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Ravens Insider: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson to sit Saturday’s regular-season finale vs. Steelers; Tyler Huntley to start


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Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will not play in Saturday’s regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers as coach John Harbaugh aims to keep his franchise player heathy going into the divisional round of the playoffs.

Backup Tyler Huntley will start, with Josh Johnson as his backup and Malik Cunningham also available to play. Harbaugh said Jackson will be inactive.

“Just all things considered, it seems to be the right thing to do,” Harbaugh said. “I had conversations with Lamar and others and made the decision.”

Jackson did not object.

“I’m cool with it,” he said. “Me and coach talked about it. I felt like it was best suitable to sit me and stuff like that for this round.”

He said he won’t feel any anguish watching his teammates try to eliminate the Steelers from playoff contention, because, “I believe ‘Snoop’ [Huntley] can get it done. I’ve got all the faith in my team.”

The decision closed out Jackson’s regular season, which is expected to land him a second NFL Most Valuable Player award. He started the Ravens’ first 16 games, completing 66.7% of his passes for a career-high 3,678 yards, with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He leads all quarterbacks with 821 rushing yards.

He finished with a flourish, leading back-to-back blowouts over the San Francisco 49ers and Dolphins to secure the AFC’s top seed. He was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after throwing five touchdown passes and recording a perfect passer rating against Miami.

The Ravens (13-3) clinched a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference championship game with that 56-19 win over the Dolphins on Sunday. Pittsburgh (9-7), on the other hand, needs a win over Baltimore and some help to secure a playoff berth. The Steelers were four-point favorites as of Wednesday evening with the Ravens expected to rest several starters.

In 2019, when Jackson became the second unanimous NFL MVP, he also sat out the regular-season finale against the Steelers with Baltimore having already clinched the AFC’s top seed.

Huntley, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Utah in 2020, is 3-5 as a starter in four seasons with the Ravens. He earned a Pro Bowl selection last season as an injury replacement after throwing for 658 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions and rushing for 137 yards in six games (four starts) during the regular season as Jackson sat out with a sprained PCL in his knee.

With Jackson sidelined, Huntley also started the Ravens’ wild-card playoff game against the host Cincinnati Bengals. He nearly led a stunning upset before fumbling at the goal line on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter, and the ball was returned 98 yards for the decisive touchdown in a 24-17 loss.

The decision on Jackson is the most obvious manifestation of a broader puzzle the Ravens are attempting to solve: How do they offer rest and recuperation time to key players who need it while maintaining their competitive edge ahead of their playoff opener on the third weekend in January?

“We have a two-fold thought process right now,” Harbaugh said.

Jackson said he will “keep my body moving around, just keep being locked in like we’ve been all season and treat it as a bye week.”

Ravens vs. Texans
Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, center, says Lamar Jackson, left, has taken command in meetings and in the huddle.
Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun
From left, Ravens quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson warm up before a game. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

He and his teammates believe they’ve succeeded by not looking past any opponent, and practice or even any individual play. They vowed to maintain that granular focus, even as some of them sit out or play less than usual against the Steelers.

“Even though I’m not playing, our guys got the Steelers, so we’re going to focus on the Steelers, and then we’re going to focus on the following week,” Jackson said.

Linebacker Patrick Queen said he plans to play, even though he’s nursing a shoulder injury, and made it clear he does not want to lose to the Steelers, who rallied to upset the Ravens in October.

“I can use the rest, but at the same time, I do want to play — it’s Pittsburgh,” he said. “Those guys come out fierce, try to punch you in the mouth and stuff, so that’s my type of game. There ain’t going to be no tricks or disguises, any of that kind of stuff. They line up and say, ‘Can you stop us?’ That’s something you respect, and that’s why I am kind of excited to play.”

He doesn’t see much value in looking past the Steelers to the playoffs. “I think if you look too much to the future, you kind of get overwhelmed by stuff,” he said. “You start focusing on the wrong things and not the right things. For me, it’s just, I’m in the moment right now.”

The Ravens did not achieve the desired result in 2019, when they rested Jackson and other key players such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Mark Andrews in the regular-season finale only to come out flat two weeks later in their 28-12 divisional round loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The Ravens faced a similar scenario four years ago, against the same opponent no less. They had won 11 straight and had clinched home-field advantage and a first-round bye going into the final weekend of the regular season. They had little incentive to beat the Steelers, who still had a chance to make the playoffs with a victory.

The Ravens, with Griffin starting at quarterback, continued their roll that day, overpowering Pittsburgh, 28-10, behind dominant defense and 223 rushing yards.

Though Harbaugh was cautious, the snap counts from that game illustrate a point he reiterated this week: NFL teams can’t rest all their key players because they only have 48 spots to work with. “It’s a little bit overstated just because you just … it’s not like the preseason where you have a bunch of guys,” he said.

In that 2019 finale, starting cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters played 98% and 94% of the team’s defensive snaps, respectively. On offense, linemen Orlando Brown Jr., Bradley Bozeman and Patrick Mekari played every snap, while starting wide receivers Willie Snead IV and Marquise Brown played more than half.

Other than Jackson, the only player Harbaugh ruled out for Saturday’s game was defensive back Daryl Worley. He acknowledged he and his staff will need to be creative.

“It’s like a puzzle except the puzzle pieces are constantly morphing into different shapes day by day,” he said, alluding to the injuries various starters, including safety Kyle Hamilton, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and right guard Kevin Zeitler, are dealing with.

“The guys who are in the game are going to give everything they’ve got,” he said.


Week 18

Steelers at Ravens

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

TV: ABC, ESPN

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Steelers by 4

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