“I took a lot of time in the decision making, and it wasn’t to build anticipation or nothing,” he said. “This is my life and I feel like I’ve been through a lot. I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready to play football, I’ve dedicated, I’ve sacrificed a lot to be here. It just happened that this felt right in my heart and in my soul.”
Beckham signed a one-year contract with the Rams after he cleared waivers following his release by the Cleveland Browns on Monday.
He joins the NFL’s third-ranked offense with the Rams scoring an average of 28 points per game behind quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s 23 passing touchdowns. The Rams are 7-2 and in pursuit of a trip to Super Bowl LVI at owner Stan Kroenke’s $5 billion SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13.
“This is a tremendous team,” Beckham said. “Have a great opportunity to do some great things, and I just want to be a part of it.”
Beckham expressed some uncertainty whether he will play Monday against the division rival San Francisco 49ers (3-5), who have won four straight over the Rams.
“That’s up to coach at the moment,” Beckham said. “Right now I’m trying to find ways to learn the playbook as fast as possible, and if there’s something he needs me to do, I’m always willing to do whatever it is.”
Beckham acknowledged an increased sense of urgency to acclimate following the news Saturday that teammate Robert Woods suffered a season-ending knee injury a day earlier. He joins a position group that also includes NFL leading receiver Cooper Kupp and second-year pro Van Jefferson.
“These guys, they flow,” Beckham said. “It just feels right about the offense… but I hope to find a groove and help this team find ways to win.”
Beckham admits he’s felt like the new kid at school as he’s introduced himself to teammates. But he acknowledged that a phone call from friends Von Miller, whom the Rams acquired ahead of the trade deadline earlier this month, and Jalen Ramsey helped his decision-making process.
“It definitely played a role. You want to be where you feel loved and wanted and welcomed,” Beckham said. “I just got that feeling from Von and Jalen and all them boys, the receivers, when I got the call. It felt right in my heart and it’s something you got to go with your gut and your instinct.”
Washington’s Jamin Davis motivated by former teammate Chris Oats, who suffered stroke in 2020
ASHBURN, Va. — When Kemberly Gamble watched the 2021 NFL draft at the urging of her son, one thought raced through her mind: My baby should be there. Instead, her baby, Chris Oats, was beside her in their two-bedroom apartment, fighting to regain full control of his body after a stroke he suffered in 2020.
And it was Oats’ University of Kentucky teammate Jamin Davis hearing his name called in the first round instead of Oats. Davis had replaced his close friend and teammate in the lineup and turned himself into the 19th overall pick by the Washington Football Team.
As Oats works to do things like walk, talk and regain the use of his left side, Davis works to become a quality starter in the NFL for Washington, which plays the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“The only thing Jamin could have done wrong,” Gamble said, “is messed it up. You don’t have to honor my son, just please remember him. That’s what Jamin stands for. He doesn’t owe my son anything. All he has to do is keep working. This is an opportunity that can be taken away at the drop of a hat.”
Nobody knows that better than Oats. Nobody feels that responsibility more than Davis. They are tied together by friendship and the opportunity created by Oats’ misfortune.
“The way the situation unfolded is just heartbreaking,” Davis said.
In truth, Davis would have received an opportunity for more playing time his junior season after finishing strong as a sophomore. In his final three games of the 2019 regular season, he finished with a combined 19 tackles, including two for a loss. He’s been steadily developing as a rookie starter for Washington.
“He’s made a lot of progress,” Washington linebackers coach Steve Russ said, “especially when it comes to keying and diagnosing and trusting his keys and responding quickly to what he knows. … He’s headed in the right direction. Very accountable; wants to be really, really good, has good work habits.”
Dreaming of the NFL
Oats, a four-star recruit out of high school, was outstanding at times in his second season at Kentucky and the clear leader for one of two starting jobs available for the 2020 season. Oats’ and Davis’ close friend, DeAndre Square, was expected to win the other starting job. In one three-play sequence at the Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech at the end of the 2019 season, Oats shot through the line for consecutive tackles for a loss and then made an open-field tackle on third down.
“You’re like, OK, this kid is about to take off,” said Jon Sumrall, Kentucky’s inside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. “Chris was uniquely gifted. He’s long, rangy, could run really well. In coverage, he did some stuff very easily because of his length and athleticism.”
Said Davis: “We can talk for hours about how good a player Chris was. I remember the Belk Bowl. … It was like, man, this mofo is going to the league.”
That was Oats’ dream since he was young, he said via text. In fact, Davis said he, Oats and Square — a senior at Kentucky — used to discuss becoming first-round picks. Right before the 2020 draft, the three were on a group text vowing to have their name called in future years.
Sumrall called them the three amigos.
“I wasn’t out at the bars and partying or anything like that, so when I came across someone extremely similar to me in a lot of ways, I instantly clicked with Chris,” Davis said.
They would talk, play video games (Fortnite, Madden and NBA 2K) and go to Buffalo Wild Wings once a week. Davis would order the boneless wings with barbecue sauce, mostly to provide more choices to the table. Oats would order barbecued chicken and potato wedges with cheese and bacon. Square opted for the garlic parmesan.
“I get memories on my Snapchat all the time,” Davis said, “from when we were sitting in the locker room laughing or playing videos of Square dancing and me and Chris making fun of him. Outside of ball, all just going over to his house and playing video games or watching film together. Things like that made us closer.”
Which made their next chapter more difficult.
Making Oats proud
The stroke occurred two days before Mother’s Day in 2020, while Kentucky’s players were at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sumrall informed his players, dispensing whatever information he could that Gamble OK’d. Players eventually realized the severity of the situation.
“I thought it was a sick joke,” Davis said. “Then my thought was, ‘Is he OK? Is there any way we can see him?'”
Sumrall noticed an almost immediate change in Davis when they returned to campus. His practice effort was never in question, but he started watching more film — sometimes arriving a half-hour or 45 minutes early before meetings.
“It became like a snowball rolling down a hill,” Sumrall said. “Every day he came into the meeting room with more intentional focus than ever before.”
Davis felt it, too.
“It was like a reality check,” he said. “Going forward we knew [Oats] wouldn’t want us to sit around bummed out about the situation and feel pity or anything like that. So in my mind it’s like you’ve got to step up and make him proud.”
Square told Davis: It’s your time now.
“He knew what he had to do,” Square said. “We all knew Jamin was probably the best linebacker on the team. He had freakish athletic ability. We always said if he mentally gets the plays down, he’ll probably start over any of us. We were just waiting for him to show it.
“He was ready for the moment.”
Last season, Kentucky would rotate having a defensive player wear Oats’ No. 22. Before a game against Mississippi State, Davis saw the 22 jersey in his locker. He looked to the locker next to him — Oats’ old nook that contained a picture of Chris.
“I said, ‘I’ll do my best to represent you tonight,'” Davis said.
He finished with 11 tackles and an interception.
Kentucky discontinued that practice this season — it became difficult for the Oats family to see the No. 22 on the field. Instead, the team breaks down every practice with a “22!” Everyone has Oats Strong T-shirts made by Gamble; they’re selling hoodies now, too.
Davis wears a 22 Oats Strong band on his wrist, leaving it on for some games. Sumrall said when Oats attends games, he takes the freshmen over to see him; he wants them to know someone who he said “will forever be a Wildcat.”
‘This is not your end’
While it’s a constant battle for Oats, he isn’t jealous of his friend. He watches Washington’s games when he can and seeks out YouTube highlights. He will text Davis reminders to play fast, play smart. They text weekly; sometimes Davis checks in with Gamble. Oats said Davis’ effort is there and “he just needs more time on that level.”
“I’m not the selfish type,” Oats said. “He got there because he is a freak athlete and his talent, and what I’ve learned during this hard time is that I will get there. It will just take time.”
Oats was the one who pressed his family to watch the draft. They wanted to support Davis.
“We talked to Jamin before the draft,” Gamble said. “We’ve always been supportive of everything, so [Chris] never felt, ‘Man, that should have been me.’ When Chris was able to talk after his stroke, or text, he told him, ‘Go out and ball, this is your time.'”
But there is a definite understanding of his own situation.
“He knows where he could have been to change all our lives,” Gamble said. “But I explained to him: As a mom, you being here and being able to touch you and not being six feet under — because we’ve lost so many people this year — that’s all I need. He’s an awesome kid; never in trouble. He went to school, got his scholarship and went to class and to be a year away from your dream and something like this happens, he doesn’t understand what he did wrong for this to happen to him. That’s where we encourage him and let him know, ‘This is not your end; you have a bigger testimonial in your life.'”
Oats has 100% control of his right side and has increased his left side to 50% — it was 40% just a month ago. He’s able to stand on his own and they’re working on strengthening his core to help him walk again. For now, he’s doing occupational therapy twice a week, allowing him to slowly regain independence. They would like to get him into a physical therapy facility that deals mostly with athletes, key for his 6-foot-3, 227-pound frame.
He attended Kentucky’s home games this season and saw the Wildcats play Georgia last year. His mom found it too tough to attend last year, but has gone this season. She reads her son for clues as to his emotions.
“I make sure I pay attention to his eyes and facial expressions,” she said. “I can tell when it’s too much. He does this thing with his eyes, they get real big and he bites on his fingernails. He’s been like that since he was a kid. That hasn’t changed since the stroke. When he’s getting ready to tear up or holding back tears, his eyes get big.”
He’s constantly watching games, whether of Kentucky or other teams, and he attends high school games on Friday nights. Oats said he tries not to cry while watching games, “but I do get in my thoughts.”
When that happens, he said he turns to a prayer from the book of Isaiah: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”
He needed that prayer the first time he watched an NFL game after the stroke. He told his mom: “I should be playing.” She said: “Just get healthy; it’s a blessing you’re alive. Football is just a job; it’s not who you are.”
The simple things
Gamble needed to quit her $11-an-hour florist job to take care of her son full time. She also moved the family into a larger apartment, though that increased her rent by $400. Her 26-year-old daughter, KeAirra, also helps, and Davis has chipped in. Insurance pays some of Oats’ medical costs and a GoFundMe has raised more than $150,000 that helps with living expenses and allows them to buy a custom-made van.
Gamble proudly says they live within their means. But she does splurge for him once a year when it comes to sneakers. She would take some of her tax return money and buy him a pair of size 15 LeBrons, something she did again this past spring for $189. Though he’s still on scholarship and gets shoes from Kentucky, he uses these in therapy.
“I don’t spoil him or give everything he wants,” she said, “but the simple things that people take for granted is joy for him.”
This was the best birthday smile ever pic.twitter.com/j0EqhP8Uci
— Kcoats22 (@kcoats22) November 10, 2021
Oats wants to become an announcer or a coach; he wants to stay around the game. He wants to get back to himself.
“Football is his first love, and it hurts,” Gamble said. “I tell him to talk it out. He has anxiety over things. It was rough. This is a rough season for us, but he’s making it.”
Last month, Oats posted a picture on Twitter of himself, Square and Davis from a practice. Oats is sitting on the ground, his boys on either side. They are smiling. Sometimes he posts photos of the past; sometimes it’s of the present.
But Davis said he doesn’t need the photos to remember Oats’ impact. He thinks of Oats, whether it’s at practice or even on game day: “All the time; literally, it’s all the time.”
“It’s a constant reminder that this could be taken at any given moment,” Davis said. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go out and play like every snap will be your last. You should be early to meetings, doing whatever you can to go out and play ball and have fun. … The only thing you can do in this situation is make him and his family proud. We’ll always be close.”
Oats said football remains a part of him. Right now, though, his proudest moments aren’t about his tackles but rather something basic yet profound: “That I will be able to walk and talk again.”
Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. credits heavyweight champion father for his resilience
RENTON, Wash. — When the Seattle Seahawks were on their bye earlier this month, Ken Norton Jr.’s wife took him to see The Spinners at a downtown Seattle jazz club. Angela Norton knew the special place the Motown-era R&B band holds in her husband’s heart.
It was all he and his dad used to listen to on those long road trips from Southern California to the Midwest.
Before Ken Norton Sr. conquered Muhammad Ali, his breakthrough in what would become a Hall of Fame boxing career, he was barely scraping by as a unknown fighter raising a young Norton Jr. as a single dad. He couldn’t afford plane tickets, so when his boxing schedule would take him away from their adopted hometown of San Diego for weeks at a time, he’d drive his son 2,000 miles east and leave him with his grandparents in Jacksonville, Illinois.
Some 50 years later, Norton Jr. vividly remembers sticking his head out of the window of his dad’s white Oldsmobile. He remembers the time they ran out of gas on the side of the road. And he remembers how they’d listen to the only tape they owned: The Spinners.
“It was just me and Dad at that time,” Norton Jr., 55, said in an interview with ESPN last week. “It was really, really special.”
Norton Jr. rode shotgun as his dad broke Ali’s jaw, then lost in two disputed rematches. As his dad compiled 33 of his 42 career wins via knockout and got KO’d by the likes of George Foreman and Earnie Shavers. As he briefly claimed the heavyweight title, only to lose it to Larry Holmes in a classic bout.
Among all the lessons Norton Jr. learned while living the ups and downs of his dad’s boxing career is one that has served him well in trying times like this disappointing 3-7 Seahawks season: how to handle the criticism that comes with being an NFL coordinator.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Washington Football Team at FedEx Field (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Seahawks have allowed the second-most yards in the NFL, a ranking that’s weighted by four straight games earlier this season in which they allowed 450 or more. They’ve allowed the seventh-fewest points, which reflects how — save for last week’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals and backup quarterback Colt McCoy — they’ve been one of the league’s better defenses since their early-season struggles.
With the Seahawks starting historically poorly on defense before turning things around for the second straight year, Norton Jr. has had to roll with plenty of proverbial punches from upset fans.
“He’s tough as nails,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who has known Norton Jr. since their days with the San Francisco 49ers in the mid-1990s, when Carroll was the defensive coordinator and Norton Jr. was an All-Pro linebacker. “He’s got a really deep belief in himself and his ability to get things done, and to communicate and all that, which he’s shown. He’s shown that by … the way these guys have been able to hang in there, hang tough, and make something special out of a group that at one time would’ve been thought couldn’t happen.
“Kenny is a fighter and he’s lived that life with his pops. He took a lot from that and it’s part of his makeup, it’s part of who he is and what he’s all about. He never strays very far from that.”
Hot dogs and hard-boiled eggs
Norton Sr. — who died in 2013 at age 70 — didn’t begin boxing until he was in the Marines. He enlisted in 1964 at 20 years old, studied Morse code and prayed he wouldn’t get deployed to Vietnam. As he wrote in his 2000 autobiography, “Going The Distance,” he was looking for a way out of 5 a.m. reveille when he briefly joined the football team, then reluctantly picked up the gloves, wary of messing up his good looks.
He was working and fighting at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina when he met Norton Jr.’s mother, Jeanette. They married and divorced less than a year later after he was transferred to Camp Pendleton near San Diego. He made a meager salary in the Marines, received an honorable discharge in 1967 and didn’t make much more when he turned pro. According to the book, his first boxing deal paid him $100 a week, plus a share of any purses.
Father and son went from a one-bedroom apartment in San Diego to another in South Central Los Angeles. Needing to supplement his income to provide for young Norton Jr., Norton Sr. took a day job at Ford. Long days began with a 5 a.m. wakeup and a five-mile run. He’d take his son to the babysitter, go to work on the assembly line, then train at the gym into the evening.
Norton Jr. was about 5 or 6 when he sprinted out the door one morning, wanting to tag along on his dad’s run. His little legs couldn’t keep up, so his dad picked him up and ran the rest of the way with his son on his shoulders.
Neighbors and girlfriends would take turns watching Norton Jr. He’d listen for the rumble of his dad’s Harley-Davidson, eagerly awaiting his return from those long days of work and training. It would disappoint Norton Jr. when his dad would come home late at night, or sometimes not at all. Later in life, his dad told him why: He couldn’t always afford to feed Norton Jr., and he knew that if it got past a certain hour, the neighbors would.
When his dad cooked for him, it was often hot dogs and hard-boiled eggs.
“It was the only life I knew, just me and Dad,” Norton Jr. said. “He was gone a lot. But that was just the life, and we had a really, really close relationship because when he was the only parent I had, I was the only son he had at the time. It was a really strong bond.”
Their lives changed when Norton Sr. fought Ali in 1973.
The seventh-ranked Norton Sr. was a heavy underdog against the ex-champ. Broadcaster Howard Cosell openly bemoaned what he called the worst mismatch in boxing history, saying it should be a “routine exercise” for Ali. But Norton Sr. had given Ali more than he could handle during an impromptu sparring session three years earlier and knew he could beat him again.
By the time their 12-round fight was over, Ali’s jaw was broken and Cosell was hailing “unknown Kenny Norton” as the author of one of the sport’s most stunning upsets.
Norton Sr. hadn’t made more than $8,000 on any of his previous 31 fights, according to the book. He bought a house in Carson, California, with his $50,000 payday from the Ali bout. It was the first time Norton Jr. had his own bedroom. His dad bought him his first bike.
Six months after their first fight, Ali beat Norton Sr. in the rematch in a split decision. When Ali took the rubber match at Yankee Stadium three years later to remain the heavyweight champion, the unanimous decision was so controversial CBS aired a replay of the fight a few days later, with the three judges explaining their scoring. Norton Sr., and many in the boxing world, felt he was robbed.
“I thought he won all three of them,” Norton Jr. said. “Actually, we all won because we ate well after fight one.”
After losing to Ali in their second bout, Norton Sr. fought Foreman in Caracas, Venezuela, for the heavyweight title, suffering a second-round knockout. Then he rolled toward Part III with Ali by winning seven straight fights. One was at the old Seattle Center Coliseum — which is now Climate Pledge Arena — over local fighter Boone Kirkman. He beat Ron Stander at the since-demolished Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, which was right next door to where the Seahawks will play Washington on Monday.
According to Norton Sr.’s book, the Foreman fight was an ordeal not just because of the result but also a series of stressful situations, including a rumor his parents — whom he had flown to Venezuela from Jacksonville — were going to be kidnapped and held for ransom.
That experience left him drained. The third Ali fight left him feeling cheated and demoralized. His last bout nearly killed him: Gerry Cooney continuing to pummel a semi-unconscious Norton Sr. while the referee was slow to stop the fight. He wrote in his book his fight doctor told him he was four seconds from being killed.
If his dad could handle adversity and scrutiny that followed while the whole world watched, Norton Jr. grew to realize he could, too. But in the moment, he felt those losses in his own way.
“All through the school life, if he won a fight, I was everybody’s friend and everybody wanted to know who I was,” Norton Jr. said. “But if he got knocked out or lost a fight, it was, ‘I hate that guy. Your dad sucks.’ Early on, going through grade school, your identity is kind of caught up in the wins and losses and your friends and things like that, so it becomes pretty tough.
“And it’s everybody. It’s the principal, it’s the teachers, it’s the kids that turn their back on you when it’s a loss and they’re hugging you when it’s a win. It’s a pretty strange way to go through it.”
In 1978, the WBC declared Norton Sr. the heavyweight champion after forcing Leon Spinks to vacate his title. His first title defense came three months later against Holmes. The Norton family had grown by then. He was remarried to Jackie, who had a son named Brandon from a previous marriage and gave birth to daughter Kenisha in 1976.
The closest Norton Jr. ever got to seeing his dad fight in person were the times he’d tag along at the gym. He’d hold the spit bucket in the corner while Norton Sr. sparred in the ring. But he never let Norton Jr. attend any of his fights, not wanting his son to take up the sport himself or to see his dad get hit. He didn’t even want him watching on TV.
On the night of the Holmes fight, 11-year-old Norton Jr. was at home watching Kenisha when he snuck a peek at the TV. It was just in time to catch an epic finish. In what is considered one of boxing’s classic rounds, Norton Sr. and Holmes slugged away at each other in the 15th and final round, trading nonstop punches to bring the crowd at Caesars Palace to its feet. Norton Sr. was staggered when Holmes landed a left uppercut in the closing seconds, but he kept his feet and kept fighting, two spent champions leaving everything they had in the ring. Holmes won in a split decision to take Norton Sr.’s title.
“It really was a turning point for me as a young man,” Norton Jr. said. “I was searching for an identity and I found who I was by watching him fight that 15th round. It was a war. It’s one of the best rounds of all time. That round really showed me who he was and … it really made me understand the type of person I am and I have to be as I go into trying to make my way in life as far as my attitude, how I’m going to approach it, who I’m going to be and what my values are going to be.
“I knew who I was at that point and I didn’t mind being called his son anymore. I really understood it was time for me to do my thing.”
There’s a famous photo of Norton Sr. visiting Ali in the hospital the day after breaking his jaw. Ali is lying in bed, with Norton Sr. standing over him and looking down through sunglasses.
Shades were a necessary staple of Norton Sr.’s postfight wardrobe because of how the shots to the face would leave his eyes sensitive to light. He’d often have his midsection wrapped up to protect cracked ribs. The body blows often caused him to urinate blood.
“We’d just have to care for him,” Norton Jr. said. “To the world he’s just a fighter that night that everybody wants to cheer and bet on. But for us, that’s your dad at home, not doing well, pretty beat up. You’ve got to mend him and love him back to health. And then he’s back out there just to bring food home. He let me know early on that fighting was a tough life and he didn’t want that for me.”
Norton Sr. had been retired for five years when, in 1986, he was involved in a near-fatal car accident. He wrote in his book he was extracted with the Jaws of Life and taken by helicopter to a Los Angeles hospital, where he had skull fragments removed from his brain during a life-or-death surgery. He also had a broken jaw and a broken leg.
Norton Jr., who was attending nearby UCLA at the time, became his dad’s caretaker at 20 years old. He’d feed him, bathe him, dress him — everything his dad couldn’t do on his own while bound to a wheelchair.
“My whole life, he was taking care of me,” Norton Jr. said, “and then I just naturally took on the part of taking care of him at that point.”
‘I didn’t want to let him down’
Norton Jr. remains the only player in NFL history to play for three straight Super Bowl winners: the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and ’93, the 49ers in ’94. His dad had been a fixture on the Dallas sideline before games early in his pro career, always able to instantly pick out his son amid the mass of white jerseys.
But when Norton Jr. and the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl, 90 minutes from his dad’s Orange County home, Norton Sr. wasn’t in attendance. The two had become estranged. Norton Sr. wrote in his book it began as a dispute related to his son’s engagement. Their silent feud became a national story, one of sports’ best-known father-son duos not speaking for more than two years. It ate them both up inside.
Norton Sr. wrote in his book family members eventually helped broker a truce. Father and son gradually repaired their relationship. A few weeks after they got together for Norton Jr.’s 29th birthday, he intercepted two passes against the St. Louis Rams and returned both for touchdowns.
He celebrated by throwing combo punches at the goalpost padding, a la his dad.
“That was all about him,” he said. “I was just very thankful.”
There are some memories children have of their parents no amount of time can erase. All these years later, Norton Jr. can still picture the way his dad looked at him when he was a young boy.
“You can just see the look in his eye that I was special to him,” said Norton Sr., a father to Brittney, Sabrina and Ken III. “That made me want to be special. I didn’t want to let him down. So I think I learned how to look at my kids that way, to let them know that they’re really special and I really love them. He looked at me like he really cared, and he did things and he said things and he lived his life that way, that he was going to set an example for me. So I had to make sure that I carried on his legacy in that way.”
Baltimore Ravens’ defense picks up Lamar Jackson in win after QB throws career-worst 4 interceptions
In beating the Cleveland Browns 16-10 on Sunday night, Jackson became the first quarterback in eight years to win a game after throwing four interceptions. QBs had lost 41 straight games when throwing four picks.
“I’m hot,” Jackson said. “I feel like those drives, when the interceptions came, we could’ve done something on those drives. We could’ve put points on the board.”
Jackson then tapped his chest: “I just told my team, ‘That’s me. I owe y’all.'”
On Sunday night, Jackson threw a career-high four interceptions, and all the picks came when he wasn’t pressured. He was intercepted three times on his final five passes of the second quarter, and he was then picked off early in the fourth quarter on an underthrown deep pass to tight end Mark Andrews.
Fortunately for Baltimore, the Browns only converted three points off those turnovers.
Asked if there is a common denominator on his interceptions, Jackson said, “I mean, it’s one game that it happened. They just made great plays on those interceptions. It wasn’t like I was throwing it right to them.”
The Ravens (8-3) now hold the AFC’s top seed with six games remaining, and they’ve won the past two games without much help from Jackson. Last week, Baltimore prevailed at the Chicago Bears without Jackson, who was sidelined with an illness. On Sunday night, the Ravens won despite Jackson turning the ball over on nearly one-third of their drives.
The reason Baltimore maintained a one-game lead atop the AFC North is because of its defense, which held the NFL’s top rushing attack to 40 yards on the ground, forced three turnovers and constantly harassed Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that [Jackson has] done some special things [and] won us a lot of games, sometimes almost by himself,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “If you look at the top five quarterbacks in the league, no one has a great game every time. So, for us to pick him up, it was just special — and to end the game on defense. ‘Wink’ [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] talks about, ‘Protect each other,’ and I felt like that’s kind of what we did today.”
Considered among the favorites in the NFL MVP race entering Sunday, Jackson is tied with Ryan Tannehill for the most interceptions in the NFL at 12. He has thrown three more interceptions this season than in any of his previous three campaigns.
But Jackson did show resiliency in overcoming his mistakes against the Browns. After throwing three interceptions in the second quarter, Jackson was visibly frustrated on the sideline. He then opened the second half with a fadeaway, 13-yard touchdown pass to Andrews in which he dropped back 20 yards to elude pressure. He also led Baltimore with 68 yards rushing.
“Nobody gets flustered, and it starts with Lamar,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Lamar wants those plays back, and he’s a massive competitor. Yet he doesn’t let it take control of him. He’s able to push it aside, and he’s able to go play the next series and give you great football. It’s really a rare trait. To me, that’s one of the things that makes him the quarterback that he is.”
Baltimore has won six straight one-score games (within eight points), which matches the longest win streak in these close games in franchise history. The Ravens also did so in 2012, the year of their last Super Bowl title.
“We’re determined. We know we want to win,” Jackson said. “We fight adversity, and we do it all. There’s been a lot going on throughout this whole season, and tonight was another part of it. We just have to keep on doing what we’re doing, and we’re going to click.”
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