer rating and a 40.2 QBR.

The Redskins have been one of the NFL’s best at taking care of the ball this season, with only nine turnovers. In 2011-12 — his last two seasons with New York — Sanchez threw a combined 36 interceptions and fumbled 16 times. One of those became known as the “Butt Fumble”, which occurred in a Thanksgiving Day game vs. the New England Patriots on Nov. 22, 2012 — six years to the day when he’ll suit up for Washington for the first time when the Redskins play at Dallas.

Sanchez has also played for the Eagles and Cowboys and spent time on the rosters of the Bears and Broncos.

Sanchez is 4-2 in the postseason with a 71.5 total QBR a 95.5 passer rating with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He helped the Jets reach the AFC Championship Game twice.

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Detroit Lions RB Kerryon Johnson week-to-week with sprained knee

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Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson sprained his left knee Sunday but doesn’t need surgery and will be week-to-week, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The rookie, who has been one of the Lions’ most dynamic players this season, injured the knee on a run where he started heading right, saw defenders and cut all the way back to the left side of the field before being tackled near the sideline for a 3-yard gain.

Johnson got up, went to the sideline and was immediately looked at by Lions staff, first on the bench and then on the medical table behind the bench before heading to the locker room for further examination.

Johnson entered Sunday’s game with 103 carries for 554 yards and two touchdowns along with 30 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown. Prior to the injury, Johnson had 15 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown along with two catches for 10 yards against the Panthers.

The Lions also have Theo Riddick, LeGarrette Blount and Zach Zenner as running back options.

ESPN’s Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.

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