The Baltimore Ravens pulled out all the stops to beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, converting a 4th-and-1 with 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Television cameras caught Ravens head coach John Harbaugh asking Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for the first down, saying “Alright, let’s do it,” after Jackson answered in the affirmative.
The clip quickly made the rounds on social media, with many observers praising Harbaugh’s gutsiness and faith in his young quarterback.
Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson tweeted his admiration for Harbaugh after the Ravens secured the first down:
Ex-Ravens wide receivers Torrey Smith and Dez Bryant both shouted out Harbaugh on Twitter, as both players are familiar with Harbaugh’s courage in short-yardage, high-leverage situations.
Harbaugh has earn a reputation as a risk-taker in recent years, as he was ranked by Next Gen Stats as one of the most aggressive coaches on fourth down entering this season.
Analytics Back Up Harbaugh’s Decision
Though attempting a 4th-and-1 from Baltimore’s own 43-yard line seems like a risky play against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ potent offense, statistical analysis by Next Gen Stats strongly recommended that the Ravens go for it.
Ben Baldwin, statistician for The Athletic, also calculated that the Ravens’ best chance of winning the game was to attempt the fourth-down conversion.
The Ravens have been one of the most analytically-minded teams in the NFL under Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta, embracing the power of numbers and data and translating it into an advantage on the field.
The in-game situation matched the analytic perspective of the fourth-down decision, as the Ravens had a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining in the game.
The best way to beat Patrick Mahomes is to keep the ball out of his hands, and the Ravens did just that by dominating time of possession, 35:59-24:01. Giving him the ball with a chance to win the game was a non-starter for Harbaugh and the Ravens.
Instead, the Ravens called Jackson’s number, as they have so many times before, relying on a play that has become their bread-and-butter in short-yardage situations: QB Power.
With six offensive lineman, two tight ends, and 311-pound fullback Patrick Ricard on the field, the Ravens made just enough space for Jackson to dive through for the first down.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey celebrated the game-sealing play by lifting up Harbaugh into the airs as the Ravens lined up in victory formation to run out the last seconds of the game.
Jackson Calls Back to 2019 Seahawks Victory
In his postgame press conference, Jackson revealed what he said to his coach when Harbaugh asked him if he wanted to go for it on fourth down.
“I said ‘hell yeah,’ like Seattle two years ago,” said Jackson, referring to a matchup against fellow 2019 MVP candidate Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.
Jackson scored a touchdown on a 4th-and-2 late in the third quarter that gave the Ravens a lead they would not relinquish on the way to a 30-16 victory.
The Ravens ran QB Power for the play as well, putting the ball in the hands of their best player and trusting Jackson to get the first down.
Jackson compared his conversation with Harbaugh on Sunday night to a similar exchange from that Seahawks game.
Harbaugh’s close connection with his quarterback has been a large reason for both Jackson’s individual excellence and the Ravens’ success as a team.
The longtime head coach demonstrated his ability as a master motivator with a rousing postgame speech on Sunday night, noting that several players and coaches along with Jackson were also urging him to attempt the fourth-down conversion.