CANTON, OHIO - Musings, observations and the occasional insight as the NFL kicked off its 99th season with a fairly entertaining Bears-Ravens Hall of Fame Game matchup at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium...
* As anticipated, a former Heisman-winning dual-threat quarterback was front and center for the Baltimore Ravens in Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game — just not the one everyone couldn’t wait to see.
Welcome back from oblivion, Robert Griffin III.
When it comes to the Ravens this preseason, we all have Lamar Jackson Fever, and understandably so. The electrifying rookie reeks of potential and excitement. But let’s not forget, Griffin signed with Baltimore this offseason and is trying to resurrect his once-ascendant NFL career after a year out of the game.
Griffin started and played five series for Baltimore in its 17-16 conquest of Chicago, leading the Ravens to a 10-7 lead before exiting late in the second quarter. He wasn’t great from start to finish, but he was fairly sharp at times, finishing 7 of 11 for 58 yards passing, with one touchdown, and one interception. But two of those incompletions were drops, including the pick he threw in the first quarter. He also ran an in-control three times for nine yards.
The Ravens had to be encouraged by how in command Griffin looked, because he got the ball out quickly, almost always put the ball on his receiver’s hands, and led Baltimore on a crisp eight-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end (lined up as a fullback) Maxx Williams.
Griffin would love to make the Ravens roster, but in reality his work is on display this month in an attempt to catch on anywhere in the NFL. Baltimore hasn’t kept three quarterbacks on its roster since 2009, and yet Griffin has a chance to stick if the Ravens at the end of the preseason deem Jackson not quite ready to handle the important backup role.
Football fate is fickle. Six years ago, we would have all been watching Griffin’s every move in this game, instead of biding time waiting for Jackson’s NFL debut. But his 2012 rookie season in Washington must seem like forever ago to Griffin, who’s now trying to re-invent himself just 30 miles or so up I-95 in Baltimore.
If he pulls it off, what a comeback story that would be.
“It’s a blessing,’’ Griffin said of his first-game experience in Baltimore. “People don’t understand that once you’re out of the league for a year, it’s really hard to get back in. Especially if you’re a quarterback and a high draft pick, it’s just really hard to do. Today was an emotional day for me, just coming back out here. I know it’s the preseason, it’s the Hall of Fame Game. But to have an opportunity to come back out here and play football is something that I really cherish.’’
* Earlier this week, Jackson said he had just one goal for his initial NFL outing, proving that he’s “a quarterback.’’
He had several good moments in playing the second half against the Bears, but he certainly didn’t make his strongest possible case to end all debate on whether he has what it takes to play the game’s most difficult position.
We’re not about to judge Jackson based on two quarters of preseason results, but he showed he’s got plenty of things to work on in his game. He has thrown the ball better than even the Ravens expected early on in training camp, but he struggled a bit Thursday, tossing a bad interception when he tried to force a ball to the outside to receiver Jaleel Scott, producing an easy pick for Chicago cornerback Doran Grant.
That has been Jackson’s weakest link so far, throws outside the numbers. He telegraphed the pick to Grant, and that helped cancel out some of his better play, which was highlighted by him zipping a 7-yard touchdown pass to fellow Ravens rookie, tight end Hayden Hurst.
Jackson has been especially dangerous in camp when he’s out of the pocket, with a knack for keeping his eyes downfield and on his receiving targets. Some rookies worry too much about the pass rush, but Jackson seems like he has a little Big Ben Roethlisberger in him, with an ability to keep his head up and his eyes focused on his receivers even if the pocket is chaotic and the play is starting to break down.
The rookie is fun to watch in the open field, and he’s going to break the ankles of a defender or two this season with his quick cuts and moves. The rest of the Ravens squad just oohs and ahhs when he gets loose, because athletes always recognize elite athletes when they see one.
Jackson isn’t ready to push Ravens starter Joe Flacco just yet, but he has flashed already this summer, and Thursday night represented a little bit of a typical rookie quarterback experience for the former Louisville star.
* Remember when the NFL’s catch rule drove everyone absolutely bonkers, for its lack of clarity and consistency? Well, get ready for new lowering the helmet rule to replace the catch rule in eliciting absolute bewilderment. At least in the preseason, when they almost certainly will over-call it.
In the third quarter, on the Ravens’ second touchdown drive of the game, Bears safety Nick Orr was called for the penalty in his own end zone despite leading perfectly with his shoulder, not his helmet, against Ravens rookie tight end Hayden Hurst.
To be fair, the officials also a got a few of these calls seemingly correct, notably when Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor lowered his helmet in taking part in a tackle less than five minutes into the game.
But I promise you the boundaries of this rule is still in the process of being figured out by the game officials, and this preseason is going to be ugly as that process continues. If the zebras don’t know yet what constitutes a penalty, then the players have no chance to learn where the lines are drawn.
* You can’t stop third-year Ravens linebacker Kamalei Correa, you can only hope to …. block him? Correa in the first half was everywhere against Chicago, a one-man wrecking crew, with an interception, two sacks, two passes defensed, two tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hits. In the second half, the 2016 second-round pick had a strip sack of Bears quarterback Tyler Bray, forcing a turnover deep in Baltimore territory.
Keep playing like that, K.C. — for another 15 years or so — and you’ll get the Ray Lewis treatment in Canton some day.
* With Bears second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky sitting out the whole game, it’s difficult to make any real assessment of Chicago’s new-look offense under rookie head coach Matt Nagy. But I liked some of the flashes of creativity I saw from the Bears on offense.
On Chicago’s first-quarter touchdown, starting quarterback Chase Daniel threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to fullback Michael Burton that easily fooled Baltimore. It was on a “Texas’’ or angle route, and that’s nice West Coast offense call that was not part of the Bears repertoire when the coaching dinosaur known as John Fox was in charge.
* Way to get busy sealing your fate as a draft bust, Breshad Perriman. On the Ravens’ first drive of the game, the embattled 2015 first-round pick got run out of bounds by a defender, then let a slant pass from Griffin sail through his hands and eventually wind up being intercepted.
Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome has already laid it on the line for the disappointing Perriman, calling this his “make or break’’ season. Guess what? It’s off to a very shaky start.
* New kickoff rules? I didn’t notice much change, did you? Maybe time will tell differently, but for the most part, there wasn’t much to see that looked out of the ordinary compared to past results. No running starts for the kicking team did seem a bit odd, but that’ll become the new normal to our eyes in no time. If the injury numbers decrease accordingly with the new rule, perhaps the kickoff isn’t headed for extinction after all.
* Don’t know if the NBC cameras caught it, but Joe Flacco and new Bears head coach Matt Nagy exchanged pleasantries at midfield before the game. Just a couple of ex-Delaware quarterbacks re-living their glory days. Blue Hens gonna Hen.
Flacco still holds Delaware’s single-season record for passing yards, in 2007. Second-place on that list belongs to Nagy, in 2000.
* From the I am not making this up department: Ray Lewis did a version of his patented pre-game squirrel dance after being introduced among the incoming Hall of Fame class of inductees before kickoff. What’s the over-under for seeing that particular over-done maneuver between now and the end of the Hall’s Enshrinement Week? Put me down for seven.
* One rendition of the national anthem down, and no problems so far for the NFL. Both the Ravens and Bears all seemed to line up on the sideline, standing at attention, with no apparent absences. Just 64 more preseason games, 256 regular-season games, and 11 postseason games to go.
* Oh, and if you believe EA’s contention Thursday that it did not mean to delete Colin Kaepernick’s name from a song it licensed to use for its latest version of its wildly popular “Madden’’ NFL video game, I’ve got some nice waterfront property to sell you in the Everglades.
There’s straining credulity, and then there’s EA’s laughable attempt to chalk it all up as a “misunderstanding.’’ There’s no putting that toothpaste back into the tube.