With the game on the line Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium, Ravens coach John Harbaugh had a big decision to make.
Facing fourth-and-1 on the Ravens’ own 43-yard line with a 36-35 over the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs, Harbaugh had two options: punt the ball back to superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes with just over a minute to go and trust his defense to make a stop, or go for the first down and run the clock out for good.
Before he kept his offense on the field, Harbaugh looked to his quarterback and shouted: “Lamar! Do you want to go for this?”
The Ravens did, of course. Lamar Jackson lined up in the shotgun, took the snap and ran for 2 yards behind his offensive line to pick up the first down and seal Baltimore’s first win over Kansas City since Joe Flacco beat Matt Cassell in 2012.
It wasn’t an easy decision, at least for some. “This would be one hell of a call,” NBC announcer Al Michaels said. “This would be really rough,” commentator Cris Collinsworth chimed in.
By the numbers, it was pretty straightforward. According to the fourth-down decision bot created by The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin, going for the first down increased the Ravens’ chance to win by 18 percentage points. A punt in that situation gave the Ravens a 66% chance of winning, but the opportunity to pick up a fresh set of downs gave them an 84% chance of victory. The Ravens had a 72% chance of picking up the necessary 1 yard, according to the decision bot, making it a clear “go for it” opportunity.
It’s the kind of decision that has made the Ravens a favorite among the advanced stats community — just search the hashtag #OurRavens on Twitter.
And it’s not the first time Harbaugh and Jackson have worked their magic together on a big fourth down. During a Week 7 win over the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, Harbaugh asked Jackson the same question, and got similar results.
“Hell yeah, let’s go for it coach!” Jackson said before rushing for a touchdown to punctuate an eventual 30-16 win. The Ravens finished 14-2 that season to claim the top seed in the AFC.
After Sunday night’s game, Jackson recalled that win in Seattle two years ago. This time, the stakes might have been even higher. After all, the Ravens were staring at their first 0-2 start since 2015 when they finished 5-11.
“I was like, man, I gotta get this first down, no matter what,” Jackson said. “I gotta jump, dive through a defender ... our O-line did a great job pushing those guys back ... got the first down.”
Harbaugh said there was never any doubt.
“Maybe I just wanted to be sure myself,” he said. “I knew he was going to say yes.”