Tuesday's NFL: Jackson, Ravens run past Cowboys 34-17 to end 3-game slide

David Ginsburg
Associated Press

Baltimore — Back in action after a 15-day layoff, Lamar Jackson directed a relentless rushing attack that the Baltimore Ravens hope will be the first big step in a run to the playoffs.

Jackson ran for 94 yards and a touchdown, and the Ravens returned from a COVID-19 outbreak to amass 294 yards rushing in a 34-17 rout of the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday night.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs with the ball while scoring a touchdown on a keeper against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half.

Playing for the first time since Nov. 22 following a positive test for the potentially deadly virus, Jackson carried 13 times and threw for two scores. He was one of 23 Ravens to spend time on the reserve/COVID-19 list while four different strains of the virus swept through the organization.

“I still can’t really taste or smell, but I’m good,” Jackson said. “I feel good to be back with my guys. It was like two weeks I ain’t seen them.”

Although the Ravens still have a half-dozen players on the COVID-19 list, the team felt complete for the first time in weeks.

“It’s like when you go on a family vacation and one of your family members get sick and you can’t bring them,” rookie linebacker Patrick Queen said. “You’re down in the dumps.”

The game was played on Tuesday night because Baltimore’s previous game – against Pittsburgh last Wednesday – was pushed back three times while the Ravens had at least one player test positive for 10 consecutive days.

Gus Edwards ran for 101 yards on just seven carries and rookie J.K. Dobbins – who also missed time on the COVID-19 list – added 71 yards rushing and a TD to help Baltimore (7-5) break a three-game skid and stay alive in its quest to reach the postseason for a third straight year.

“It’s a win we really, really had to have. It was a must-win,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Running game was excellent. That was the key on offense.”

Dallas came in with the worst rush defense in the league, and it showed. The Ravens averaged 7.9 yards per carry and prevailed despite getting only 107 yards passing from Jackson.

“I think today was obviously a different challenge than we’ve seen,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said. “This is a unique offense. A very physical offensive line and the dynamic of the combination of the running backs and Lamar.”

The last-place Cowboys (3-9) have lost six of seven. Andy Dalton went 31 for 48 for 285 yards and two touchdowns, and Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 77 yards.

“I thought Andy managed the game very well,” McCarthy said. “We needed to throw some bigger punches there and we needed to get on the board with touchdowns and we didn’t get that done.”

Greg Zuerlein missed three field goal tries and Dallas yielded 20 straight points after taking an early 10-7 lead.

The game was supposed to feature Ravens receiver Dez Bryant going against his former team, but Bryant left during warmups and was scratched with what Baltimore termed “an illness.”

Bryant wrote on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19 and later posted: “Yea I’m going to go ahead and call it a quit for the rest of the season… I can’t deal with this.”

He subsequently posted a series of tweets, including, “Yea I’m coming back… I’m being smart.”

Bryant scored 73 touchdowns with the Cowboys from 2010-17. He was signed by the Ravens in October and saw his first action in two years, catching four passes in three games.

On his first series following his unwanted week off, Jackson threw a pass that was tipped and intercepted. That led to a Dallas field goal, but Jackson answered with a 37-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-2 play.

Tony Pollard took the subsequent kickoff 66 yards to set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Michael Gallup. It would be the last time Dallas led.

An interception by Queen set up a 38-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Miles Boykin for a 14-10 lead.

Jackson’s second TD pass of the game, a 20-yarder in the third quarter to Marquise Brown, made it 24-10.

If Jackson was rusty or stale after missing a game, it was tough to tell by his performance.

“The one thing you do know about Lamar: You’re going to get everything he’s got,” Harbaugh said. “That’s all you can ask for.”

No bubble

The NFL players believe the season can be completed on time without the league moving into a version of a postseason bubble like other sports have as long as everyone follows the rules already in place meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

NFLPA President JC Tretter and Executive Director DeMaurice Smith held a virtual news conference to discuss the challenges the players have felt this season while playing during a global pandemic and address how things will change in the future.

Both Tretter and Smith said that the rules in place requiring players and staff to be tested daily, wear masks, socially distance and have tracers for contact tracing have helped prevent the spread of the virus.

They believe if everyone adheres to those rules over the next two months there would be no need for teams to sequester in hotels to avoid contact with the public.

“When we all follow the protocols, they work and they work well,” Tretter said. “The contact tracing, getting everyone who potentially are exposed out of the building, works to stop the spread of the virus. It will all come down to how well we follow those protocols and we will continue to evolve those protocols as needed. We know they work and we need to make sure we have 100% compliance to finish the season.”

Tretter and Smith didn’t rule out the possibility that circumstances could change if the rate of infection in surrounding communities continues to rise, but said the situation in football is different with much bigger rosters than the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.

Smith also said that epidemiologists that the union consults with said moving into a bubble with such a large roster carries its own risks because it could make the virus spread even more if someone does happen to get it.

Tretter, a center on the Cleveland Browns, said there is also a human aspect to consider.

“Our players have wives and kids at home that they want to see,” he said. “It’s been a tough year from a mental health perspective for our players. The feeling of isolation of not being able to see people, their friends and family. Further asking guys to stay away from their young kids and family for six weeks is a big ask and has ramifications outside of the game of football.”

The league and union released the latest results from testing that showed the rate of positive tests fell last week to 0.11% from 0.20% the previous week and rate of incidences fell to 0.74% from 1.35%.

In all, there were 18 new confirmed positive tests last week among players and 27 among other personnel, raising the numbers since Aug. 1 to 173 players and 297 personnel.

Eagles bench Wentz

Jalen Hurts will start for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, sending Carson Wentz to the bench.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson made the announcement on the team’s website.

“We’re not where we want to be as an offense,” Pederson said. “I looked at the whole thing and decided that for this week to look for that spark again to try to get the team over the hump, to try to get everybody playing better.”

Pederson insisted Monday the decision was his, even though Wentz’s $128 million, four-year contract begins in 2021. Hurts replaced Wentz in the third quarter of a 30-16 loss to Green Bay and completed 5 of 12 passes for 109 yards, one touchdown, one interception and took three sacks.

Pederson and Wentz came to Philadelphia in 2016. They led the Eagles to the franchise’s only Super Bowl title in 2017. Wentz was 11-2 before a knee injury forced him to watch Nick Foles lead the Eagles through the playoffs and victory over New England.

Wentz finished third in NFL MVP voting that season, and last year he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards without one wide receiver having 500 yards receiving.

But Wentz has a career-low 72.8 passer rating this season and 19 turnovers, including 15 interceptions. He hasn’t had much help. The injury-depleted offensive line has allowed 53 sacks, and his young, inexperienced receivers often aren’t open.

Hurts was selected in the second round with the 53rd overall pick this year when the Eagles had far more pressing needs. Now the 2019 Heisman Trophy runner-up gets his first opportunity as an NFL starter.

“I just want to see development. I think it’s a great opportunity for him, a great opportunity for the team,” Pederson said.

Extra points

The Giants signed versatile free agent Joe Webb and promoted defensive end Niko Lalos from the practice squad to their active roster. The team also waived linebacker Trent Harris and terminated the practice squad contract of tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart.

... The Vikings waived third-year cornerback Holton Hill.

... The Titans put wide receiver Adam Humphries (concussion) on injured reserve.

... The Browns placed right guard Wyatt Teller on the COVID-19 reserve list.